|Lord Kitchener recruiting poster|
Lord Kitchener wanted men to enlist, but he also advised them, "In this new experience you may find temptations both in wine and women. You must entirely resist both temptations, and, while treating all women with perfect courtesy, you should avoid any intimacy.”
But as Robert Graves wrote in his classic memoir, Goodbye to All That, "There were no restraints in France; these boys had money to spend and knew that they stood a good chance of being killed within a few weeks anyhow. They did not want to die virgins.”
Canada and Britain’s top Ace, Billy Bishop, disclosed his affair with a French girl to his fiancé before their marriage in 1917. In Tapestry of War, Sandra Gywn explores Major Talbot Papineau’s correspondence with a close female friend. “In a manner that for the time was uncommonly frank, he’d confessed much about his sexual transgressions in London.” Papineau was killed at Passchendaele in 1917.
What is surprising is that the military sanctioned visits to licenced brothels, as sex was considered a physical necessity for the men. The "maisons de tolérance" with blue lamps were for officers, and red lamps, for the other ranks. However, no sex education or prophylactics were provided. An astonishing 400,000 cases of venereal disease (VD) were treated during the war, according to the BBC.
The rate of VD among the Canadian troops was almost 6 times higher than that of the British, and was 1 in every 9 men. Not only were the Canadians far from the influence and advantages of home, but their pay was also 5 times that of their British counterparts, so they had ample funds to buy sex and wine.
Troops who ended up in specialized VD hospitals were docked their pay, while officers had to pay 2 shilling and 6 pence for every day they spent in a VD hospital, and also lost their field allowance. Soldiers with VD were not eligible for leave for 12 months. But contracting VD was also a way to escape the horrors of the trenches, at least for a while.
My first two Muskoka Novels, The Summer Before the Storm and Elusive Dawn, explore the theme of wartime morality.
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