World War 2 heroes manned anti-aircraft guns in full drag after bomber alert

Recently unearthed photos reveal one of the lighter hearted moments of World War Two , as British soldiers are seen manning anti-aircraft guns in full panto drag.

However 80 years ago the wartime government had the pictures banned so as not to ‘damage’ the image of the British soldier .

Taken in 1940, pictures show the gunners going about their business in dresses, complete with their usual helmets.

Others show the men applying makeup to each other, running up steps as their dresses blow in the wind and showing off their undergarments on stage.

This set of photographs, taken by John Topham while working in RAF intelligence, was censored by the British Ministry of Information when they were taken during the Second World War.

But now the photographs can be seen for the first time after the originals were found in the archive of the veteran Fleet Street photographer.

They were captured during a visit to the base of the Royal Artillery Coastal Defence Battery at Shornemead Fort, near Gravesend, in Kent.

The troops had been rehearsing in drag for one of the shows they often staged to keep themselves entertained.

However during one of Topham’s visits, the men were called to attention in order to deal with the approach of Luftwaffe bombers, going over the Channel to southern England.

As there was no time to change back into their uniforms they had no choice but to return to their battle stations still dressed in drag.

After the war, Topham revealed that the Ministry of Information was concerned that these specific pictures could undermine morale.

It was feared that it would give the impression that British troops were not quite as masculine as the public believed.

There may have also been concern that Nazi propaganda chiefs would use the images of the troops in drag shooting anti-aircraft guns to ridicule Allies.

Nevertheless, other images from Topham’s visit to Shornemead Fort at the time were used in papers including The Sketch and The War Illustrated.

One was of the unit wearing their dresses running up a grass embankment, in response to the air raid sirens.

Another showed the men performing on stage in bonnets, dresses and black stockings.

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A caption alongside a photo, taken from a cutting in one of Topham’s scrapbooks, said: “They were in the middle of a rehearsal when an Alert sounded. ‘Jerry’, like Time, waits for no one so the rehearsal was called off while contact was made with the battery.”

Another read: “Still wearing their dresses the dancers rushed to their action stations – wolves in sheep’s clothing, so to speak.”

Performing pantomime shows was a popular pastime among servicemen and often helped maintain morale during wartime.

Some shows were even put on by British prisoners of war held in German camps.

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