If sad, deplorable, profane and immoral are acceptable words when describing Portsmouth UK in 1915 then so be it,  for history points out that that was the lot of this military base, military base because the city was more or less shared half and half with an army garrison and a naval premier port.  They were compounded with many mini pandemics mainly attacking children and young people, the humongous losses which came in 1916 courtesy of the Battle of Jutland rendering Portsmouth a centre of manic bereavement and to cap it all, becoming the UK's official, statistically, centre of VD, to its eternal shame!

 In WW1, the army had seen bloodshed never ever before witnessed and the navy were about to face their Armageddon at Jutland, and all the while the city they vacated to achieve these goals, grew ever more vile, immoral, and loaded by age old diseases which laid low the indigenous population.

Portsmouth UK was the centre of VD in the UK - it was also a garrison army town with more soldiers than sailors at the time of Jutland in 1916. It wasn't Portsmouth prostitutes who spread VD for they knew how to look after their personal genital hygeine , it was the amateur visiting women folk out for a good time who didn't, who were directly responsible for spreading the various dreaded VD ailments.  Below you will come up front with explicit details so if you are squeamish, abort your read and look for a more innocuous menu subject.  There are two explicit sections, one a House of Lords debate and two the main text of this story in continuation.

Now rather perversely I am going to talk very briefly about the naval RAS [replenishment at sea] and we have two basic types first off stores [of all kinds] - RAS[S] - and fuels - chiefly diesel and its associated must have lubrication oils, not forgetting aviation fuels known broadly  as 'avgas' for fixed wing and rotary bladed aircraft.

 A RAS proper [as the last letter suggests - at SEA]  WAS ALWAYS EXCITING BECAUSE [A] IT OFT TIMES BROKE THE BOREDOM AND [B] WHEN IT WAS ALL OVER,  ONE KNEW THAT THE SHIP WAS WELL STOCKED WITH ALL THE NECESSARIES SO THAT NONE OF US WOULD GO WITHOUT! A ROL [replenishment on land] doing roughly the same thing supplied similar "packages" to counter that Portsmouth was in total and utter moral decline and like Jutland, these on-going enemies had to be defeated.

 Now, how many tots of rum can you get out of 15,000 gallons of neat navy rum? The answer is 15,000 imperial gallons gives 120,000 imperial pints, and there are 8 tots in a pint. Thus, a cool 960,000 tots at ⅛ pint each.
Just for example, take a fleet carrier with a complement of 1300 [900 crew and 400 flight wafoos] deployed at sea for a lengthy period with RAS's programmed to deliver fuel, lub oil, avcat fuel, stores, food, rum, beer, NAAFI goods, new cinema films in exchange for seen films, ammunition etc. Lets say that 900 men drew their daily tot known as 'G = Grog men', and 400 were either under age, elected temperance or under stoppage on punishment, respectively 'UA', 'T' and 'S'. 900 tots per day over a fourteen day period  = 12,600 = 1575 pints = 196.875 gallons. Remember these figures when we come to rum stocks in 1913.

Now the navy always put procurement contracts out for bulk buys, not necessarily for the cheapest tender, but often quality and durability mattered most. Whatever the Admiralty bought always ended up in London except of course for fresh-provisions which were often bought locally through a locally appointed agent; for example the Portsmouth agent would buy-in for all the Portsmouth ships and establishments then oversee its distribution. So, back to non-fresh provisions.

These were anything and everything the navy wanted on a continuous basis to replenish used stock. I do not intend to list every individual product but it includes:-

medical stores - contraceptives, pearl barley as well as hospital and first aid supplies
condiments - of all kinds in great amounts
tinned products
toilet paper
cereals, porridge etc
frozen durable goods - meat/fish/ice cream
refrigerated goods - butter, cheese, fruit, lard
dried goods - peas, lentils, fruit, rice, beans
fuels - was coal and then furnace fuel oil [FFO] but now diesel

and after another 100 or so products

50 different wheel sizes, inner tubes and tyres etc etc.

 Each of the few mentioned products above went to certain Admiralty distributions centres/victualling yards for distribution, chiefly Clarence Yard, Royal William Yard, Depford Yard, and Woolwich Depot. The RFA Service has/had the largest ships in the RN/RFA fleet with the Oakleaf displacing 50,000 tons [the largest ever until the Queen Elizabeth Class was launched], smaller Leaf Class at 37,000 tons and the Wave Class displacing over 30,000 tons, compared to HMS Ocean [a small carrier] displacing just 21,500 and jokingly [I am sure] called "the mighty O". They, and other smaller RFA's, distributed fuel oil [and other things] to the fleet at sea. However, when the MOD [Navy] buys oil on long term contracts on the open market, it sends it ships [all hired commercial tankers on long term contracts to the MOD] to points of purchase and brings that oil/or takes that oil to the desired geographical location, and there off-loads it ready for RFA tankers to call and bunker before servicing warships in that area by the RAS method. These tankers come from the Maersk Line based on Felixstowe in Suffolk UK and can be one or more ships doing the collection and delivery of MOD fuel. A familiar MOD oil storage/collection point can be seen attached to Clarence Yard on the Gosport side of Portsmouth's harbour, with its large jetty very prominent. 

