Enemy within: London's good-time girls
November 02, 2005
LONDON: The appetite of US soldiers for sexual romps in London during World War II was no match for the city's "good-time girls".
Wartime officials were so worried about the impact of English promiscuity on public opinion in the US that a series of high-level Whitehall meetings was held to devise ways of cracking down on immorality.
The rift between Britain and its US ally came as thousands of American troops were stationed in or near London in 1942, it has been revealed by documents from the National Archive in Kew, southwest London.
While the popular impression of the influx of GIs was of an alluring group of men who were "overpaid, over-sexed and over here", it transpires they were not the sexual predators worrying Whitehall.
Rather, the US troops proved to be irresistible to many British women, who were often living alone because of the war, and who in bleak wartime Britain were only too glad to grab the chance of some fun.
US troops wrote home in such colourful terms about being propositioned by prostitutes and "good-time girls" in the West End of London that the US military demanded action be taken to curb the "debauchery".
So bad was the West End considered to be that US troops who caught venereal disease became known as "Piccadilly commandos".
A report by a Superintendent Cole, the West End's senior police officer, noted: "This district is an acknowledged 'mecca' of Service personnel." He played down the scale of prostitution but accepted there was a problem with "good-time girls".
The US views were shared by many British officials, who were anxious that the licentiousness be halted for fear of handing a propaganda victory to the Axis powers.
These fears were heightened when stories appeared in US newspapers portraying London's West End as a seething mass of loose women.
Admiral Sir Edward Evans, of the London Civil Defence regional headquarters, described the scenes at Leicester Square in a letter in 1943 to Air Vice Marshall Sir Philip Game, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.
"Leicester Square at night is the resort of the worst type of women and girls consorting with men of the British and American Forces, in which the latter seem to predominate," he said. "Of course the American soldiers are encouraged by these young sluts, many of whom should be serving in the Forces. At night the Square, with its garden, is apparently given over to a vicious debauchery."
In April 1943, the Home Office held a conference to consider the issue of promiscuity in the West End and the resultant "venereal disease and bastardy". It was attended by government and allied military personnel. US officers were worried about the effect venereal disease would have on their manpower, but at least one, Brigadier General Hawley, accepted there was "no more moral laxity in this country than in the US".
A number of measures were proposed, including banning women from streets where they might meet GIs, but the police were adamant they were doing all that could be done within the law.
Among moves taken by the US military was a scheme by which nurses would "discreetly" approach women who had passed on VD to troops to persuade them to be treated.
Another was to reduce the money available to the US troops by encouraging them to bank a proportion of their pay.