When I was younger, I was shown through a box of my grandad’s stuff from the war. Lots of it were things I expected, but one of the things, I guess, I didn’t. It was an instruction pamphlet for troops sent to India and a massive part of it was a warning about the women – the sex workers – and all of the diseases they could pick up if they engaged in ‘such affairs’. The document wasn’t scathing of the women – it advised the men to be polite and treat them in a ladylike manner – but it didn’t really treat the women as if they were human.
When I was at school, I studied both world wars, in history and English lessons. Whilst we were allowed to hear of the violence and bloodshed horrors of war through poetry like Wilfred Owen and textbook images, as well as – more often – the hard work and bravery of those on the various fronts – these women from my grandad’s pamphlet was always excluded. Others were too of course: the soldiers shipped here from abroad to fight for Britain – the racism and sexism and exclusion prevalent in all of the patriotic wartime histories.
There is so much I could’ve written about, but I guess I felt drawn to write about the sex workers in war as I think their role– in every single war – is so often belittled and shamed and overlooked – it isn’t really seen as a role at all. The posters of these demon-portrayed women says it all really. And I can’t get the warnings from my grandad’s pamphlet out of my head. I feel that for all the progress of women’s rights – sex workers have been largely left behind and need to be seen.
Hollie McNish is a poet based in England. She loves writing.
She has published two poetry collections Papers and Cherry Pie and one poetic memoir Nobody Told Me, of which the Scotsman suggested “The world needs this book” and for which she won the Ted Hughes Award.
In 2016 she co-wrote a play with Sabrina Mahfouz, Offside, relating the two hundred year history of UK women’s football.
Hollie tours continuously across the UK and is a big fan of online readings – her poetry videos have attracted millions of views worldwide.
She has a keen interest in migration, infant health and language learning and does readings for organisations as diverse as The Economist, MTV, and UNICEF.
In 2017 she became the first patron of Baby Milk Action.