One of the Boys: Homosexuality in the Military During World War II


338 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2772-9
DDC 355'.086'64097109044




Reviewed by John Stanley

John Stanley is a senior policy advisor in the Corporate Policy Branch
Management Board Secretariat, Government of Ontario.


In this book, Paul Jackson examines military policy toward
homosexuality, military law, and military psychiatry, as well as the
lives of gay servicemen in Canada and overseas during World War II.
(Lesbians appear only occasionally.) Although homosexual behaviour in
the armed forces was treated with the utmost seriousness, an offence
against morality and masculinity, Jackson has discovered hundreds of
cases. He not only focuses on individual cases based on interviews and
correspondence, but also looks to court-martial proceedings, police
reports, and psychiatric assessments as well as published sources.

War invariably breaks down social structures and strictures. With an
uncertain future and in a new, all-male environment, many Canadians had
their first homosexual experience in the military. The military
addressed this behaviour in two frameworks: legal and medical. Canadian
military law was firmly grounded in a theological discourse that
regarded such activity as sinful. On the other hand, Canadian military
psychiatrists regarded homosexuality as an illness. Many cases
demonstrate how the clash of these frameworks affected the rank and file
as well as officers. While using these medical and legal constructs, the
military was faced with the constant pressure for experienced

One of Jackson’s fascinating conclusions is that 85 percent of the
soldiers found guilty of homosexual behaviour were only sentenced to
detention before being returned to service. Consequently, there was a
disconnect between policy and application, giving enough room for
Canadian gay servicemen to satisfy their sexual and affectional needs
within a fundamentally unsympathetic environment. Jackson concludes, on
the basis of empirical evidence, that homosexuality was neither a gauge
of a man’s character nor an impediment to military cohesion.
Fortunately, the military forces of many countries, including Canada,
have now accepted such evidence.

Unfortunately, using this book poses some serious difficulties. I have
never seen a more complex treatment of footnotes. First, the reader
spots the footnote in the text, then looks at the back of the book for
the citation, which is not complete, and finally, the bibliography for
the full details in order to locate the study. Moreover, the
bibliography lists only published material. The rich evidence of
archival research exploited by Jackson so effectively is dispersed among
hundreds of footnotes. This approach will hardly facilitate the work of
other researchers wishing to search the same archival collections.

Despite such irritants, One of the Boys is the finest work in gay
history produced to date in Canada. Jackson has thought seriously about
the terminology and framing of gay history as a field. His
thoughtfulness provides yet another dimension to this publication,
making it of use to almost anyone working in the field.


Jackson, Paul., “One of the Boys: Homosexuality in the Military During World War II,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 20, 2024,