All rum, wherever purchased from, ended up at Woolwich where is was blended by Admiralty scientists, before being distributed to the main yards.

This offer of a contract to supply rum [and other goods] is from October 1853. Those processes continued at Woolwich for well over a century until 1970 when run ceased. However, on a much smaller scale rum is still purchased albeit in much smaller quantities, blended, and made ready for occasions like 'splice the mainbrace', meaning that even today, all warships have a rum store and issue point ready for these one-off events.

If you can't read the text below with ease, don't worry for it is repeated below as a retype.

The retype of the advertisement above.

Contracts for Rum, Tea, Soap, Mustard and Pepper.

SOMERSET PLACE October 6 1853.

The Commissioners for EXECUTING the OFFICE of The Lord High Admiral of the UNITED KINGDOM
of GREAT BRITAIN and IRELAND, do hereby give notice that on Thursday the 20th inst at 1 o’clock they will be ready to treat with such persons as may be willing to CONTRACT for SUPPLYING and delivering to Her Majesty’s Victualling Stores at Gosport and Plymouth the undermentioned ARTICLES viz:-


To be delivered at

When to be delivered






15,000 gallons


Half in two months and the remainder in one month afterwards, or earlier if preferred by the party tendering.

Tea [Congu]*



One half of each in one month, and the remainder in one month afterwards, or earlier if preferred by the party tendering.




Mustard flour **



Pepper whole black



My addition for interpretation: * = Black tea commonly known as China Tea. ** flour is a Victorian                                                                                                                                                             word for powder, so this is a requirement for loose dry mustard - both asterisks  searchable on Google!

The rum, tea and pepper to be exempted from Customs Duties.

No tender will be received for a less quantity of rum than 3,000 gallons- of tea than 2,000 lbs- of soap than 5 tons- of mustard than 1 ton- and of pepper than 1 ton.

Samples of the rum to be sent in pints for each import mark and its average strength for each mark exactly to be stated, and not an average of different marks of strengths of several imports, and any parcel of rum that is found not to be of the required  quality or mark or average strength of the sample tendered and accepted will be rejected by the officers:  and samples of the tea not less than 2 lbs from the bonded warehouse, of the soap not less than 2 bars, and of the mustard and pepper not less than 2 lbs each, must be produced by the parties tendering.
The samples produced by persons whose tenders are not accepted, are requested to be taken away by them immediately after the contracts have been decided.
The conditions of the revised contracts to which particular attention is called, may be seen at the said office at the Victualling Yards at Gosport and Plymouth: at the office of Commander Bevis at Liverpool: and of the Collector of Customs at Bristol.  No tender will be received after 1 o’clock on the day of treaty, nor any noticed unless the party attends,  or an agent, for him duly authorised in writing.
Every tender must be addressed to the Secretary to the Admiralty and bear in the left corner the words “Tender for……..”, and must also be delivered at Somerset Palace : and those for rum, tea, mustard and pepper, must be accompanied by a letter signed by a responsible person engaging to become bound to the person tendering in the sum of £20 per cent of the value, for the performance of each of the contracts.   


Places like Greenwich, in particular the Royal Hospital and its associated School had their share of requirements, one of which was Malt. As a boy in the 40's and early 50's my mum gave me and my siblings Malt [probably why I always like Malta so], rosehip-syrup and cod-liver oil just about every other day, and she swore blind about the benefits of Malta. Difficult to read but I will refrain from a complete retype, save to say this is a request for a tender from the GREENWICH HOSPITAL Commissioners asking for tenders to supply 500 Quarters of FINE PALE MALT, in more or less the same vein as the rum tender above.

  October 1853

and things like Pearl and Scotch Barley were important for good health in
October 1853

This too will not be retyped. It is a tendering request for Medical Stores at the Victualling Yard at Depford, for a twelve month period plus onwards until terminated with three months notice. It wants PEARL and SCOTCH BARLEY for the Medical department of the Royal Navy. Crushed pearl is used as a treatment for acne and other skin diseases. Scotch Barley when mixed with lamb bones is said to be a healthy and nourishing soup good for convalescing patients. I would much prefer fish and chips with a few glasses of gin and tonic!

Now I come to contraceptives!
This is a truly fascinating story, all of it fact and raw [although the mind boggles] and we must approach the subject in an erudite manner.

I have chosen the time period Battle of Jutland to base my story on, and the reason being is that at this time 1916, venereal disease was getting on to be the third biggest killer world-wide. In the UK, there was grave concern that Portsmouth had become "VD City" with its nearest rival almost good enough to be of no great or lasting concern.

