‘Nazism would never have been defeated’ without a group of courageous queer MPs who risked it all to warn Britain of Hitler
A new book explores the untold story of The Glamour Boys – a group of brave gay and bisexual MPs who warned Britain of Nazi Germany.
“The Glamour Boys” was the disparaging name given to a group of MPs by then-prime minster Neville Chamberlain. These gay and bisexual men were decried as warmongers and threatened with deselection while speaking out against the government’s appeasement policies.
In his new book, Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda, explains that if not for these “parliamentary rebels”, Britain “would never have gone to war with Hitler, Churchill would never have become prime minister and Nazism would never have been defeated”.
“I’ve been very careful in the book not to overstate what I can prove or go beyond what I can state with certainty,” Bryant told the Observer.
By studying diaries, private letters, photo albums and other materials, Bryant spent five years linking together the stories of the group: Tory MPs Jack Macnamara, Ronnie Cartland and Victor Cazalet, and Robert Bernays, a Liberal minister in the national government.
The men saw the Nazi threat through frequent trips to Berlin, a city that was at the time known for its queer liberation.
“Everyone was fascinated by Germany,” Bryant said.
“You had a phenomenal flourishing of bars and restaurants – which is what gave us Cabaret the movie – and lots of men went there two or three times a year.”
The Night of the Long Knives – a 1934 Nazi purge – and the abhorrent treatment and murders of Jewish and gay people ignited the men’s fight.
They put themselves in an extremely vulnerable position, risking imprisonment by enlisting for the war and campaigning for rearmament.
“[For these men] their sexuality was an essential aspect of their bravery, and they showed the courage of their convictions by enlisting,” Bryant said.
“We like to think we know the story of how Britain went to war in 1939, but this part of the story has never been told,” he added.
“And this hidden history matters because, for centuries, homosexual men have been portrayed as hedonistic, effeminate, limp-wristed, couldn’t catch a ball and that sort of thing. It was assumed they would be physically and morally weak.”
Chris Bryant hopes The Glamour Boys will have an impact on the national curriculum, and be mentioned in history lessons when covering the Second World War.
“Churchill gets all the credit all the time because that’s what he wrote,” he said.
“He was opposed to the policy of appeasement, and all the rest of it, but what nobody, I guess, would know is that half the time when Churchill and [Anthony] Eden were plotting with the rebels, roughly half the men in the room were ‘queer’.”