As early as February 1917 the Dominions (Australia, New Zealand and Canada) made representation to the British Government for the police to clear up the streets of London and other major cities. When America entered the First World War in early 1917, they made similar representations. They said their soldiers were not left alone when they embarked at railway stations in London on leave, or walked in the city's streets, particularly in The Strand, Horsferry Road and Waterloo Road. They were constantly accosted by women, particularly at night. The Dominions were worried not only about the women robbing their soldiers, but also of the spread of venereal disease, which was said to have increased massively since the start of the war. They accused the police of inaction to convict the women and girls who they wanted locked up until the war was over. The poster below illustrates advice given to American soldiers to try to promote abstinence.
What was at stake was not only the incapacity of the soldiers, who would be hospitalised on diagnosis and so unable to fight in the war, but also the worry of venereal disease spreading to the Dominion countries once the war was over, to innocent victims at home. They also worried that this would be a scourge for future generations.
Although the British government passed laws under the Defence of the Realm Act, for example Regulation 13A and 40D, as well as setting up treatment centres in Britain, very little difference was made to the level of venereal disease on the Home Front or in the military services, due to the lack of effective treatment at this time.
During further discussions with the Dominions in 1918, it emerged that prostitutes were no longer the major carriers of venereal disease, it was now much more widespread, with 70% of the incidence in the female population occurring in non-prostitute women and girls.
Following the end of the war in November 1918, the Defence of the Realm Regulations 13 and 40D were repealed as it was recognised they were having minimal effect and were heavily criticised. Everyone in the population at home was encouraged to seek treatment, if they had contracted the disease. The police were one of the organisations instructed in how to encourage returning troops to seek treatment.