22 “A Relaxation of Morals”

When a lot of guys were abroad the other guys were kipping up with their wives

Enlisted Male Londoner   Of a night time we’d be in our Anderson shelter, in the back garden.  I used to get books out the library. Do you know what I was reading when I was sitting in the shelter of a night?  The Russian Revolution.  My old lady used to say “What the bloody hell do you want to read about that for?”  I was reading about where the women were left behind and the only bloke left behind was the postman, and he was raping every one of them, night after night.  A woman would be bending over her cot, looking after her baby and he’d have his hand up there – all that sort of thing.  And where they – the women –  were behind the sandbags, firing at the Royalists, the old squaddies would be up them at the same time.  I was reading all this whilst the bombs were going off.  My mind was on the fact that at any time I was going to leave, go in the forces, and this book – I wasn’t interested in what the postman was doing – it was that all the blokes were away, and it was parallel to the situation that was coming up at the time.  I thought to myself:  supposing all the blokes are away from here?  There’s my mother and my sisters, all left behind, and the same situation applies.

Fusilier   When a lot of guys were abroad the other guys were kipping up with their wives.  That’s something that’s no said much about the war, yet I think it’s something most people know about.  I done it myself.  I slept with a couple of women when their men were abroad.  They were getting their money every week, buying the booze with it – all that stuff.  There was no really a good deal of loyalty.  The other side of the coin was when I was in India, guys I knew would get “Dear John” letters.  Some of the guys took it pretty bad and shot themselves.  I got a couple of “Dear John” letters myself, but I was young and I could fend it off.

Woman Warworker   Me and my mates, we got on this pen friend thing to lads in the forces, and we put “Miss” instead of “Mrs”.  We got loads of letters back.  And then they’d write “I’m coming home on leave, looking ever so forward to meeting you.”  And we’d write back and say we’ve moved and forget to give the new address.  It was just a joke for us.

Girls in uniform were often referred to as “Officer’s Groundsheets”

Fusilier  When we were in Kalyan in India hundreds of ATS girls had just come out from the United Kingdom, and they were herded into special camps.  The first night we – the ordinary rank and file – were able to meet them was in places like the Toc H.  (1)     But after the first night the ATS were put out of bounds.  In fact, we heard, they were warned of the danger of going out with other ranks – in other words: us!  As a lot of us hadn’t seen white women for over a year and the officers and others in authority apparently felt the girls would be in some danger.  They’d get raped, or something like that.  They were told by their own officers that the male officers’ mess would be made available, and that there was plenty of facilities there for the girls, and that they should go there.  If any other ranks wanted to go out with any of the ATS girls,  he was compelled to sign his name and number, stating the time he took her out and the time he brought her back.  Bloody insulting.  No wonder the lads called the ATS “Officer’s blankets and groundsheets.”

RAF Flight Sergeant  Girls in uniform were often referred to as “Officer’s Grounsheets”. In our case I don’t think airforce men went out with Waafs particularly.  In fact, just the opposite.  They tended to shy away from women in their own uniform and to go for women in other uniforms – Wrens, Land Army.  Most stations I went to you usually got a lecture from the M.O about V.D.  The day I got my wing and my three stripes I was ushered one afternoon into a camp cinema to see a horrifying film on V.D.  God!  There were people passing out right, left and centre.  It was a camp cinema.  The idea was, in some people’s eyes, aircrew had a certain glamour – you found it easier to get girls because you had more money than other people, so now that you were a sergeant and you had a wing, this is what you could get unless you were careful.

There was this attitude about girls in uniform, that they were easy, but really speaking they weren’t

Waaf   There was this attitude about girls in uniform, that they were easy, but really speaking they weren’t.  They weren’t any different from other girls.  The girls I knew were a really good lot.  You always had a real good friend.  There was none of this backbiting and bickering.

At Torquay we had the Dutch airman.  They was ever so polite.  When we used to have dances in the Grand Hotel, in the ballroom, if they asked you for a dance they used to come up to you, click their heels and bow.  I’ll tell you what, though, our blokes in uniform…  Once I smacked one round the chops.  This was at Gloucester, at a dance.  Me and my mate, we used to put our civvies underneath our uniform, and then we’d go in the cloakroom and take our uniform off.

I’m dancing with this airman, he was a sergeant, and he didn’t know I was a Waaf.  “You’re a nice girl”,  he said “Can I see you home tonight?  ‘Cos”, he said “these Waafs”, he said “they’re nothing like you girls in civvies.”  We’re dancing around the floor and I’m kidding him on.  “Oh yeah?” I says, “Don’t you think girls in uniform aren’t nice?”  “What?  They’re the lowest of the low.”  “Oh?  Do you think so?  You know what you can do, don’t you?”  I gave him one round the chops and I walked off the floor and left him.  He came over and apologised, but I didn’t half give him a mouthful.

