Valerie Arkell-Smith (1895-1960 as Valerie Barker), was a cross-dresser who pretended to have fought in the RAF as Colonel Victor Barker.
Life prior to crossdressingEdit
Arkell-Smith grew up in Jersey. She expressed desire about being born a boy. Arkell-Smith had a love for horses and cars, and she enlisted, as a woman VAD, 1914 and later joined the fledgling WRAF. In 1918, she married Australian officer Harold Arkell-Smith. She suffered a series of problems during her first marriage, including domestic violence and psychological abuse. Their marriage lasted a short period of time and they divorced shortly after they married. Arkell-Smith soon met another man, Ernest Pearce-Crouch, also from Australia. The couple moved in together, and they had two children, a boy and a girl.
Arkell-Smith and Pearce-Crouch moved to a farm in Sussex, and Arkell-Smith started to dress in a more masculine way.
In Sussex, Arkell-Smith met Elfrida Haward. By then, Arkell-Smith had begun to dress as a man. She left her husband in 1923 and began a relationship with Haward. Haward believed Arkell-Smith was a man.
The couple began living at the Grand Hotel, in Brighton. By then, Valerie Arkell-Smith had begun to use the name Victor Barker. On November 14, Arkell-Smith and Haward married, in what ultimately was an illegal marriage, since Arkell-Smith was a woman.
Arkell-Smith, as "Victor Barker", was arrested for bankruptcy but was ultimately charged with, and convicted of, making a false statement on a marriage certificate. The judge Ernest Wild sentenced her to 9 months imprisonment.
After being released, Arkell-Smith moved to Henfield, where she lived as "John Hill". While there, she was arrested again 1934, this time for theft.
Later, she wrote about her life three times in popular newspapers and magazines. As Colonel Barker, she also became the subject of a sideshow in the 1930s on Blackpool seafront.
Arkell-Smith died in poverty and obscurity, under the name "Geoffrey Norton", in 1960.
Arkell-Smith is buried in an unmarked grave in Kessingland churchyard, near Lowestoft, Suffolk.
The full story of the many lives of Valerie Arkell-Smith/Victor Barker is told in 'Colonel Barker's Monstrous Regiment' by Rose Collis, Virago 2001.
D. H. Lawrence, in the essay "A Propos of Lady Chatterley's Lover," cited Colonel Barker (namely the fact that "his" wife believed for years that she was married to a man) as an example of the culture's profound and pervasive ignorance about sex.
The Brighton museum and history center celebrated her life during February, 2006, as part of England's LGBT month's celebrations.