WWI: Study details punishment for soldiers’ sexuality

Ottawa –

Frederick Lee Hardy died fighting for Canada near Vimy Ridge in World War I. Shortly before his death in action, the teenager was doing hard labor in his prison as a military punishment for his sexuality.

Hardy, one of at least 19 members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force involved in a consensual relationship, was arrested and tried for what was then known as gross obscenity.

The painful and often dark stories of these men were revealed by Sarah Worthman while conducting research for Veterans Affairs Canada. LGBT Purge Funda non-profit organization formed through a class action settlement.

The Ottawa settlement was a key component of a comprehensive federal apology made in November 2017 for decades of discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

When Worthman’s contract with the Veterans Administration ended in May 2022, she wasn’t delving into the World War I era.

“And I knew I had an obligation to my community to do whatever I could to spread these stories,” she said in an interview. I brought in a proposal for

Worthman is currently a master’s student and freelance researcher, and Executive Director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Queer Research Initiative.

Her efforts to detail cases of gross obscenity included sifting through nearly 200 court files.

“The way the records are arranged is a complete hodgepodge,” she said. “There were a lot of long hours just sitting in my little office staring at my handwriting cursive and trying to interpret what it meant.”

Wirthman has chosen to use the term queer throughout her research, in line with recent moves to repurpose a term that has been used slanderously as encompassing both gender and sexuality. Terms such as gay, bisexual, transgender and even homosexual are relatively modern identity markers, she notes.

As a queer, Worthman wept as she read the files, understanding what members of her community went through a century ago. She said, “Part of the process was really dealing with it and dealing with those feelings.”

Hardy grew up in Brandon, Massachusetts and left school to help on the family farm. With war raging in Europe in 1915, he headed abroad at the age of 16 with the 8th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

In July 1916, while serving as a Private First Class in Abelle, Belgium, Hardy was arrested for “gross lewd acts with another man,” according to the report.

“Hardy’s battalion had just returned from the front lines after a particularly intense battle, and the soldiers were enjoying a well-deserved period of rest,” the report said. I attended the establishment for a few drinks.”

They wandered from town to the nearby fields on their summer walks.

“On that pasture, they were found together by a group of superior officers who were lodging at a nearby farmhouse. Both soldiers were arrested and tried by a court-martial the next morning.”

Five captains who witnessed the event testified against Hardy, and descriptions of male sexual activity were read aloud in court.

“I can only imagine the humiliation Frederick must have felt in that moment,” Worthman writes. Rejected fellow jurors.”

Hardy was found guilty by the military’s superior board and sentenced to 18 months of hard labour.

He served an eight-month prison term at harsh HM Winchester. This prison is one of several prisons in the UK that he was conscripted to house military personnel.

Since the Canadian Expeditionary Force was primarily based in southern England, most of the convicted Canadian soldiers were sent to prisons in the area so that they could be quickly mobilized in the trenches if necessary.

In fact, having suffered heavy losses at Vimy Ridge, Hardy was summoned to the front to participate in the Canadian offensive at Hill 70.

Killed August 15, 1917His body was never found.

“This makes him the only known queer soldier to be commemorated at the Vimy Memorial,” said the study.

“Frederick Hardy lost his life fighting for the country that imprisoned him and spent the last months of his short life being tortured for his sexuality in the lonely halls of Winchester Prison.”

For many of the soldiers, war was their first contact with other queer people, and they had little opportunity to understand their sexuality, and were forced to cover it up with patchy and inappropriate lies. Worthman points out.

In total, at least 35 men in CEF have been tried for serious obscenity charges, 19 of them for consensual queer relationship charges.

She found that three men had been dismissed, or “checked out,” for their sexuality during the war. “The cashier in this context refers to the long-standing military tradition of firing officers deemed to have ‘scandalous behaviour’.”

During World War I, this ceremony was held in front of other officers in the regiment to destroy status symbols such as epaulettes, insignia, and badges to emphasize that they could never again serve under the crown. not only destroys the social standing of officers, but prevents them from obtaining a military pension.”

Lieutenant Richmond Earl Lyon, who served three years of hard labor at Winchester Prison, was released shortly after being court-martialed, the study says.

Cashiers were also often widely reported in trench papers and were rooted in the concept of public military discipline as a deterrent to misconduct. was used as a

Until recently, there was little knowledge of these courts-martials, and no mention of the “horrific incarceration” faced by queer men during the war, says the study. There has been no apology for what they experienced, and no effort has been made to commemorate them.”

Worthman says people can honor men by reading their stories, and would like to see them remembered through the laying of plaques and wreaths.

“The stories of these men and their persecution should not be seen as a shameful isolated incident in Canadian history, but instead the long-standing narrative that has evolved into the oppression that queer people still face in Canada today. It should be seen as an example of policy and principles, she writes.

Under a policy that was incorporated in the 1950s and continued into the early 90s, federal agencies investigated, sanctioned, and sometimes fired lesbian and gay members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, and public services.

Many who kept their jobs were demoted, overlooked for promotion, or had their security clearances revoked.

The class action settlement included millions of dollars for settlements and memorial measures, including building a national monument in Ottawa and declassifying the public archives documenting the Dark Chapter.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published on March 25, 2023.

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