facebook-icon instagram-icon twitter-icon youtube-icon 1418now-logo roundhouse-logo player glitch-pattern chevron

Censored: Sex Work in World War One

“Prostitutes are undoubtedly the most vulnerable group of people in society”

– Chris Armitt, the national police lead for prostitution in England and Wales, where around 80,000 prostitutes work.

Officers do not share

lower ranking soldiers’ whores

as they fight

for kin; for country

in the first world war

Officers are given armour

soldiers are given risks 

sti’s count 1 in 5

trench-side medical admissions

Blue light bulb for officers

Red light bulb for common man

I did not learn these facts

in my history curriculum


There was no sex

in the trenches

no privacy to masturbate

but millions of

fit, young men

away from home

awaiting fate

and despite what textbooks state

about the role of wives, of girls, of mums

not every woman laboured

on the home front


The French sets legal brothels up

military Maison Tolerée

USA, as always, argues abstinence

of course, their men do not abstain

within weeks of US joining ranks

without the health checks of the French

syphilis spreads like springtime seeds

across the soles of war-weak men

Sometimes I wonder what they wanted 

these soldiers swapping wage for sex

A quick release! to come! no more

swollen lust won’t help the war

British medical officials stated.

Others disagreed.

Some soldiers hunted holes for STD’s

to grant some leave in doctors arms

Some searched in sex work’s softer palms

for woman’s warmth to sallow cheeks

to float weak knee’d in gift-wrapped legs

to choke in breaths of cheap perfume

Stuff nostrils quick from trench-hell scents!

to dance; to drink; forget; escape

to sip on nipples, soft as home

feel mouth to mouth no blood has stained

to scream in arms that don’t let go

oh what a tiny price to pay!

to feel warm lips wrapped round your cock

the soothing suck

don’t stop don’t stop

Closed eyes

One moment’s loss of pain

For those who miss their love each night

a comfort blanket stitched in guilt

for some, still boys, so many virgins, forced to die

the knowledge, once, of adulthood

no wonder queues filled the streets

like doc leaves to the sting of nettle

sex work rages wild

near every major battle

What passing bells for these who die as cattle?

– Only the monstrous anger of the guns’

300 men one day queued up

come quick last prayer for dying sons’

and what then of the women; shh

don’t talk about the war time whore

Most illiterate; most peasant poor

for some, no other means of money making

for some, a chance to make some more

for some, the need to feed a child

for some, some fun to pass a wage

for some, forced pimp, forced family trade

for some, a bed or makeshift strecher

for some bent double beggar

quick behind a bush

paid pittance for a

left-hand wank

for none, a name

medal; mention; thanks

Some serviced fifty soldiers every day

did sex the way men come in sex

In and out and out and in

day and night and mouth and legs

She does not come! Come thrush up high

and sing that birdsong’s lullaby !

how much it rubs between her thighs

when boys ride rough on red insides

no break, soon friction burns dry skin

her urine turns carving knives

it cuts it cuts; her pee bleeds fire

as more men queue

to lose desire

and she, drunk too

with war fatigue

is shamed, erased from history

We teach our kids of death in war

sculpt monuments to those who led 

praise factories forging bullets

for men to fire at other men

the bus tour stops

at cenotaphs

a selfie with the unnamed grave

But god forbid!

god, forbid!

we ever mention

how depraved!

the women working war-time sex

because that would be too much for sure

I wonder do we realise

we’re not Victorian Britain anymore

I wonder

throughout history

how many soldiers

final solace

was cradled

in the breasts

of these shameful

nameless women

I will not learn this fact

in my history curriculum

End credits:

  • One snap-shot study, in Le Havre, suggests 171,000 visitors to the brothels in just one street in this port town in 1915 alone.
  • 400,000 soldier’s STI’s were treated during world war 1
  • In 1918 1 in 5 allies in military hospitals were in a hospital for VD
  • Before the Battle of Loo, one of the major offensives of the first world war 300 men were counted queuing for the local brothel