Luke Turner: Men at War
As a child, Luke Turner was obsessed with the Second World War. He spent hours watching Sunday war films, poring over stories of derring-do and relishing in birthday trips to air museums. Lying in bed beneath Airfix fighter planes suspended from his ceiling, he would think about the men that might sit in their cockpits, and whether he could ever be one of them. Now, as an adult who has come to terms with a masculine identity and sexuality that is often erased from dominant military narratives, he undertakes a refreshingly honest analysis of his fascination with the war.
In Men at War, Turner looks beyond the increasingly retrogressive and jingoistic ideal of a Britain that never was to recognise men of war as creatures of love, fear, hope and desire. From writers, filmmakers, artists and ordinary men – including those in his own family – Turner assembles a broad cast of characters to bring the war to life. There are conscientious objectors, a bisexual Commando, a pacifist poet who flew for Bomber Command, a transgender RAF pilot, a soldier who suffered in Japanese POW camps and later in life became an LGBT+ activist, and those who simply did what they could just to survive and return home to a complicated peace.
As the conflict moves beyond living memory and the last veterans leave us, we are in danger of missing the opportunity to gain a true understanding of this rich history. By exploring a wartime experience that embraces sex, lust and the body as much as tactics and weaponry, Turner argues that the only way we can really understand the Second World War is to get to grips with the complexity of the lives and identities of those who fought and endured it.
Luke Turner’s critically-acclaimed memoir Out of the Woods, a reflection on sexuality, masculinity and the relationship between humans and ‘nature’ is his first book. Out Of The Woods was shortlisted for the 2019 Wainwright Prize for nature writing, longlisted for the Polari Prize for first book by an LGBT+ writer, and Turner has been selected by Val McDiarmid as one of 10 most important LGBT+ writers for a British Council and National Centre for Writing initiative.
In 2019 Turner co-curated a programme of arts events celebrating the landscape and people of Epping Forest as part of Waltham Forest’s stint as the first London Borough of Culture. He has participated in exhibitions at the V&A, Hayward Gallery and Serpentine. He is co-founder and editor of The Quietus and writes for a variety of publications including The Guardian, Observer, Vice, Dazed & Confused, National Geographic, NME, and the SomeSuch journal, and as a broadcaster for BBC Radio Three, Four and 6Music. He has appeared on television programmes such as Countryfile and the Big Scottish Book Club.
A bracingly compassionate, unapologetically sensual and profoundly personal reclamation of a part of our national heritage that is all too often hijacked. Turner was obviously born to write this book
An intensely personal examination of manliness and sexuality in WW2 by a man who comes clean about his lingering Airfix habit. Turner fearlessly interrogates the war-obsession of 1970s boyhoods and unearths some extraordinary testimonies and stories from the frontlines. This is lovely, tender, subversive stuff
Pic Neil Thomson