VD in World War I: Transfer Men Only Free From Disease

The armies of The First World War dealt with venereal disease in quite different ways:

  • The German army provided brothels for their soldiers. As is easily imagined, given the German military’s class structure of the time, the officers’ brothels were up-market and the ‘girls’ young and pretty, wearing, as observed a soldier in Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” very lovely lingerie. By contrast the brothels for the common soldiers were decidedly down-market and the prostitutes were not likely to wear silk and lace.
  • Before The War France had decided to legalize prostitution and provided a licensing mechanism for brothels and regular medical examinations for registered prostitutes. The French army was generous in supplying condoms to their troops.
  • The British met the challenge of venereal disease prevention in their troops also by supplying condoms, and allowing their men access to French brothels. With the disruption and disorder of war there were many unregistered prostitutes in France, who might be identified as amateur, part-time, or casual sex workers.
  • The American army’s approach to venereal disease was quite different. In 1918, with the arrival of thousands of American troops in France, the premier of France, Georges Clemenceau, wrote to General John Pershing offering to establish ‘special houses’ for American soldiers. Pershing, passed the letter up the line to Secretary of War Newton Baker who is said to have exploded, “My God, if Wilson sees this he’ll stop the war.” Whether it was President Wilson’s Presbyterian rectitude or the American prudery of the time, or both, a special order was issued making commanding officers directly responsible for the sexual health of their troops.

. (via Medicine in the First World War)

Order Requires Surgeons to Make Strict Inspection of Those Leaving.
The Camp Sherman News (The Eighty-third Division News)

No man will be permitted to leave this cantonment for duty at another camp unless found by examination to be free from communicable diseases and free from acute venereal diseases.

No man with acute or chronic gonorrhea or acute syphilis will be permitted to leave this camp for overseas. Examinations will be carefully made by regimental surgeons immediately prior to departure; men to be stripped to the waist. Immediately after examinations, surgeons will furnish the commanding officer of the detachment a certificate giving the names of men and date of examination and stating that he has examined them and that at the time of the examination the men were, in his opinion, free from communicable diseases.

Our collection, America and World War I: American Military Camp Newspapers, addresses a topic and period that continues to be of the widest interest and importance to scholars, students, and the general public – America in the World War I Era. Camp newspapers make important original source material—much of it written by soldiers for soldiers—readily available for research.

If the men are not destined for overseas service, the certificate will also state that they are free from acute venereal diseases. If the men are destined for overseas service the certificate will state that they are free from acute and chronic gonorrhea and acute syphilis. This certificate will be transmitted by the commanding officer of the detachment to the commanding officer of the new station of the men transferred.

In addition to the certificate above referred to regimental surgeons will in the case of men not destined for overseas service furnish the commanding officer of the detachment a list of men having chronic venereal diseases . This list will be transmitted by the commanding officer of the detachment to the commanding officer of the new station of the men transferred.

No detachment will entrain until the commanding officer thereof has in his possession the certificate relative to communicable diseases and a list of the venereals . No men will be permitted to leave whose organizations are in quarantine at the time of the departure of the detachment.

Upon the receipt of orders for foreign service, daily physical inspection will be made of all enlisted personnel belonging to the organizations specified in the orders and these inspections will be continued daily until the troops entrain for the port of embarkation. The inspections will be made by the medical officers of the organization.

Medical officers will observe the greatest care in making these inspections. immediately removing from the organization all cases of suspected case of communicable disease . They will carefully scrutinize all men, watching for the earliest signs and symptoms of disease and will not be satisfied to wait us until the disease is developed before making diagnosis.


Collection: America and World War I Part I. American Military Camp Newspapers
Publication: The Camp Sherman News (The Eighty-third Division News)
Date: April10, 1918

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