They Didn’t Want To Die Virgins : sex and morale in the British Army on the Western Front. (2016) Bruce Cherry
They Didn’t Want To Die Virgins. (2016) Bruce Cherry
C1 Un pen d’amour? : Introduction
Sex as a weapon of war.
Throughout modern times the importance of catering for the soldiers’ sexual needs, while keeping with them both physiologically and psychologically healthy has been recognised, if not always explicitly, as fundamental and in conflicts … p.18 ‘They Didn’t Want To Die Virgins’. (2016) Bruce Cherry
‘Birds, bombs, booze and bullets’
Pursuit of sex in war or peace time is part of soldiering. Armies are largely comprised of testosterone-fuelled young men … p.19 They Didn’t Want To Die Virgins. (2016) Bruce Cherry (average age of the Western front combatant was under 30); it would be a surprise to find that the natural, genetically programmed instincts were not followed. For some the urgency grew into a direct proportion to the danger, and one soldier’s lasting memory of going up the line in the second Battle of Ypres (1915) was a young Highlander, kilt pulled up making passionate and very public love to a shop girl in the doorway. p.19 (Tommy, 2004 Richard Holmes)
On the Western front, sex, in its widest incarnation, played a much larger role in the soldiers’ existence and has been acknowledged. p.6 They Didn’t Want To Die Virgins. (2016) Bruce Cherry
Whether that physical ecstasy was in engaged in with a compliant local population, paid for from myriad local, officially-regulated or unregulated ‘wayside’ prostitutes – at home or abroad – or simply obtainable only as pornography, sex was almost as the ubiquitous rats and lice. p21
Public schoolboys and even royalty lost their virginity is to French femmes. p21
Officers had more time and money.
6 million men over 4 years : men of every moral hue and shade. p.25
The Great War soldier has been sanctified as much by the writings of oversensitive poets, the postwar disillusioned school of historians and ‘oh what a lovely War’ satirists and writers, as by the fact that when we talk of Tommy we are talking to our own kith and kin. p.26
They were men, not heroes or archangels. Williamson H (1930) The Patriot’s Progress.
Tommy’s sexual adventures have also been smothered by an over-emphasis on studies of the front line. p.27
7th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment 42% in the front line or support, 38% in the billeting areas, and 20% in the rest areas. They Didn’t Want To Die Virgins. (2016) Bruce Cherry
Canadian 16th Battalion 34%, 35% and 31% respectively.
There was plenty of time away from fighting when the men needed to be entertained; in just these two random examples, half of their time.
REF: War, Women and Wine, Wilfred Saint-Mande (1931) hardback
REF: *War is War (1930) Burrage, A.M. Kindle
- No Peeping Tom.
- No cheap titillation.
- No denigration.
On the Western Front the average soldier’s battles were fought on two fronts. In spirit sapping trench warfare he periodically fought bloody and horrific engagements on against the forces that ranged against him on the other side no mans land. When not engaged on that front, he had the daily fight against the boredom and tedium the constituted army life. p.32
The maintenance of good morale was the key success on both fronts. p.33
Morale, the singularly most important constituent of the soldiers armoury.
Morale underpinned a combat effectiveness essential for both maximising individual survival chances and for beating the opposition army.
Morale gave men the fortitude to endure what seemed endless and mindnumbing routine of army life in a war with seemingly no wind. p.33
Ref: Marshall S L A Men Against Fire : The problem of battle command (2000)
Baynes, Morale (1967)
Fuller,J. Morale and Popular Culture in the British and Dominion Armies 1914-18.
Bowman, Timothy Irish Regiments in the Great War, Discipline and Morale (2003)
Bereaved and aggrieved: combat motivation and the ideology of sacrifice in the First World War, historical research. 83. (2010) pp.146-64
The study of morale in any period of warfare falls into four overlapping areas: 1. the recognition of its importance and relationship to other military variables 2. agreeing an operational definition of the concept: 3. identifying and exploring what impacts on an individual’s morale: 4. examining how morale has been sustained or lost. p34
Morale fundamentally contributes to a desired military objective.
Baynes defined morale as the “quality of mind and spirit which combines courage, self-discipline and endurance – having as its hallmarks cheerfulness and unselfishness”. p34
REF: John Baynes, Morale p.108
To a soldier high morale prosaically meant being ‘in the pink’.
The most inclusive definition has been provided by a veteran turn scholar S. L. Marshall:
“Morale is the thinking of the army. It is the whole complex body of an army’s thought: the way it feels about the soil and about the people from which it springs. The way it feels about the cause and their politics. The way it feels about it to friends and allies, as well as its enemies. About its commanders and goldbricks. About food and shelter. Duty and leisure. Payday and sex. Militarism and civilisation. Freedom and slavery. Work and want. Weapons and comradeship. Bunk fatigue and drill. Discipline and disorder. Life and death. God and the Devil. p. 35 Marshall ‘Men Against Fire’ p.158 in Watson p.140.
