Police control of women and girls in the First World War

The start of the war in August 1914 saw young women and girls overtly chasing men in khaki and swarming around military camps where men were in training before being sent to the Front, this behaviour became known as "khaki fever". Initially the police did not feel it was their job to try to stop it, but when huge public protest erupted, they took action to curtail it. Married women could lose their government separation allowance if accused of such behaviour, which would also be made known to their husband serving in the army or navy. Patroling around the military camps by women police patrols was also said to be effective in some areas, such as Carlisle.

1915 saw the public scandal of war babies, said to be in their thousands around Britain, born to unmarried women as well as the illigitimate children of married women. However, investigations by religious and women's organisations showed their numbers to be vastly exaggerated - they numbered around 20 rather than thousands.

But the more hidden consequences of immoral liaisons were also suspected. The police were taught how to recognise abortion and concealed births and how to secure a prosecution. Under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, Section 58, a woman could receive a sentence of penal servitude for life, if found guilty. It was also an offence to supply a substance to a woman for such purposes. 

 

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