And so here we are: 2014, the centenary of the start of the Great War. This was meant to be the war to end all wars, but turned out to be just World War One, with World War Two on the horizon.
So, in commemoration of this centenary (which marks more than any other the beginning of the Modern Age: in fact, the start of what Eric Hobsbawm christened the Short Twentieth Century), I’ve written and submitted a short story, The Brickwork Lane Pals, inspired by the futility and stupidity of the conflict, but also by the undeniable courage and comradeship of the soldiers involved in the conflict. And also (seeing as this is a Bradley Stoke story) something about class difference and the very different attitudes towards sex and custom that prevailed at the time.
However, as there has to be a sex element in this story and because there weren’t any women at all at the front (all the women were in brothels far away from the front and safe from enemy shells), the only kind of sex available to either officers or men was what they provided for one another. So, in other words, this short story is one of the few stories I’ve written which can be categorised as “Gay Male” or “M/M” or “Homosexual” or whatever.
I’m not gay myself, so my account of the feeling men have for one another and the sexual behaviour that characterise their relationships is based on pretty much second-hand reports and what you can see on the internet. However, I’m also not lesbian, hermaphrodite, black or any one of the various flavours of humanity and associated sexual activities that I’ve written about. Personally, since my main intention is not to give an accurate and complete view of homosexual behaviour (any more than I want to do the same for activities associated with bondage, fetishism or body modification), but to use sexual activity as a kind of excuse on which to hang a story, I think I can be pardoned.
This short story is about homosexual love in the trenches: which we know did happen though more often between fellow officers and less often (in proportional terms) between fellow enlisted men, but very rarely between officers and men. In those days, and probably not that much differently these days, the classes rarely mixed except in wholly exploitative terms. I’m sure historians can provide plenty of arguments about the actual prevalence of homosexual behaviour, but I imagine that rather like the prevalence of such behaviour in prisons and public schools it is something that happened but about which few men were prepared to admit to.
Unlike, in this case, those members of Kitchener’s Army that this short story celebrates: the Brickwork Lane Pals.