From the turn of the century until well into the 1920's Portsmouth in particular, was under the spot-light, but other cities and areas were not escaping, especially after the Grand Fleet left its northern bases, Scapa and Invergordon, and returned to traditional south coast naval ports. By 1919, disaster had struck with VD rampant in the city and no clear direction as to how it could be reduced, plus a major crisis brought about by the Spanish Flu which killed millions world wide. It beggars belief as to how the people of Portsmouth kept faith what with terrible man-power losses in WW1, the cut backs in Portsmouth Dockyard as regards shipbuilding which was now deemed unnecessary [there will never be another war, surely?] VD epidemic and the losses through illness which also could not be controlled. By any standards, it was a tangibly dying city!

Throughout that period above, January 1900 to 1920, there were thousands of questions asked in the House of Commons, many Private Members Bills and many tens of major debates some lasting several days. In the House of Lords, in the same period, there were three major sittings, well spaced out, on the single subject of venereal disease. In a moment you will come across one of those debates which took place in 1919, at a time when morale in the navy was rock bottom, where pay, promotion, conditions of service and a mass exodus of sailors called up for the war [HO's] had seen the navy veer off course, mainly because many of the officers felt the same way as the men, suffering the same career difficulties. The navy felt, and perhaps knew, that with the exception of the RND, its war had been largely uneventful. By his time also the shocking revelation that Boy 1st Class Jack Cornwell of HMS Chester had not won a VC in the Admiralty's eye  [although he had in his commanding officer's eye] but simply that their Lordships had used his case of so-called heroism in an endeavour to restore morale on the lower deck - see my story here

It is a large text document, packed full of hard-hitting facts [with a few figures] about sex per se, sexual intercourse, prostitutes, wives passing on VD to "clean" sailor husband returning from the war, and much else. I would highly recommend a read, not only for you men, but for your women too [although it is definitely not suitable for children or very young adults] for it paints a picture which I am sure many of you have not known about.

You can find this House of Lords debate here BUT I recommend you come back to read it when you have read the whole page.

  Debate in the House of Lords December 1919 on Venereal Disease .htm

In the meantime, I will endeavour to mention some of the important practical points mentioned in the debate, so that it is not absolutely necessary that you should read the above file yourself. Moreover, I have described things more fully than their Lordships did!

Contraception is a centuries old concept, and so it is amazing when we remember that it wasn't that long ago when the Irish nation and its Church succumbed to great pressure and allowed the sale of contraceptives and their use. Throughout the ages some countries have banned them for fear of seeing a dramatic lowering of the birth rate, whilst some have allowed them simply to stop the rampant nature of venereal disease. Some secular governments banned them or at least frowned upon their use, but just as many churches and religions preached the evil of sex outside of marriage, the evils of denying procreation in a marriage, and the evils of promiscuity and prostitution. Some even asked why denial wasn't the watchword, and wasn't the answer to refrain from sex unless one was absolutely, irrefutably sure that an intended partner was sneaky 'clean', free of spots, warts, boils, acne, dermatitis etc., never mind diseases of the private parts! 

But what were contraceptives in 1916? For the lucky ones who could afford the known reliable male condom, they were largely free of catching VD: in any event, the purchaser was usually street-wise and feared VD in a very real sense. But for the next group down, who had a care and a slight understanding of what the risk was, whilst still quite expensive they chanced their arm on what was on offer and what they had bought or acquired. Men, we are told, did a proverbial water-tight/air-tight test on them to check for leaks, but even if they leaked, the majority used them nevertheless. Many condom's, cheap and expensive, were used over and over again with only a cursory wash in between. That left the masses. Some bought used condoms, some at least made the effort and bought known dodgy goods thinking that they would afford at least some protection, but by and large, they were drunk when intercourse took place so what the hell anyway? That, regrettably, was the lot of the labouring-classes, and sheer lust and booze were in the vanguard, with fear [any kind of fear] and consequences, way behind in the rear.

So did these hapless men all catch VD in whatever form? Most did of course, hence the concern and shock horror at the Portsmouth crisis.

In those days, taking the chances outlined above as to the quality/cost and therefore the reliability of a condom, the habit of going to a chemist [high street for a good expensive condom and a back street for the cheaper alternative] or to a barber, was well established, and the accompanying embarrassment prevailed asking for a 'thingy' and receiving a tiny parcel wrapped in brown  paper from a female serving-on in a chemists shop. The barber on the other hand, using the same strength and pitch of voice asking you whether you were satisfied with his cut, also enquired whether you required anything for the weekend Sir?