When we was at Torquay we used to go to Newton Abbot, to the Yankee dances.  We used to have a real good time with them, and they always used to bring us straight back.  They always treated us with respect.  A lot of that feeling against them was just jealousy.

Somerset Teenage Girl   I came home from work one day and I found all these Americans along our road.  That was very thrilling.  Very thrilling.  I was about seventeen.  The first night they were there I was at a dance when all of a sudden they all came in.  I remember dancing past one of them with somebody.  That’s where I met the one I got engaged to.  The first night he was there.

Stoke under Ham, Somerset Boy   With the Americans on Ham Hill, when they went off with their girlfriends, we used to watch!  They’d go off and have it away on the hill.  One day there was about six of us and there was an American and his girlfriend having it away in what they called the “Frying Pan” – it’s like a shallow circle where Romans were supposed to have Cock fighting.  These two were lying in that and we all sat around watching them.   He kept getting cross with us.  We were interested.  Every now and then he’d shout “Clear off!”   Must have spoilt it completely.

The thing that struck me as a young lad was the change in morality

Teeside Lad   The thing that struck me as a young boy was the change in morality. Around Middlesbrough you were poor but you were honest.  You try take a ha’penny out of your Mother’s purse and she’d chop your fingers off.  During war, when husbands started going away, everything went.  Fourteen year old lassies, fifteen year old lassies, used to have Polish seamen, Yanks, Canadians – the bloody lot.  They’d cock their legs up for a couple of bloody coppers.  (2)

I had a mate and I used to spend a lot of time at their house.  He got a sister about seventeen years old, and his Mother was a barmaid.  Her husband was in Royal Engineers and he was in Reserve.  As soon as war come he were called up, and she were having it off. They had an Aunty living with them, and this Aunty was married to a feller called —– —- He was what they called a Dems gunner on merchant ships.  They used to have a big 10,000 ton tanker and they used to shove one of these fellers on board  with a little bloody Lewis gun up front.

The feller had done about five convoys to Russia.  One time when he come back he’d bought all these Chinese dresses – silk, high collars and split down the side, and he’d bought a great big astrakhan coat.  He fetches them all and lays them before his wife, but she couldn’t care less because she was cocking her leg round at —— Hotel.  She was kipping with the Americans, Canadians, the lot.   She was living the life of luxury – all the clothes she wanted, all the cigarettes she wanted, nylons.  He lays it all before her.  “I just can’t be bothered tonight because I’m working.”  Poor cunt, he’s come back from Russia, touch of the D.Ts and God knows what, and he’s sat with all this fucking gear.  I would only be about thirteen and sat commiserating with him, smoking his cigarettes.  He was pouring his bloody heart out and I was only a young lad.  What can you do?   He only got about two days, and back he goes to sea.

RAF NCO   With the Americans there was terrible racialism.  They had separate units, depending on whether you were white or black.  White Americans would have their own pubs, and coloured Americans would have separate pubs. There was terrific animosity between them.   There was more fighting I think between white and coloured Americans, than there was against Hitler.

Somerset Farmer  They brought a lot of white Americans round Shepton Mallet and Evercreech.  There was a lot of – what you call it?  Cohibition?  Cohabitation? – that some of the authorities and some of the people were a little bit disturbed, ‘cos most of the women were married and their husbands was fighting for the country.  So they took the white Americans away and brought a lot of black Yanks around.  They thought that would stop it.  Well, these women that were cohabitating with the white Americans, they started cohabitating with black ones.  Not one of those fell pregnant until within three weeks of their going abroad.  When they men went abroad they didn’t know they were pregnant, but they knew they were pregnant after they were gone!  And none of them could claim off of them, you see, ‘cos they were gone.  And one of them was a ———-‘s wife.

Somerset Teenage Girl   There were two girls in the village who married Americans and went back with them, and they were living in terrible hovels – what we would call hill-billy.  Terrible.  I and my friend nearly did, as we were engaged, but we broke it off after a year because they were back in the States, and it took so long to get over there if you weren’t married.  You had to go on a list and I was beginning to think:  I can’t remember what he looks like.  So I sent the ring back.  There were one or two married women who had affairs with Americans.

Although you were looked down on if you went out with an American, most of the single girls who went out with them had quite steady relationships and were quite decent

A lot of it was jealousy.  And yet, the American I went out with was far more straight-laced than any English boy I’d been out with.  He was from South Carolina.  They spoke to each other as “Yanks” and “Rebels”.  They were all white.  They were supply troops. They were in the village a year.

They had their own mess – the GI mess.  A lot of the people in the village used to go down and eat in the GI mess, but I wasn’t allowed to.  People used to say “Haven’t you been there for Sunday lunch?”  It was fried chicken and ice-cream, but no, my Mother wouldn’t let me.  Most of the Americans in the village were a very well behaved lot, and I think most people in the village liked them.  Most of them were over twenty.  Mike was twenty-five.  (3)   He used to give me chewing gum and candy bars and Camel cigarettes.  I still love Camel cigarettes.  They came from a different world.  They’d talk about the “Top Ten”.  I didn’t know what they were talking about.  It was a different way of life.

As I say, they were very straight-laced, most of them.  They had old fashioned manners.  I was used to opening gates, but they used to rush to open gates before I even got there.  I couldn’t get over it.  In some ways I found it a bit irritating, and in other ways it was rather nice.  Around D-Day they were confined to their camp, and then they left nine days after D Day started.  Mike went with them, of course.  We were all out to wave the great convoy off, as they went through the village.  All the girls cried.

We wrote to each other all the time. About a year later, one day after my Mother and I had been out, there was a knock at the front door.  Mother answered it and I heard her gasp.  She called me.  It was Mike.  He’d come on leave from Germany.  We put him up and he stayed for ten days, and we got engaged in those ten days.  Then all the business started of all the forms.  He had to get permission and I had to get a reference.

You know how awful villages are for talk.  I was so hurt by this

He had to go back and report at Grosvenor Square, at the American Embassy.  They all had to congregate there.  He wanted me to go up to London so that we could have another day together.  My Mother wasn’t very keen.  My sister, who was married, said “Write to my mother-in-law, you’ll be able to stay the night there.” She lived just outside London.  My sister suggested this as my Mother didn’t like the thought of me staying the night in London.  Even though the war in Europe was over, the trains were still awful, still crowded and took ages.  We eventually arrived where my sister’s mother-in-law lived.   When we got there and looked up times of trains back to London we found Mike wouldn’t be able to get to Grosvenor Square to report at seven o’ clock next morning.  He said “I’ll have to leave you here and say goodbye.  I’ll have to go straight back to London now.”  I said “No.  I’m coming with you.  We’ll find somewhere to stay in London.”  My sister’s mother-in-law looked at me most peculiarly and said “Do you think you ought to?  What will your Mother think?”  I was eighteen.

I was determined that I was going to see him a bit more.  When we got back to London – to Liverpool Street – we met another American, a friend of his who was also going back, and had nowhere to stay.  So the three of us got into a taxi.  We went all over London in this taxi trying to find somewhere to stay the night.  By now it was about half past ten – eleven at night.  The taxi driver said “If you like, I know somewhere you can stay.”

He took us to some back-street and a woman came to the door.  We said we wanted two rooms.  “Yes”, she said, she had two rooms.  I had one upstairs and they had one downstairs.  Later, I heard her speaking to Mike and he came up, in a temper.  “Right, get your bags.  We’re not staying in this house.”  She said to him “You’re a bit daft – I thought you wanted the double room for you and your girl.”  There was no lock on the door, and it definitely was a brothel, because all night (he’d shown me how to wedge a chair under the door handle) there were men and women calling out, and going up and down the stairs.  I never told my Mother.  She would have had a fit!

We got out of this place about 6 o’ clock in the morning.  I didn’t know the Tube ran in the early morning.  We walked and walked.  It seemed to be miles.  We walked all the way to Grosvenor Square.  We said good-bye there.  I then found my way to Paddington and got a train home.

About six months later I had flu and I was away from the shop for a week.  Everybody said I was pregnant because everybody seemed to have got to known that I’d been to London – I’d been seen at the station, and coming back the next day.  I didn’t know, but everybody said I’d had a miscarriage.  You know how awful villages are for talk.

One day my friend came into the shop in an awful temper.  She was so upset she was crying, and she’d just had a row with somebody who had said something.  In the end she told me what they had been saying.   I was so hurt by this.  For weeks afterwards every time I seemed to walk down the village there seemed to be a group of women, and they would all stop talking.  Of course I was terribly sensitive.  My Mother heard, and she was terribly upset.  Someone said she should sue.  I was terribly, terribly upset about that.  Really upset.  I thought:  My God, if they’d known where I’d spent the night.

1.  Toc H was set up during the First World War, a Christian based charity offering ‘rest and recreation’, regardless of rank, and a self proclaimed alternative to any ‘debauched’ recreational facilities available elsewhere.

2.  Coppers = pennies = pence.  There were 12 pennies to a shilling and 20 shillings to a £1.  A decimal one pence is approximately two and a half pennies.

3.  Mike is not his real name.

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