The Pestering of American Troops by Loose Women was the title of an official report produced during World War II at the behest of the British government and remained a classified document until released to the public on the 31st October 2005.
During the war around one and a half million US and half a million Canadian soldiers arrived in Britain in preparation for the D-Day invasion of Europe in 1944. Here in the United Kingdom we have been accustomed to the characterisation of these troops as 'overpaid, oversexed and over here' and bemoaned the ease with which the flower of British womanhood was corrupted by the easy availability of nylon stockings and chocolate.
Curiously it has now come to light that the US military authorities appear to have regarded the matter rather differently. In particular there was a Colonel WM Clark, a federal judge serving as legal adviser to the US Army, who became concerned at the ease with which his young men were being led astray by the bright lights of London. He went so far as to demand a meeting with the Attorney-General where he complained that there were "far too many prostitutes, that their behaviour is far too blatant, and that the impression created on the American troops and their mommas at home is bad." Naturally the good Colonel was concerned that the spread of venereal disease amongst the army was undermining the fighting effectiveness of his troops and urged the British Government to change the law making it easier to jail prostitutes, and even proposed that women should be banned from certain streets in London where GIs were known to congregate.
The Foreign Office
shared some of the Colonel's concerns, as they became worried that not only might Nazi Germany
exploit the matter for propaganda purposes but that it could prove a threat to Anglo-American relations. In March 1943 Richard Law
, a junior minister in the Foreign Office was recorded as advising the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden
that "If American soldiers contract venereal disease while in this country, they and their relatives in the United States will not think kindly of us after the war."
The government appears to have been sufficiently concerned to commission a report on the problem from a Superintendent A Cole, who was in charge of the West End Central Division of the Metropolitan Police where most of the 'activity' was taking place. The Superintendent included a thorough analysis of the extent of the trade in the West End, noting that the women of Burlington Gardens were "rather expensive" but that around Piccadilly Circus there was to be found "a lower type of prostitute, quite indiscriminate in their choice of client and persistent thieves". He further noted that the North American troops tended to "congregate around Piccadilly Circus and Coventry Street, many of them the worse for drink and quarrelsome, until the early hours of the morning" becoming "easy prey for the innumerable prostitutes that frequent the neighbourhood".
The American viewpoint received some additional support from Admiral Sir Edward Evans, the head of civil defence in London. The Admiral wrote to Air Vice Marshal Philip Game, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, to voice his complaint that "Leicester Square at night is the resort of the worst type of women and girls" and had become the setting for "the most vicious debauchery". Philip Game was apparently not impressed and dismissed such talk of debauchery as "rubbish". Although he agreed to a meeting with Colonel Clark, he told the Americans that as far as he was concerned, "the problem was best tackled from the other end", since "whilst it was a waste of breath to talk to a hard case, it was not a waste of breath to talk to a decent boy". When Colonel Clark expressed his belief that his "boys should be able to write home saying that they never saw a doubtful lady in the streets of London", the Commissioner pointed out "that in these days it was quite impossible to distinguish many over-painted possibly respectable persons from the professionals and that to me, at any rate, they all looked the same."
In order to placate the US authorities the British Government organised a
conference in April 1943 in order to consider the whole question of promiscuity in the West End together with the resulting "venereal disease and bastardy". The British Government appears to have appreciated that armies have always had their camp followers and considered the Americans as somewhat naive in this regard. Indeed they seem to have come to the conclusion that the whole thing was a fuss about nothing. One Home Office civil servant Sir Alexander Maxwell was moved to record that "To anyone who knew Paris or even London in the last war, London at the moment is by comparison a Sunday school."
Of course the British did not want to offend the Americans by seeming to ignore their concerns, and so adopted the traditional British solution to such tricky problems. They appointed a committee to consider the matter, in the almost certain knowledge that the US Army would be elsewhere by the time the committee came to consider any possible courses of action, and thus somebody else's problem.
- Prostitutes 'preyed on US troops' http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/4394494.stm
- Alex Peake, Second World Whore
- Neil Tweedie, How our Piccadilly Commandos had the GIs surrounded
- Cahal Milmo, How West End 'sluts' put Allied war effort at risk
- Lewis Smith, GIs in West End were led astray by ‘young sluts and vicious debauchery’ http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1852084,00.html