Wife Elfrida Emma Haward
St Edmund Churchyard Kessingland, Waveney District, Suffolk, England
Victor Barker, born Lillias Irma Valerie Barker (August 27, 1895 – February 18, 1960), who also went by the pseudonyms John Hill and Geoffrey Norton, was a transgender man who is notable for having married a woman. He was an officer of the National Fascisti, a bankrupt and a convicted criminal. The case of Colonel Barker, widely reported in the popular press in the 1920s and 1930s, demonstrates the extent to which the precise connections between biological sex, gender and sexual identity had yet to be fixed in the years before the Second World War. Colonel Barker first attracted the attention of the tabloid press in March 1929, following his arrest for contempt of court, after failing to appear or an earlier bankruptcy hearing. During a medical examination in Brixton Prison, Barker was discovered to be a woman, Valerie Arkell-Smith. Barker had been living as a man since 1923, working in a range of occupations and having a number of relationship with women, including Elfreda Haward, whom he married.
Barker was born Lillias Irma Valerie Barker on 27 August 1895 in Saint Clement on the Channel Island of Jersey, the child of Thomas William Barker, farmer and architect, and his wife, Lillias Adelaide Hill. The family moved to Surrey in 1899.
In April 1918, Barker married an Australian, Lieutenant Harold Arkell Smith, in Milford, Surrey. The marriage lasted only a short period and the husband returned to Australia early the following year. On 26 August 1918, Barker enrolled as a member of the Women's Royal Air Force. After the war, Barker moved in with Ernest Pearce-Crouch, also of the Australian Imperial Force; the couple had a boy and a girl. After they had moved to a farm at Climping near Littlehampton, West Sussex, Barker started to dress in a more masculine way.
Barker left Pearce-Crouch in 1923 and began a relationship with Elfrida Emma Haward. Although Barker was presenting as a woman when Haward first met him, Barker wrote that he told her that he was "a man who had been injured in the war; that I was really a man acting as a woman for family reasons. I made some excuse about it being my mother's wish, and she believed it." The couple began living at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. By then, Barker had begun to use the name Sir Victor Barker. On 14 November 1923 at St Peter's Church, Brighton, Barker and Haward wed in what was later judged to be an illegal marriage.
In 1926 while living in London, Barker received a letter addressed to a different Colonel Barker, inviting him to join the National Fascisti. Barker replied to the misdirected letter with the missive "why not", reasoning that membership of what was a macho group would help him pose as a man. He lived at the National Fascisti headquarters in Earl's Court where he worked as secretary for the group's leader Henry Rippon Seymour, also involving himself in training young members in boxing and fencing. Barker involved himself in the kind of rough-housing that became the hallmark of the group and later recalled that "I used to go out with the boys to Hyde Park and we had many rows with the Reds." That he was assigned female at birth was never picked up on by his fellow members.
In 1927, he was brought before the Old Bailey on charges of possessing a forged firearm certificate after Rippon Seymour had pulled Barker's revolver on another member, Charles Eyres, in a dispute over party funds. "Colonel Barker" was found not guilty and left the group soon after the trial.
As Leslie Ivor Victor Gauntlett Bligh Barker, restaurant proprietor, he was made bankrupt in 1928; the London Gazette notice was amended some months later to "Lillias Irma Valerie Arkell-Smith ... commonly known as Leslie Ivor Victor Gauntlett Bligh Barker".
In 1929, Barker was arrested at the Regent Palace Hotel, London, for contempt of court for failing to appear in connection with the bankruptcy proceedings. Barker was held in Brixton prison before transfer to a woman's prison, Holloway.
He was ultimately charged with, and convicted of, making a false statement on a marriage certificate. The judge, Sir Ernest Wild, the Recorder of London, sentenced him to nine months' imprisonment for perjury; from the bench, Wild said that Barker had "profaned the house of God". After being released from Holloway, Barker moved to Henfield, West Sussex, where he lived as John Hill. While there, in 1934, he was arrested for theft but acquitted. In 1937 when employed as a manservant in London, he pleaded guilty to theft and was fined.
Later, he wrote about his life several times in popular newspapers and magazines. In 1937, Barker appeared with his bride in a peep-show at Blackpool which invited spectators to watch the couple lying on neighbouring single beds during their honeymoon. Spectators were informed that Barker had agreed to a £200 wager that he would not consummate the marriage for the duration of the Blackpool summer season.
He died in obscurity, under the name Geoffrey Norton, on 18 February 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Kessingland churchyard, near Lowestoft, Suffolk.
D. H. Lawrence, in the essay "A Propos of Lady Chatterley's Lover" (1929), cited Colonel Barker, namely that "his poor wife thought she was married normally and happily to a real husband", as an example of ignorance about sex.
The story of the many lives of Barker is told in Colonel Barker's Monstrous Regiment by Rose Collis, Virago 2001.
Brighton Museum and History Centre marked his life during February 2006, as part of England's LGBT month's celebrations.
"The Perfect Gentleman", one of the Queers: Eight Monologues (2017), curated by Mark Gatiss, was based on Barker.
In Female Masculinity (1998), Jack Halberstam writes that Barker represented "the beginning of the emergence of a transsexual identity."
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE