Valerie Arkell-Smith

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As Colonel Victor Barker

Lillias Irma Valerie Arkell-Smith (1895–1960) was a transgender man who, as Victor Barker "married" a woman. Under various pseudonyms he was an officer of the National Fascisti, a bankrupt, and a convicted criminal.

Early life[edit]

Lillias Irma Valerie Barker was born on 27 August 1895 in St 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, in Milford, Surrey she married Australian Lieutenant Harold Arkell Smith but the marriage lasted only a short period, although they never divorced, and the husband returned to Australia early in the following year. On 26 August 1918 she enrolled as a member of the Women's Royal Air Force.[1] After the war, she moved in with Ernest Pearce-Crouch, also an officer with 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, Arkell-Smith started to dress in a more masculine way.

Passing as a man[edit]

In Sussex, Arkell-Smith met Elfrida Emma Haward. By then, Arkell-Smith had begun to dress as a man. He left his common-law husband in 1923 and began a relationship with Haward. Haward believed Arkell-Smith was a man. The couple began living at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. By then, Arkell-Smith 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.[1]

Fascism[edit]

In 1926 whilst living in London, he accidentally received a letter inviting him to join the National Fascisti which had been addressed to a different Colonel Barker. Arkell-Smith 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.[1] He lived at the group's Earl's Court headquarters building where he worked as secretary for the group's leader Henry Rippon Seymour, whilst also involving himself in training young members in boxing and fencing, two activities regularly practised by National Fascisti members.[1] Arkell-Smith 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."[1] That he was assigned female at birth was never picked up on by his fellow members.[1]

In 1927, he was brought before the Old Bailey on charges of possessing a forged firearms 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 this trial.[2]

Bankruptcy[edit]

As Leslie Ivor Victor Gauntlett Bligh Barker, restaurant proprietor, he was made bankrupt in 1928;[3] this was amended some months later to "Lillias Irma Valerie Arkell-Smith ... commonly known as Leslie Ivor Victor Gauntlett Bligh Barker".[4]

Prison and later life[edit]

In 1929, "Victor Barker" was arrested for failing to appear in court with relation to the bankruptcy. 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. Upon learning of his relationship with Haward, Wild said from the bench that Arkell-Smith had "profaned the house of God".[5] After being released from Holloway, Arkell-Smith moved to Henfield, where he lived as John Hill. While there, he was arrested again 1934, this time for theft. In 1937 he pleaded guilty to theft when employed as a manservant in London.[6]

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

Death[edit]

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.

Legacy[edit]

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

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

The Brighton Museum and History Centre celebrated his life during February 2006, as part of England's LGBT month's celebrations.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Martin Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts: Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars, Pimlico, 2006, p. 54
  2. ^ Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts, p. 69
  3. ^ "No. 33435". The London Gazette. 2 November 1928. p. 7178. 
  4. ^ "No. 33477". The London Gazette. 15 March 1929. p. 1881. 
  5. ^ Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts, p. 55
  6. ^ "'Colonel Barker's' Masquerades" Western Gazette 26 March 1937
  7. ^ Culture24; LGBT History Month At Brighton Museum and History Centre

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]