The wonderful thing about historical memoir is that quite often key events are brought to our attention which make us realise how far we’ve come and yet how far we still have to go. Elaine M. Chamber’s This Queer Angel, detailing her very personal fight for sexual equality in the armed forces, is one such book.

At its heart are events that happened more than 30 years ago which highlight the prejudice that consenting non-‘heteronormative’ adults experienced in the armed forces, preventing ‘openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender personnel’ from serving for decades. One of the few institutions in which ‘homosexual behaviour’ was still illegal, following the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, the military prosecuted hundreds, if not thousands of individuals, like Chambers, for offences as little as ‘writing a letter, confiding in a diary or journal; having a “suspect” book, film or magazine’ or even confiding in a ‘padre or MO (medical officer/doctor)’, all of which could potentially ‘jeopardise everything’.

In Chambers’ case, in her early 20s, she joined the army as a student nurse, eventually rising through the ranks to lieutenant. In 1987, she was investigated by the military police, following rumours of ‘unnatural conduct’, which led to her expulsion from the forces. Instead of hiding away to lick her wounds, Chambers decided to fight, going on to cofound Rank Outsiders with Robert Ely, supporting gay men and lesbians in the armed forces. The story she recounts is frank, insightful and at times funny, her courage shining through.

This Queer Angel is a significant book, bringing into focus an important and neglected part of history and detailing the discrimination and prejudice that the LGBT+ community have experienced not just in the armed forces, but in larger society, too. It’s frightening because the time that Chambers is writing about isn’t that long ago and, in a modern world gone quite, quite mad, these kind of prejudices and negative attitudes to anyone seen as ‘Other’ are shockingly still prevalent.

A compelling, rather extraordinary read.

This Queer Angel | Elaine M. Chambers | 7 March 2019 | Unbound |paperback | £10.99 |

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Acknowledgements: Book text quotes © Elaine Chambers 2019. This review is published as part of the Random Things Tour virtual book tour. Please check out the other participants. Many thanks to Anne Cater and also to the publisher for sending us a review copy and the jacket image. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.


Also of interest:You Are What You Read’, Jodie Jackson‘; ‘Sarah Hilary’s Never Be Broken, a study in loss‘; ‘Permission by Saskia Vogel’; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’; ‘The Killer You Know, SR Masters’ friendship noir’; ‘The Way of All Flesh’; ‘Call Me Star Girl’;Falling from the Floating World’; ‘Blood Orange’; Beton Rouge’;The Lost Man‘; ‘Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdad’s Sing’; ‘The Story Keeper, Anna Mazzola’s Gothic novel‘; ‘Midland‘; ‘A Greater God‘; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘We should all be feminists’; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beautiful words – The Language of Secrets’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”’; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

Select Q&As/interviews: ‘Meet Paul E. Hardisty’;‘Lilja Sigurðardóttir’; ‘Tom Cox’; ‘Vanda Symon; ‘Gunnar Staalesen’; Some like it hot – the joy of Carole Mortimer, award-winning novelist‘; Gina Kirkham;John Fairfax’; ‘Ian Ridley’; ‘David Stuart Davies’.


This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.




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