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Even Trained Killers Cry

Creative Writing by University of Chester student GLEN COLEMAN published in landmark LGBT Veterans report

‘Even trained killers cry’ is a phrase from ‘Clickety-clack’, a moving piece of life writing by University of Chester student Glen Coleman, which has been prominently published in the first pages of the LGBT Veterans Independent Review (May 2023).

The Independent Review is a landmark report by Lord Etherton into the service and experience of LGBT veterans who served in HM Armed Forces between 1967 and 2000. During this period, LGBT people were officially banned from serving.

Glen served in the Royal Navy until his sexual orientation was discovered and he was consequently arrested, detained, and discharged.

‘Clickety-clack’, which evokes Glen’s twenty days in a military prison cell, was originally penned for a Life Writing module convened by Dr Ian Seed, during the third year of Glen’s First-Class degree in Creative Writing and English Literature.

In October 2023, under the supervision of Dr Peter Blair, Glen completed an MRes English on the censorship of inter-war novels. He was awarded a Merit and graduated in March 2024.

Dr Peter Blair (Senior Lecturer in English Literature)

C.E.L.L.MATES is grateful to Glen for allowing us to reproduce his piece which appeared in the report:


by GLEN COLEMAN (LGBT veteran who spent 20 days in the cells before being dismissed from the armed forces)

“I can’t see the point of having a window you can’t see out of. But whoever put that one there knew exactly what they were doing. It was at least ten feet off the ground, and even if it wasn’t that high, I still wouldn’t be able to see out of it, because it was made up of sixteen bulbous opaque panes, each about six inches square. It let light in ok, and I suppose it let light out, but both only added to the torture of being locked in an empty grey box, eight feet wide, by twelve feet long and about the same height. Added to that, the electric light, controlled by an unused switch outside the double locked solid steel door, was on twenty-four hours a day. At least the natural light coming through the window was governed by Mother Nature.

Besides light, my only other company during the twenty-four hours a day, every day, I was there, was the train going from Devon to Cornwall passing over ‘shaky bridge’. It let me know, with a clickety‑clack, as it went over points, whether it was a four-carriage local or thirteen-carriage ‘inter-city’. There was also a silent ‘jailer’ who unlocked and opened the door then put meals and a cup of ‘standard NATO’ tea on the floor, three times a day. He also took me for a shit, shower, and shave at 8am every morning. A different, but still silent, jailer accompanied me to ablute and collect my bedding at 8pm every night, which I had to return to the cage it was kept in twelve hours later. In between those times there was just me, my thoughts, a raised concrete plinth, with a one-inch wooden top, which acted as a bed, the clickety-clack of the train, the light, always the light, and that damned window, occupying the strip cell.

As though he was there with me, Jeff Tweedy wrote ‘if I stay in bed all day, I can’t escape my domain.’ Even though there’s over thirty years between me being there, and him singing that, it’s clear he knows exactly how I felt. All I could do, each, and every day, was think, sleep, do press ups, squat trusts, and any other exercise I could think of, plus stare at the walls, cry, because even trained killers cry, and hear the clickety-clack of the train.”

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