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They Didnít Want to Die Virgins

Sex and Morale in the British Army on the Western Front 1914-1918

Series : Wolverhampton Military Studies #15

Author : B Cherry


General - Pages : 256 | Images : c 30 b/w ills, photos

Hardback - Date of Publication : January 2016 | Size : 234mm x 156mm | ISBN : 9781910777701 | Helion Book Code : HEL0635

There has been a collective amnesia when it comes to recalling the sexual activities of the British soldier on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918. Perhaps there has even been a conspiracy of silence with some inclined to let sleeping dogs lie. That the soldier could find the time, inclination, and indeed partners to enjoy a sex life amidst the mud and carnage is often a revelation even to those who are Western Front experts. Yet, as official venereal disease treatment figures attest, many a man or boy - even those with wife or sweetheart at home - took every opportunity offered to satisfy their lust, or assuage their natural youthful curiosity. Sexual adventures took place in regulated brothels, with ‘wayside’ prostitutes, and with compliant local women, themselves seeking the excitement of ‘wild love’. And the army not only turned a blind eye but effectively became a procurer as Edwardian morals were sacrificed for morale and the need to keep men healthy enough to die in the line. This meticulously researched study examines the soldiers’ sex life in detail, exploring its impact on morale and placing it the context of both pre-war civilian morality and the army’s historic policy on sex. The author has read between the lines of published and unpublished memoirs and letters; listened carefully to hundreds of memories stored at London’s Imperial War Museum; analysed soldiers’ songs and jokes; and reinterpreted contemporary paintings, magazine illustrations, postcards and cartoons, that unconsciously left visual evidence of the importance of sex. Recently discovered unique photographs are included to give weight to his argument. The men’s attitudes as well as actions are examined, as is their ownership and use of pornography. Noting that it ‘takes two tango’, the book looks at the socio-demographics and motives of the women involved and the workings and economics of the ‘Red Lamp’ army-regulated brothels. Careful not to denigrate the memory of the men who served and died, and avoiding sensationalism, hyperbole, or tabloid-style copy, the author paints a vivid picture of the seedier aspects of line behind the front while arguing its positive impact on morale.


“The book achieves more than just commenting on sex and soldiers. Reading it. you understand more about the context of the soldier’s life, the profile of the expanded Army, and the relationship with the home front amongst other things … this book should appeal to both the advanced scholar on the subject as well as the person for whom this is virgin territory, pun not altogether unintended.” Newsletter of the Society of Friends of the National Army Museum


“ … A fascinating, detailed view of a subject about which most writers about the war generally only tipped the occasional nod and wink to their readers … This aspect of men at war has, as far as I’m aware, never been evaluated in such depth and erudition — or has been so well illustrated and written.” Stand to! Journal of the Western Front Association


“ … Provides a comprehensive, well-researched and referenced analysis which broadens the study of sex and the Army… This book is highly recommended…” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research


"A thought-provoking read that really does pose some challenging questions. An essential read if you are going to present a 360 degree history of the BEF on the Western Front." Despatches

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