The incredible true story of one woman’s campaign for equality in the armed forces.
A revealing memoir, laying open the cruel truth behind the longstanding ban on LGBT+ personnel serving openly in H.M. Forces. Discover the human cost of being deemed a criminal in the institutions protecting fellow citizens’ hard-won freedoms.
The first book covering recent military history, written from a lesbian perspective.
Thanks to Elaine M. Chambers, Unbound and Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for providing me with a copy of this book and organising the tour.
Chambers joined the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Nursing Corps in 1982 as a student nurse. In 1986 she was commissioned as a Lieutenant and Registered Nurse (one of only two in her officer training class to come from the ranks – the rest were NHS-trained direct-entrants), and was sent to join the Army in Hannover, Germany. In 1987 the MPs investigated her for homosexuality – which wasn’t illegal in Britain but was against military law, with the excuse being that the Other Ranks would leave in droves if they knew LGBT+ people were openly working with them. It was utter hypocrisy, since according to the author, everyone knew the WRAC was full of lesbians, and that many of the upper ranks generally were successfully closeted bi-and homosexual people.
Chambers goes on to describe her life after the the QAs, working as an agency nurse, her fears that social homophobia and her ‘disgraceful’ resignation from the Army would blight her chances as a ‘civvy’.
Later, after describing the start of her post-Army nursing career, Chambers delves into the 30 years since she was forced to resign her commission, her acceptance of her sexuality, founding Rank Outsiders, fighting for the ban on homosexuals in the Forces, caring for her parents, fighting for compensation for the discrimination that cost her her career along with 70 – 80 other ex-service personnel, and in the last few years the recognition for her work.
Elaine’s writing is humorous, entertaining and affecting, as she describes the highs and lows of her Army career, from her friendships and relationships to the difficulties of nursing in Germany during the Cold War, and the horrendous treatment meted out to her during the discriminatory investigation into her private life. She’s an intelligent woman, a clear observer of her life and the world around her with enough self-awareness to realise her own misconduct in drinking heavily when not on duty and having fun – although considering the atmosphere of alcoholic excess prevalent in the British armed forces at the best of times I can’t see how she’d done anything different to anyone else. Her treatment by the Army made me livid, her years of work fighting for equality made me feel frustrated for her, and her Epilogue made me bawl.
I highly recommend this book. It was well written and informative, covering a relatively recent period in British history from a unique perspective.
Elaine joined the Army in 1982, aged 21, as a student nurse. After qualifying as a staff nurse, she obtained a commission, becoming a junior sister in the rank of lieutenant. Her ordeal began in 1987, after rumours about her sexuality reached the military police. After being forced to resign, she met Robert Ely, who had been discharged from the Parachute Regiment after nearly 20 years’ service, and they founded Rank Outsiders, a campaign and support group, in 1991.
Since leaving the Army, Elaine initially struggled to find work that could rival the prospects and camaraderie of her Army career – she has had nearly 20 different jobs, mostly in nursing but also including stints at Eurostar, as a security guard at the Tower of London and briefly as a tree climbing instructor. She is now working as a medical administrator for a GP practice, following a momentous decision to take her name off the nursing register after her parents suffered serious ill health. She lives in the Isle of Wight.