Gender & History ISSN 0953-5233
Gender & History, Vol.30 No.1 March 2018, pp. 294–295.
Yorick Smaal, Sex, Soldiers and the South Pacific 1939–1945: Queer Identities
in Australia in the Second World War (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015),
pp. xxi + 250. ISBN: 978-1-137-36513-2 (hb).
Yorick Smaal’s Sex, Soldiers and the South Pacific 1939–1945: Queer Identities in
Australia in the Second World War is a fascinating and important book. The work is the
first to explicitly examine queer culture in Australia during the Second World War. The
overarching focus is the changes to queer culture engendered by war, predominantly fo-
cusing on Brisbane and Queensland. The influx of Australian and international military
personnel and ensuing changing demographics, as Smaal argues, makes Queensland
an important and apposite case study with likely parallels in other parts of Australia
and other war zones. The author explores how exigencies of war shaped romantic
and sexual encounters. The war, according to Smaal, created new opportunities for
sexual liaisons. Smaal’s work shows how an influx of foreign, mainly American, and
Australian soldiers altered the patterns of queer life – shifting not only behaviours and
patterns of interaction but even the language used by men themselves to describe their
own sexual lives. In addition, Smaal elegantly shows how the surge in population,
combined with military communal living, made privacy a luxury thus driving men into
public spaces to conduct their affairs often with consequence of prosecution. However,
Smaal also shows how military service both nurtured and inhibited homosex behaviour.
While many men already entrenched in queer culture joined the military, for a myriad
of reasons as Smaal shows, for some men the all-male environment, coupled with
freedom from parental supervision, allowed them the opportunity to act on unexplored
desires. Indeed, for a minority of men this was the attraction of military service. Others
undoubtedly turned to same-sex encounters in an all male environment. Regardless,
Smaal persuasively argues that these were not only fleeting sexual liaisons but men
also successfully created distinct queer cultures within the military setting.
However, for many men the hardships of military life quashed all sexual desire.
Moreover, the military were, unsurprisingly, averse to same-sex practices. In addition
to focusing on individual experiences the book also focuses on the official methods
used to monitor and control homosex. Smaal shows that while the Australian army
focused significantly less on the issue of same-sex relationships than other Allied
military forces, most notably the Americans, men were frequently court martialled for
these acts and there was a persistent, and successful, drive to have men who acted on
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd