Friday, 1 August 2014

‘Khaki fever’

The outbreak of war saw an epidemic of ‘khaki fever’ across Britain. A sexual excitement among young women at the sight of soldiers in towns, cities and near army camps, something largely missing from popular mythologies that dwell upon the sacrifices made by innocent youth. Soldiers in their uniforms were exciting and in the nineteenth century women were so attracted to soldiers in their regimental coats that they were said to suffer from ‘scarlet fever’. Although it proved to be short-lived as the war not over by Christmas dragged into its second and third years and women increasingly played a direct role in the war effort, the measures introduced to control this sexual explosion persisted. The significance of ‘khaki fever’ lay not with the blatant and often aggressive harassment of soldiers by young working-class girls but that it also affected some young upper-working and middle-class women generally regarded as ‘respectable’. This threatened the subversion of gender as well as the moral order suggesting a generational shift in female behaviour—challenging the belief that sexual chastity was central to respectability—and in how female sexuality was conceived. [1]
The mobilisation of Kitchener’s volunteer army saw tent cities spring up in the countryside and the towns and cities swelled with soldiers. In the upsurge of patriotic feeling, new recruits were warmly welcomed with men ‘treating’ soldiers to drinks in the pubs, women inviting officers for tea and conversation and young people of both sexes hanging vicariously around the troops. [2] Although the behaviour of boys was rarely commented on, increasingly the presence of young girls, some as young as thirteen, from across the social classes around army camps became a growing cause for concern for the police and military authorities, members of the clergy and journalists and other social commentators. Some contemporaries reported that they pestered soldiers, flirted with them and, generally expressed in judgemental but general terms, entered into sexual liaisons with them while a few argued for the innocence of the girls’ intentions.
Was it not a thing to be ashamed of that girls were making boys what they should not be. It was their mothers’ fault that the girls were what they were… [3]
In this climate of feverish, patriotic and sexualised exuberance, the authorities believed their activities required special attention and control—being socially disorderly was seen as synonymous with sexual deviance leading to the potential for dangerous infection-literally and figuratively--of the body politic. Khaki fever quickly subsided once women shared in the war effort—it was a phenomenon of the first months of the war—but it created a discourse between government, feminists, the police, local and military authorities over how sexuality should be controlled in the interests of the nation at war.
In garrison towns and ports military and naval authorities exerted a degree of control over civilian behaviour—the Contagious Diseases Acts had applied to these communities—but the outbreak of war saw an massive influx in the number of men in uniform based in camps close of urban communities that as well as providing financial opportunities for local businesses posed a major threat to public order. For instance, 100,000 men were stationed at Belton Park in Lincolnshire near Grantham from September 1914 and for the remainder of the war twelve different regiments were quartered at Belton at any one time.  Major-General Frederick Hammersley[4] initially placed the borough out of bounds to all soldiers except those with special passes.  This may have been a short-term solution but men needed to get out of camp. The result was rising levels of drunkenness in Grantham. The Borough and Military Police had difficulty in controlling this but once pubs closed after 7.00 pm drunkenness decreased.[5] However, changes in sexual behaviour were occurring and prostitution was reported to be ‘rife’ with train loads of ladies of ‘easy virtue’ coming into Grantham from different cities, especially Nottingham. By mid-September 1914, mothers were already being advised ‘not to let their daughters go to Belton Park at late hours and be a temptation.’ [6] Hammersley had soldiers and police enter houses thought to be used for sexual encounters while the Defence of the Realm Act was used to ban women from a prescribed distance of military camps and to impose curfews, banning women from pubs after 6.00 pm.  Hammersley was entitled to place restrictions on civilians but a notice prohibiting women from going into Grantham, caused a storm of protest.  He saw it as a preventative measure that did not refer to ‘respectable’ girls but that it had a beneficial effect.  The formation of a second camp at Harrrowby in 1915 to train machine gunners explains why Grantham in December 1914[7] became the first town north of London to appoint policewomen to patrol its streets ‘to preserve women and girls—young, untrained, undisciplined girls—to keep them from temptation and evil.’[8] On 27 November 1914, Grantham magistrates swore in Mrs Edith Smith, making her the first policewoman in Britain with full powers of arrest. 
Concern with the behaviour of young women and girls provided an opportunity for feminists to press their case for the need for women police. Lady Nott Bowler made clear the argument for women police, something she has pressed unsuccessfully on the Home Secretary three years earlier:
Few members of the general public, relatively, realised what a terrible blot it was upon our civilisation that they had hitherto only male officers to deal with all the difficult questions that arose…One thing the war was bringing about was the feeling of fellowship one with another, Did they realise the responsibility of their sisterhood to the girls and women more helpless than themselves? Had they a right to so shelter their modesty as to be unwilling to know what their sisters suffer? [9]
