Valerie Arkell-Smith

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Victor Barker
Victor Barker.jpg
As Colonel Barker
Lillias Irma Valerie Barker

27 August 1895
Died18 February 1960
Lowestoft, Suffolk
Resting placeKessingland Churchyard, Suffolk
Other namesLeslie Ivor Victor Gauntlett Bligh Barker
John Hill
Geoffrey Norton

Victor Barker, born Lillias Irma Valerie Barker (1895–1960), was a transgender man who is notable for having married a woman. Under various pseudonyms he was an officer of the National Fascisti, a bankrupt, and a convicted criminal.

Early life[edit]

Barker was born Lillias Irma Valerie Barker on 27 August 1895 in Saint Clement on the Channel Island of Jersey, the child of Thomas William Barker, farmer and architect, and his wife, Lillias Adelaide Hill. The family moved to Surrey in 1899.

In April 1918, Barker married an Australian, Lieutenant Harold Arkell Smith, in Milford, Surrey.[1] The marriage lasted only a short period, although they never divorced, and the husband returned to Australia early the following year. On 26 August 1918, Barker enrolled as a member of the Women's Royal Air Force.[2] After the war, Barker moved in with Ernest Pearce-Crouch, also of the Australian Imperial Force; the couple had a boy and a girl. After they had moved to a farm at Climping near Littlehampton, West Sussex, Barker started to dress in a more masculine way.

Passing as a man[edit]

Barker left Pearce-Crouch in 1923 and began a relationship with Elfrida Emma Haward who believed Barker was a cisgender man. The couple began living at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. By then, Barker had begun to use the name Sir Victor Barker. On 14 November 1923 at St Peter's Church, Brighton, Barker and Haward "wed", in what was later exposed as an illegal marriage.[2]


In 1926 while living in London, Barker received a letter addressed to a different Colonel Barker, inviting him to join the National Fascisti. Barker replied to the misdirected letter with the missive "why not", reasoning that membership of what was a macho group would help him pose as a man.[2] He lived at the National Fascisti headquarters in Earl's Court where he worked as secretary for the group's leader Henry Rippon Seymour, also involving himself in training young members in boxing and fencing.[2] Barker involved himself in the kind of rough-housing that became the hallmark of the group and later recalled that "I used to go out with the boys to Hyde Park and we had many rows with the Reds."[2] That he was assigned female at birth was never picked up on by his fellow members.[2]

In 1927, he was brought before the Old Bailey on charges of possessing a forged firearm certificate after Rippon Seymour had pulled Barker's revolver on another member, Charles Eyres, in a dispute over party funds. "Colonel Barker" was found not guilty and left the group soon after the trial.[3]

Bankruptcy, prison and later life[edit]

As Leslie Ivor Victor Gauntlett Bligh Barker, restaurant proprietor, he was made bankrupt in 1928;[4] the London Gazette notice was amended some months later to "Lillias Irma Valerie Arkell-Smith ... commonly known as Leslie Ivor Victor Gauntlett Bligh Barker".[5]

In 1929, Barker was arrested at the Regent Palace Hotel, London, for contempt of court for failing to appear in connection with the bankruptcy proceedings. Barker was held in Brixton prison before transfer to a woman's prison, Holloway.

He was ultimately charged with, and convicted of, making a false statement on a marriage certificate. The judge, Sir Ernest Wild, the Recorder of London, sentenced him to nine months' imprisonment for perjury; from the bench, Wild said that Barker had "profaned the house of God".[6] After being released from Holloway, Barker moved to Henfield, West Sussex, where he lived as John Hill. While there, in 1934, he was arrested for theft but acquitted. In 1937 when employed as a manservant in London, he pleaded guilty to theft and was fined.[7]

Later, he wrote about his life several times in popular newspapers and magazines. As Colonel Barker, he appeared in a Blackpool sideshow called "On a Strange Honeymoon" in the 1930s.[8][9]


He died in obscurity, under the name Geoffrey Norton, on 18 February 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Kessingland churchyard, near Lowestoft, Suffolk.[10][better source needed]


D. H. Lawrence, in the essay "A Propos of Lady Chatterley's Lover" (1929), cited Colonel Barker, namely that "his poor wife thought she was married normally and happily to a real husband", as an example of ignorance about sex.

The story of the many lives of Barker is told in Colonel Barker's Monstrous Regiment by Rose Collis, Virago 2001.

The Brighton Museum and History Centre celebrated his life during February 2006, as part of England's LGBT month's celebrations.[11]

"The Perfect Gentleman", one of the Queers: Eight Monologues curated by Mark Gatiss, (2017), was based on Barker.[12]


  1. ^ "Marriage". Army and Navy Gazette. 4 May 1918.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Martin Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts: Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars, Pimlico, 2006, p. 54
  3. ^ Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts, p. 69
  4. ^ "No. 33435". The London Gazette. 2 November 1928. p. 7178.
  5. ^ "No. 33477". The London Gazette. 15 March 1929. p. 1881.
  6. ^ Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts, p. 55
  7. ^ "'Colonel Barker's' Masquerades" Western Gazette 26 March 1937
  8. ^ Cross, Gary (2005). Worktowners at Blackpool: Mass-Observation and Popular Leisure in the 1930s. Routledge.
  9. ^ "On a strange honeymoon". Blackpool Museum. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
  10. ^ Valerie Arkell-Smith at Find a Grave
  11. ^ Culture24; LGBT History Month At Brighton Museum and History Centre
  12. ^ "Mark Gatiss on reflecting a century of gay life in Queers". BBC Arts. BBC. Retrieved 2 December 2018.

Further reading[edit]

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