Colonel Barker’s Monstrous Regiment (Virago 2001)

In an England devastated by the terrible losses of the First World War, Colonel Sir Victor Barker DSO was a fine figure of a man. Tall, handsome, well-respected, with impeccable manners, he was a model gentleman of good breeding and fine looks, and doted on a son who worshipped his war hero father.

But the uniform and military bearing concealed a big secret, which was dramatically and tragically revealed in a sensational trial at the Old Bailey in April 1929.

For they had been born Valerie Barker and, in 1923, the-then Valerie Pearce Crouch had, as ‘Col Sir Victor Barker’, married Littlehampton shop girl Elfrida Hayward in St Peter’s Church, Brighton and sowed the seeds of her very public exposure.

The trial, which became one of the most scandalous news stories of the decade, led to her imprisonment as a woman – but on release, she resumed life as a man and veered from tragedy to farce, fame to obscurity. This is the complex and extraordinary story of someone who always strove to remain ‘a perfect gentleman’. Ultimately, it is a story about identity: gender identity, class identity – and the conflict between private and public identities.

Listen to Rose Collis talk about this book with David Freeman on his Author Archive podcast:


‘Excellent… treads a careful line between sensation and sentiment.’

Daily Telegraph

‘Fascinating… Collis’s unpretentious, ribald, chatty style carries this ripping yarn.’

Time Out

‘A fascinating tale…Collis has researched this book thoroughly, and she writes with a lively sense of humour.’

Times Literary Supplement

‘Rose Collis has delved meticulously…and produced a remarkably gripping and, at times, quite hilarious story.’

Val Hennessy, Daily Mail, ‘Critic’s Choice’

‘One of the oddest true stories ever told… film producers would be mad not to snap it up.’

Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday

‘Rose Collis tells this story of deception with great skill, compassion and wit.’

Daily Express

‘Written with style and feeling…’

Financial Times

‘This entertaining romp would have made an appealing novel; the fact that it is a true story makes it yet more compelling… especially written in Collis’s jolly, narrative style.’

The Good Book Guide

‘A meticulously researched biography. And if ever there were a case of truth being stranger than fiction, it’s set out here in the cool, precise prose with which Collis narrates this extraordinary story.’

Gay Times

‘Hugely enjoyable book.’

Sunday Tribune

‘An insightful, humorous and somehow tragic tale.’

Sunday Business Post

Mark Bunyan has created a musical based on this book. For more details visit: The Story | Being Colonel Barker