Two groups of women organised patrols to deal with these wayward women. The more radical was the Women Police Service (WPS) formed in September 1914 by a group of a group of women who saw the war as an opportunity for women to become permanent career members of the Metropolitan Police Force. Its leading members, Margaret Damer Dawson and Mary Allen, both had links with the WSPU. Despite their success in Grantham, the work of women police was restricted to preventative activities. The WPS adopted an interventionist style of rescue work, warning errant girls and soldiers’ wives of the danger of immoral behaviour.[10] The other group of women police were the voluntary patrols co-ordinated by the middle-class National Union of Women Workers’ (NUWW) Women Patrol Committee. The NUWW was established as an organisation of social purity feminists in 1876 and its membership was not militant in its approach. Indeed, the NUWW was reluctant to employ women who had been arrested during suffragette demonstrations and protests. Unlike the WPS, the Women Volunteers saw themselves as aides to the established police calling a constable is an actual offences had been committed. By October 1915, there were 2,301 women patrols at work in 108 places in Britain and Ireland. Both groups of women spent a great deal of time policing the behaviour of working-class women, patrolling parks and public spaces, separating courting couples and moving on ‘dangerous’ women.[11] The WPS even signed a contract with the Ministry of Munitions to police the growing number of women workers in munitions factories carrying out inspections of women to ensure that they did not take anything into the factories which might cause explosions.. Crucially, these women did not possess power of arrest, though they would present evidence in court on the behalf of male officers. In September 1918, the Metropolitan Police Force officially recognised the Women Volunteers—but not its more radical rival that was disadvantaged by its assertive feminism—and women were gradually admitted into the mainstream of police work. [12]
A maison tolerée
Government became increasingly paranoid about the spread of venereal disease and its potential effect on the nation’s ability to wage war. During the war, venereal disease caused 416,891 hospital admissions among British and Dominion troops and troops were five times more likely to end up in hospital suffering from sexually-transmitted diseases than ‘trench foot’, an ailment that more than any other symbolised in people’s minds the squalor of the trenches. [13] Although women, whether prostitutes or not, bore the brunt of public opprobrium, British military law made the concealing of venereal disease punishable as a crime. Soldiers who were hospitalised were subject, until October 1917, to an inequitable system of ‘hospital stoppages’, money taken from a soldier’s pay to cover the cost of treatment when it was not connected to his military service. These sanctions appear to have had very little effect as a deterrent and encouraged men to take quack remedies or to conceal the disease. The issuing of condoms to soldiers, the most effective if basic counter-measure, was not adopted by military authorities. They feared not without justification that it would be a public-relations disaster leading to calls for self-restrain and chastity, the provision of ‘wholesome’ recreational activities and ‘early treatment’ centres for disinfection following intercourse as a military ‘policy’ that had little impact on the burgeoning increase in disease.
The problem with controlling venereal disease among British and Dominion troops lay, in part, with the tolerance of brothels in many of the theatres of war. In France, for instance, there was a system of maisons tolerées where prostitutes were registered and frequently checked by doctors for any sign of disease.[14] Although in decline by 1914, it was revived behind the front to ensure basic hygiene for troops in an attempt to offset the rise in the number of unregistered prostitutes caused by large numbers of women unable to support themselves. By 1917, there were at least 137 such establishments spread across 35 towns. Until 1918, when a public campaign by prominent feminist groups led to Parliament placing them out of bound for soldiers, the British military authorities grudgingly accepted the existence of maisons tolerées. [15]
Men were subjected to media campaigns about avoiding ‘immorality’ The Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, provided each man with a leaflet offering him some intimate advice. It warned soldiers to ‘keep constantly on your guard against any excesses. In this new experience you may find temptations both in wine and women. You must entirely resist both.’ Nonetheless, roughly half of all cases of venereal disease originated in Britain. [16] Prostitutes had been allowed to solicit openly and it did not become a crime until 1916 when, using the Defence of the Realm legislation it was made an offence for them to approach men in uniform. Restrictions on prostitution were extended in 1918 when Regulation 40D of the Defence of the Realm Act made it illegal for a women with a venereal disease to have, or try to have, sex with a soldier and gave the police powers to examine suspected prostitutes medically, something the government had proposed the previous year in a Criminal Law Amendment Act but abandoned following widespread feminist opposition. [17] As a result, small number of women were actually imprisoned. For suffragette and moral campaigners this was reminiscent of the Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860s and led to extensive and fierce protest. Nonetheless, the legislation remained in place until the end of the war.
Most sexual encounters occurred not between soldiers and prostitutes but between soldiers and so-called amateur girls who were motivated by a range of emotions from love and desire, infatuation with men in uniform, sympathy or the exchange of sexual favours for material support. The number of illegitimate births rose from 4.2 per cent of total births in 1914 to 6.3 per cent in 1918. Attempts through moral pressure from the military authorities or regulation using the Defence of the Realm Act proved largely ineffective in either limiting those encounters or preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections. There was anxiety among feminists who believed that the irresponsible behaviour of some members of their sex might subvert the achievement of those women, in and out of uniform, contributing to the war effort and damage the political case for full female citizenship.

