Friday, November 18, 2011

Brigadier Chris Vokes' Brothel: Sicily, 1943

 Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1985-35-8
Copyright: Government of Canada
Venereal disease does not rank very high on the list of valorous ways to become a casualty of war.  Nonetheless, VD, a now outdated medical term referring to sexually transmitted infections, left many Second World War soldiers incapacitated and left out of battle.  The problem was acute enough in the Sicilian campaign for the officer commanding 2 Canadian Infantry Brigade, Brigadier-General Chris Vokes, to take matters into his own hands.  His orders to a young British officer on his staff were to set up an army-run brothel.  The women were to be inspected by medical officers and insured as "clean".  Soldiers were to be issued with what Vokes referred to in his memoirs as a "French letter", or condom.  Unfortunately for Vokes (and lusty Canadian soldiers), the Eighth Army Headquarters caught wind of the scheme, and an order with a very explicit message was distributed:

"THERE WILL BE NO BROTHELS. NO BROTHELS PERIOD. NO BROTHELS OF ANY KIND, OPENED ANYWHERE IN THE EIGHTH ARMY AREA" (Vokes, My Story, 127)

Chris Vokes. Department of National Defence
Reportedly the young British officer, who had the decidedly unmacho nickname of "Taffy", had the house of ill repute completely organized by the time the Eighth Army message arrived.  He burst into Vokes' headquarters elated at his achievements.

"Brigadier, we are all set to open tomorrow at ten o'clock.  I have never seen so many enthusiastic girls in my life... the madame, and the pimp and the girls...! GEE!  And we want you to come down and cut the tape.  Everything is organized.  Everything is going to be first class!"

Vokes broke the bad news.  There was to be no brothel. Taffy was much dejected.

"My God, sir," he said. "Those whores will cut my throat!"

Vokes replied, "Well, perhaps so, Taffy.  Before that happens try paying them off."

Reportedly the women, (imported from Catania for the purposes), accepted the offer of 100 Lire each (the madame got 500 and the pimp 300). Poor "Taffy" survived the great brothel incident of 1943 with his neck intact.
 Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1985-35-7

For further military posters against venereal disease see the US National Library of Medicine Site.

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