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Saturday 08 April 2017

A gay medic’s war diary

Posted in: True Stories
By Jacqui Stanford - 25th April 2015

David Wildey, a young New Zealand medic stationed in the Pacific during the Second World War, kept a diary in which he wrote about a passionate romance with a combat soldier.

Thanks to historian Chris Brickell, who delved into Wildey’s diary for an academic paper and his book Southern Men, we offer a snapshot of the soldier’s life to mark ANZAC Day.


The diary, which is held in the Hocken archive in Dunedin, covers the months between September 1943 and January 1944 while the 23-year-old was based in New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands.

Wildey was born in Christchurch in 1921. He joined the New Zealand Medical Corps and underwent medical training at Burnham camp near Christchurch before departing for New Caledonia, where he worked as assistant quartermaster at a base camp hospital. He had plenty of relaxed downtime which he was able to spend swimming, sunbathing and writing.

His diary is candid and erotic. He candidly writes about one leisurely afternoon where he engaged in a ‘regret’ (which he later explained as wanking).

Wildey described trying it on with a US Marine and getting rejected, but later he had success with another, writing in November and December 1943:

“We walked out of town into a suburb and apparently, looking for somewhere private, entered the grounds of a very big convent. We followed a path through the garden up-hill to a small retreat or summerhouse at the end. I cannot recall what sex took place but vividly recall that he had just cum on the floor when I happened to look up in time to warn him that a senior nun or mother was hurrying along the path towards us. We’d obviously been seen from the convent. We passed her guiltily without a word. She did not attempt to stop us, nor do I recall that she even spoke.”

However it was a New Zealand soldier Wildey had a passionate relationship with. They met at a hospital in Bourail after the soldier was admitted with fluid on the knee. They talked for hours.

“I used to help him exercise his leg, and with the intimacy of physical contact, and his dependence, the bond grew and I began to care about him,” Wildey wrote in October 1943.

He wrote about the things which attracted him to the man: “How lovely his lashes are! And long! And his brows, like his hair, so sleekly, ebony black! And his eyelids! So silken, and heavy, and cool, and moist, the soft sheen on them so seductive!”

The pair would meet at a swimming hole they dubbed their ‘Shangri La’ and things eventually went to another level, as Widley shared in October 1943:

“I sat for a while but we neither said much – lost for words for once; then, longing to tell him what I felt, and perhaps, wanting to comfort him, I took his hand in mine. He reacted, seeming amused, perhaps a little unsure, or embarrassed maybe, but he did not withdraw his hand, remarking that it had been a long time since anyone had done that. He seemed to like it and to trust me. Soon, though tentatively, warily on both our parts, I was held firmly in his arms. God! What memories! His tenderness! His caresses! This was the night of my first ever sexual experience. I surrendered my virginity to him as bestowing a gift and we fused like two peas in a pod as one united, as I received his gift, his thrusting magnificent body in return. This was only the first of other treasured holy nights as embarkation was delayed time after time.”

His shared another encounter: “We went into the detention barracks swimming enclosure. It was such a turn-on to crush each other, and feel his lips on mine: I couldn’t bear that in a few minutes I would have to let him go. I yielded to his need and for a few minutes he was inside me. God! He’s wonderful! He left at ten and I, feeling very self-satisfied and reassured, went over to the YMCA.”

It was an intense, thrilling but short affair, with the threat of the soldier being transferred to the Solomons forever hanging over their heads.

“There is a pretty spot up behind the camp and we climbed the hill into the lantana. We lay in a little clearing and taking me in his arms he asked, tauntingly maybe, Is this what you want? A few nights ago, I had sadly commented, we will never kiss again, will we? God! Clutching our last fleeting moments together. What a mad world! Happiness belongs only in this moment! For the last time we were one, he in me! God! Keep him safe!” Wildey wrote.

When the soldier was eventually transferred Wildey became lonely and approached a brigadier who he’d heard was both married and gay, and riskily asked for a transfer of his own. He was sent to the Solomons, even if he was unlikely to see his lover – he just wanted to be as close to him as he could.

He seemed unhappy there though, largely abandoning his diary for a time, and what happened between the men remained a mystery, with Wildey simply saying “Meet we did, but that’s another story. Another time, another place.”

David Wildey, right, with friends Wal and John at a private swimming hole in New Caledonia. From the Hocken Collections/Southern Men: Gay Lives in Pictures.

Chris Brickell says the diary’s attention to gay male experience in the Pacific during the Second World War is very rare.

Wildey makes it clear his experiences during the War changed his life and as he himself explained “brought me out”.

He kept his diary safe, held on to it until the end of his life, revisited it 50 years after the war and expressed a wish that it be preserved in a public archive. Notes he added in 1993 had him laughing at his younger self and the intensity of his feelings.

David Wildey died in Christchurch in 2012.

All information courtesy of:

Chris Brickell (2015) Networks of affect, male homoeroticism and the Second World War: a soldier's archive, Social & Cultural Geography, 16:2, 183-202, DOI: 10.1080/14649365.2014.969764

Find the full article here

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Jacqui Stanford - 25th April 2015