Less nebulous :
Men, it is argued, did not break: courage held because of factors like belief in their cause, regimental tradition and pride, realistic training, leadership and allegiance to the primary group. p35
Underpinning resilience and endurance was: food, rest, mail, proper medical attention and good welfare services for the men at home, in addition to pride in appearance and strong personal and imposed discipline. p.36
Sex, encompassing anticipation, activity and consequence, while only of peripheral importance in underpinning actual combat effectiveness, was of vital importance in the soldiers’ battles against the tedium of army life and in preserving his civilian identity and soul. p.36
Sex, in its multiple guises, whether successfully in joined or merely anticipated, was undoubtedly a morale builder, a distraction from horror of war. p.37
See screen grab of multiple titles on morale.
C5 The road to hell : from morals to morale
Journeys End (1929) J R Sherriff
The new recruits, especially this immense massive citizens responding to Kitchener’s call, certainly learned all about sex, gambling, drink, swearing and crudity even before they had left training camp.
Wazir District, Cairo
Women whose husbands and fathers had left home to join up were sometimes over friendly with those billeted on them and the men more likely to take advantage, being away from the traditional moral and social restraints imposed by home and neighbours. (50)
REF: Simkins, ‘Soldiers and Civilians: billeting in Britain and France’ in Beckett and Simpson (eds) A Nation in Arms p.172.
Khaki Fever – in which girls age 13 to 16 went potty for men in uniform, like Beatles or OneDirection fans of 50 and 100 years later.
REF: Simkins, ‘Soldiers and Citizens’ p.173 a league set up by towns women to keep their daughters away from the soldiers. See Woollacott, Angela ‘Khaki Fever and its control: Gender, Class, Age and Sexual Morality on the British Home Front in the First World War’, J. contemporary Hist 29 (1994)
Coarse, lewd and obscene language was also the stuff of the marching song, the concert party and the estaminet singalong. Edmonds, Subaltern’s War p.93
Jokes functioned in the same way. They diverted a man’s mind both from home and from the rigours of army, temporarily boosting his morale and in some way providing an alternative to sex. p.113 They Didn’t Want To Die Virgins. (2016) Bruce Cherry
Alcohol had many uses: as a warmer at dawn stand to; as a provider of pre-attack “Dutch courage”; to increase aggressiveness; or parties and celebrations in well-stocked officers messes and dugouts; and even as a ‘recreational drug’ for the rank and file – if they could afford it.p.115 They Didn’t Want To Die Virgins. (2016) Bruce Cherry
The regulated brothels were safe, according to the army, so removing barriers to their use. p120 (103)
In the final analysis, the British soldier faced the harshest wartime conditions. Amidst the constant death and destruction that surrounded him is it no surprise that past moral certainties gave way to a “live for now” for philosophy in constant fight to sustain morale. p.122
C10 Je Ne Regrett Rien: Prostitution and the impact on morale
Placing controls on men’s activities, banning brothel visits, or closing them, exiling ‘free-spirited’ girls or punishing soldiers for any involvement with locals, could have detrimental effects on morale. p.226
The existence of paid for sex did what the army believed it would do; eagerly anticipated, it provided a release from tensions and frustrations.p.227
In many of the accounts there is almost a feeling of young boys having a lark, and it is not hard to imagine adventures being told and retold in trench conversations, to much laughter, and as such it indirectly led to male bonding (arguably there by contributing to the effectiveness of the primary group).p228
While noting the concern and impact of catching a sexually transmitted disease, we can see from the direct accounts of soldiers that access to prostitutes, even when actual use of their services were taken, directly boosted morale by providing a diverse and humorous interlude to trench life, and by providing the man with reminders of an existent not dominated by death and destruction.p.230
When there was no red lamp to light the way to Venus a mechanism of release had to be found elsewhere; the obscene and pornographic as substitutes for women and the source,too, contributed to the upholding of morale.p230
C13 ‘Inkey Pinkey, Parlez- vous’: Conclusion
Far from being of little significance in their lives, sex played a role in sustaining the morale, if not in all men, and at all times, then in the sizeable number and on many occasions. Morale has many underpinnings, and ‘not all of these factors will operate with constant or equal force’. There is however a growing case for including sexual relief as one of those underpinnings. p286 They Didn’t Want To Die Virgins. (2016) Bruce Cherry
The army, realising that reliance on individual self-control, and/or providing leisure entertainment and religious support as a diversion, would not be sufficient, and not initially being able to even contemplate sanctioning the use of prophylactics, it turned to a traditional solution sanctioning regulated prostitution. It further exercised a light touch with regard to fraternisation with local women and the use of pornography. While perhaps the primary reason for the tolerance of regulated brothels lay in controlling health, it had the fortuitous result of also helping bolster the morale of men missing the company of women.p288.