In the first-ever history of homosexual NZ soldiers during World War II, award-winning historian Brent Coutts offers a fascinating account, principally through three men: Harold Robinson, Ralph Dyer and Douglas Morison. In an extract from the book is an account of Robinson's friendship and later marriage to lesbian socialite Freda Stark.
On September 13, 1947 Freda Stark and Harold Robinson married in the church of St Mary the Virgin in Primrose Hill, with Ralph Dyer as their best man. Douglas Morison was absent as he had continued to work in Skegness throughout the summer in order to save some money and he was not impressed by the union:
"Hal has married Freda (tho' don't think this juicy titbit of scandal is for public release) which means that they will I presume want to get a place of their own … Wasn't in town at the time of the wedding, but from what I can gather it was a real Chelsea 'do' and went on for two days, the guests changing completely from the time the cake was cut until the last arrivals left. I scraped together 1/6 and sent a telegram, which is all the wedding present they'll get from me – still, hope they'll be happy."
From Robinson's perspective, this was not simply a marriage of convenience. He loved Stark and they were the very best of friends. For the first year they lived in a monogamous relationship, though this later changed. Stark had been told by a London gynaecologist that she would not be able to have children without an operation. Both were by nature homosexual and sex was not a large part of their relationship. As such, they made a decision to have an open marriage; she kept his surname for the time being. They attended dances and parties, enjoying dressing up for each occasion, and travelled together in Europe. They made a trip to the south of France with their friend Celia Gledhill and went to Dubrovnik in Yugoslavia. On one holiday they travelled to the French nudist colony on Ile du Levant, one of the four islands that make up the Iles d'Hyeres.
Crossing the Lines: The Story of Three Homosexual New Zealand Soldiers in World War II (Otago University Press, $49.95) is out now.