In remembrance of The Great War during this centenary year, this blog will explore the intriguing social history of that tumultuous time. The first two of my Muskoka Novels – "The Summer Before the Storm" and "Elusive Dawn" – take place from 1914-1918. During my four years of research I accumulated a trunkful of notes, and will illuminate some of the more interesting and unusual tidbits, beginning with the Age of Elegance.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Sex and the Soldier
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
Dawn, explore the theme of wartime morality.