Called to action. TopFoto / Retronaut /

By Mark McConville


HILARIOUS images have revealed one of the lighter-hearted moments of World War Two as British soldier man anti-aircraft guns in full panto-drag, which the wartime government banned so as not to damage the image of the “butch” British soldier.


The amusing pictures, as revealed by website Retronaut, show the gunners going about their business in dresses complete with their usual helmets.

TopFoto / Retronaut /


Other funny photographs show the men applying makeup to each other, running up steps as their dresses blow in the wind and showing off their under garments on stage.


This set of photographs, taken by photographer John Topham while working in RAF intelligence, was censored by the British Ministry of Information.

Manning the AA guns.
TopFoto / Retronaut /

It shows British soldiers manning the anti-aircraft guns “somewhere in Kent” whilst dressed in full dame costume – having to attend during the rehearsal for a pantomime.


Panto was popular in the army as a way to relieve stress by letting the soldiers enjoy themselves on their downtime.

MAnning the anti-aircraft guns.
TopFoto / Retronaut /


British Prisoners of War were even said to cross dress to perform in pantomimes to keep up morale in Nazi camps.


The pantomime productions were a huge success, proving popular with prisoners and guards alike.

Running up steps.
TopFoto / Retronaut /


Actors rehearsed six hours a day for months to master their roles as being chosen to perform was considered a big responsibility.


Other wartime cross dressing includes a key British intelligence figure in the Middle East who was once detained in Madrid after being seen ‘in a main street dressed, down a brassiere, as a woman.’

On stage.
TopFoto / Retronaut /


MI6 agent Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke had stopped off in the Spanish capital on his way to Egypt where he was to pass on key information.


He gave a number of different explanations for his clothing, telling Spanish police he was a novelist and wished to study the reactions of men to women in the streets.

Applying makeup.
TopFoto / Retronaut /


His story changed when the British consul visited him, telling them he was taking the clothes to a woman in Gibraltar and had put them on as a prank. This, of course, didn’t explain why the clothes were a perfect fit for the spy.


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