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Roy Ayling and Norman Gibson

In this podcast Miriam Saphira talks about her father Norman and his relationship with Roy. The two men met as soldiers during WW1 and formed a very close bond - was it homosexual, homosocial or something else?

Roy's Cenotaph record can be viewed here and Norman's Cenotaph record can been viewed here. Miriam's book which details the relationship is called A Man's Man: A Daughters Story, published in 1997.

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A collection of writings and illustrations from men of the New Zealand DivisionRoy Aylings love poem Old Sunshine written [probably] to Norman GibsonRequiem written by Norman Parau Gibson and published in New Zealand at the FrontRoy Ayling (left) and Norman GibsonNorman Gibson posing in a studio photograph


This abstract summarizes a podcast recorded on February 12, 2016, in which Miriam Saphira discusses the relationship between Norman Gibson, their parent, and Roy Ayling. Gibson and Ayling met as soldiers during World War I, forming a close bond that raises questions about the nature of their relationship – possibly romantic or simply homosocial.

As detailed by Saphira, both individuals served in different capacities - Gibson as a machine gunner and Ayling as a rifleman. Their initial rendezvous possibly took place in Egypt, where they kept a chameleon as a pet before it died and was mounted in London. While stationed in France during the Battle of the Somme, Gibson sustained injuries on their 21st birthday, leaving Ayling distraught as evidenced by a poignant poem Ayling composed and which is discussed emotionally by Saphira in the recording.

After the war, Gibson and Ayling shared a residence, while Ayling was characterized as the more domestically inclined partner. Saphira recalls an era-specific poem which hinted at both the intense bond between the men and a homosocial atmosphere that might have supported such a relationship. They also reflect on the tendency of some soldiers to write under pseudonyms, which Gibson did using a unique title that seemed to hold personal significance.

The conversation shifts to Saphira’s personal discovery of the men's relationship. They learned of Ayling and Gibson's living arrangement as a child, but the romantic implications became clear only as an adult after a friend's questioning. They then engaged in a search for documentation, which led to an encounter with Toss Woollaston, a contemporary of both Gibson and Ayling. Woollaston's reflections provided insights, including an allusion to Gibson and Ayling sharing a bed and an anecdote illustrating Ayling’s role as a domestic partner.

Delving into archival research, Saphira found written works by both individuals, which revealed facets of their emotional ties, domestic life, and broader social networks. They looked for historical hints of homosexual relationships among other WWI soldiers but eventually focused more on Gibson and Ayling’s personal lives. The challenges of doing "gay research" were briefly noted.

The relationship continued after the war, throughout the 1920s with Ayling working in Auckland and Gibson returning to farming. Despite societal expectations and family pressures leading to Gibson’s later marriage and Ayling’s death in the 1950s, the bond between the two men preserved, resulting in occasional visits until Ayling's passing. Saphira reflects on their parent's strength and how it manifested in different aspects, including the necessity for Gibson to conform to expected familial roles at the time.

Saphira's book, published in the late 1990s, chronicles these events and was met with mixed reactions, illustrating the conservative attitudes still prevalent in certain communities towards homosexuality and the open sharing of such histories. The recording concludes with Saphira reflecting on both the intensely personal and the broader societal contexts in which these two men's lives unfolded.

This summary is created using Generative AI. Although it is based on the recording's transcription, it may contain errors or omissions. Click here to learn more about how this summary was created.

Record date:12th February 2016
Interviewer:Gareth Watkins
Location:Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand
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Archive:The master recording is archived at the Alexander Turnbull Library (OHDL-004400).