[1] Grayzel, Susan R., Women’s Identities at War: Gender, Motherhood and Politics in Britain and France during the First World War, (University of North Carolina Press), 1999, pp. 157-189, is a valuable comparative examination of changing sexualities.
[2] Ibid, Woollacott, Angela, ‘‘Khaki Fever’ and its Control: Gender, Class, Age and Sexual Morality on the British Homefront in the First World War’, p. 330, draws comparisons between the female hysteria associated with 1914 and that exhibited by adolescents since the 1960s for pop-stars. See also, Dyhouse, Carol, Girl Trouble: Panic and Progress in the History of Young Women, (Fernwood Publishing), 2013, pp. 70-74.
[3] ‘Work for the Women’. Grantham Journal, 12 September 1914, p. 8.
[4] Hammersley was an experienced senior officer who had fought in the Sudan in 1884-1885, at Khartoum in 1898 and in South Africa the following year. From 1906 to 1911, he commanded the 3rd Brigade at Aldershot until relieved as the result of a nervous breakdown. Despite this, he was given command of the 11th (Northern Division) on 22 August 1914 and commanded the landing at Suvla Bay by his division in the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 until relieved of his command suffering from battle fatigue. He died in 1924.
[5] Licensed Victuallers and Soldiers’, Grantham Journal, 12 September 1914, p. 4. Further restrictions followed in November, ‘Further Licensing Restrictions’, Grantham Journal, 21 November 1914, p. 4, with no alcohol sold before 1 pm or between 2 and 4pm and December, ‘Another Drastic Military Order’, Grantham Journal, 19 December 1914, p. 8, threatening to close licensed premises if ‘on any occasion a soldier is found on the premises under the influence of liquor’. In practice, this meant temporary closure with, for instance, the Artichokes Inn being closed on 7 December but reopening on 15 December.
[6] ‘Work for the Women’. Grantham Journal, 12 September 1914, p. 8; the fault, and it was a central feature of the authorities’ discourse, lay with the girls…’and be a temptation’..
[7] ‘Women Police Patrols. An Innovation for Grantham’, Grantham Journal, 19 December 1914, p. 4.
[8] ‘The Women Police Service’, Grantham Journal, 6 November 1915, p. 8.
[9] ‘The Women Police Service’, Grantham Journal, 6 November 1915, p. 8.
[10] Jackson, Sophie, Women on Duty: A History of the First Female Police Force, (Fonthill Media), 2014.
[11] Rock, Alex, ‘The ‘khaki fever’ moral panic: Women’s patrols and the policing of cinemas in London, 1913-19’, Early Popular Visual Culture, Vol. 12, (1), (2014), pp. 57-72.
[12] Jackson, Louise A., Women Police: Gender, welfare and surveillance in the twentieth century, (Manchester University Press), 2006, adopts a thematic approach. Ibid, Woollacott, Angela, ‘‘Khaki Fever’ and its Control: Gender, Class, Age and Sexual Morality on the British Homefront in the First World War’, pp. 334-337, Levine, Philippa, ‘‘Walking the Streets in a Way No Decent Woman Should’, Women Police in World War One’, Journal of Modern History, Vol. 66, (1994), pp. 1-45.
[13] Mitchell, T. J., & Smith, G. M., Medical Services: Casualties and Medical Statistics of the Great War, (HMSO), 1931, p. 74.
[14] Gibson, Craig, Behind the Front: British Soldiers and French Civilians, 1914-1918, (Cambridge University Press), 2014, pp. 309-345.
[15] Hansard, House of Commons, Debates, 19 March 1918, Vol. 104, cc787-788.
[16] Law, C. Suffrage and Power: The Women's Movement, 1918-1928 (I. B. Tauris), 1997, pp. 27-30, explores the equal moral standard.
[17] Hansard, House of Commons, Debates, 24 July 1918, Vol. 108, cc1951-1970.

1 comment:

Annie Ward said...

Dear Richard,

I hope you are well - I would love to make contact with you because I am working on a new BBC2 historical documentary series at the moment, and we will be looking a female Chartists as part of the programme, and I notice that you have written on the subject in the past.

It would be great to have a chat with you if at all possible - if you would be able to send me an email at that would be fantastic!

I look forward to speaking to you soon.

Many thanks,