How West End 'sluts' put Allied war effort at risk

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The Independent Online

To one British commander they were "sluts" who should be serving their nation rather than American GIs. For others, they were merely "good-time girls" letting their hair down after a shift in the Second World War munitions factories.

But from US generals to Whitehall mandarins, all agreed that the collision between well-paid American soldiers on leave and the female population of London - ranging from prostitutes to young women "freed of parental control" - was endangering Allied efforts to defeat Hitler.

Secret documents published today at the National Archives in Kew, west London, show that senior British officials and American officers became concerned in 1942 that the streets of London had become a hunting ground for women seeking to seduce, swindle or simply enjoy an influx of US troops.

While American commanders expressed concern that their troops were catching venereal disease as they consorted with the "hordes" of young women who congregated outside troop hostels and West End hotels, the Foreign Office and senior Army officers worried that wartime sexual liberation was sending the wrong image of Britain abroad and could hand the Nazis a propaganda coup.

In one particularly intemperate memo, the officer in charge of London's civil defence complained that Leicester Square had been turned into an open-air den of vice. Admiral Sir Edward Evans wrote to the head of Scotland Yard, Commissioner Philip Game: "Leicester Square at night is the resort of the worst type of women and girls consorting with men of the British and American forces, with the latter predominating.

"Of course, the American soldiers are encouraged by these young sluts, many of whom should be serving in the forces. At night the square, with its garden, is apparently given over to the most vicious debauchery."

The arrival of American troops on leave in the West End, which caused the Yard to conclude that "Mayfair can be regarded as an American colony", also brought complaints that the GIs themselves were guilty of unwholesome conduct.

One unnamed Yard superintendent noted: "They congregate around Piccadilly Circus and Coventry Street, many of them the worse for drink and quarrelsome, until the early hours of the morning. They are easy prey for the innumerable prostitutes that frequent the neighbourhood."

Brigadier Paul Hawley, the senior American military surgeon in Britain, noted that 30 per cent of all "VD" cases among GIs in the UK were being contracted in London, with a further 27 per cent in Liverpool, Bristol and an improbable hotbed of wartime vice, Bedford.

In one memo, GIs who have caught the clap in central London are dubbed "Piccadilly commandos".

Ultimately, the British hit on a time-honoured solution - the whole issue was farmed out to a Whitehall committee whose conclusions went unrecorded.