 These little brown packets were known as PROPHYLACTIC [pronounced pro-fi-lak'tic] PACKETS. Now that's a mouthful especially if you're stood there all coy and embarrassed, and since few [evidently] were bought, they didn't appear to have a nick name at that point: later we called them "johnny's","French letters" or "sheaths".  Can you just see yourself, being nonch [alant], asking for a couple of PP's please or a handful of P² or P squared?

Prophylactic simply means 'warding off disease' nothing more technical. Ergo, a surgeon's rubber gloves are prophylactic devices protecting the surgeon from the patient's nasties and the patient from the surgeon's nasties: however, they are not designed to fit onto a man's penis!

So much for the condom in 1916.

Now for the masses who either couldn't afford them, couldn't wait to don it correctly before the climax, or threw all his cares to the wind for just 60 seconds of mind-blowing utopia.

Here comes the bit that you really don't want to know about!

     Most men in this lower group, whilst they would be flummoxed at hearing the chemistry formula


would be just as flummoxed to hear the expression PERMANGANATE OF POTASSIUM which, wait for it, used to be called PERMANGANATE OF POTASH
or, simply
 I wonder if there was a connection between the word condom and the first four letters of the word condy's ?

Here comes the score.

If you are seeking an amorous event, you are supposed to have a wad of wool, preferably clean, hygienic cotton wool in your pocket with a certain quantity of dry Cony's Crystals. A receptacle of your own, say a jam jar or even a pickled onion larger jar [both without any sign/trace of the former occupants], is a clear head-start asset. If wearing your white duck suit ashore, then you are advised to keep if well clear of the action to come. If your blue serge suit then no real problems!

Are you ready for what comes next?

After you have fulfilled your desire and your girl-friend is left panting on the bed with you some distance away from her, put the Crystals into the jar and add water. The fluid will turn first into a strong pink colour and then into a much staining deep purple. At that point, plunge your member into the jar and give it a thoroughly good wash and clean, leaving it there for at least fifteen minutes, and after withdrawal dry it with the cotton wool. Don't worry for it will remain deep purple for at least forty eight hours [if one regularly bathed afterwards which one didn't do, so it remained that colour for much longer]. It also stained the skin wherever it touched particularly legs, and all clothing, bedding, and soft furnishing it came into contact with. At this point, you should ditch the contents, wash the jar thoroughly under running water, recharge it with new Crystals, fill the jar, and then offer it to your lady friend with a goodly amount of cotton wool. Although it is virtually impossible for a lady to completely clean her vagina with strong disinfection from an empty jar of pickles, at least making the effort will go someway to lessening the immediate affect of VD. You should be thoroughly disinfected although heavily stained, but free of VD if you did the disinfecting straight away, resisting the temptation of laying beside her with a fag in your mouth. This or these actions were later coined as "prophylactic ablutions" meaning warding off STD [sexually transmitted disease] by washing your private parts. In many ships of the fleet, a "PA" station was provided in the 'heads' area of the ship [the "toilets"] and all sailors were advised to visit the heads and use the "PA" immediately on returning to the ship, before going to their messdecks.

The nub of the problem was found to be in the lack of success of the poor lady's effort in purifying herself, an art which had to be practiced in a certain position before being mastered, or is that mistressed, which, with the right equipment could take up to twenty minutes, although with reservations which created doubts which would not go away? No disinfectant-squirting bidets in those days, more's the pity! Venereologists found that the spread of VD from professional prostitutes who were adept in the art of female disinfection, was less likely than from so called amateur prostitutes.

WW1 started at the beginning of August 1914, and come the 6th April 1917 the USA had declared war on Germany. However, the US  troops did not arrive in Europe until the summer of 1917 virtually three whole years after the war started, and saw only the last sixteen months of action. Throughout the war, which later included the Americans, it was the habit to stand down front line troops and give them leave in the UK, chiefly in London.  This included sailors in the RND and airmen of the RFC.  Bit by bit, these troops caught venereal disease from London prostitutes, although obviously the Americans less so than the European Allies, and come Armistice Day, a moderate amount of Allied personnel were diagnosed with some form of venereal disease.

Condoms were not issued in WW1 as you will see from the Lords Debate. The rationale was why should the armed forces have safeguarded sex on the State when civilians, many vulnerable, were denied.  Many years after the 1919 Lords Debate they were still arguing on the merits/de-merits of self disinfection.  Progress was made by introducing clinics and professional disinfectors, where the likes of sickbay staff would dowse the private parts, avoiding the other parts of the body not involved in passionate love making. Prostitutes were encouraged to be dowsed by accredited nurses many with secondary duties for female health, including midwifery. Embarrassment slowed down the new cleansing system in the early days, but once overcome, fewer and fewer people developed serious VD.

The Americans went back home post war to much comment about the morals of European women, with more affected men than they had bargained for, but the authorities soon got down to a medical remedial programme which brought back the "all American Boy" image. Still, by 1930, VD figures were unacceptably high, and in 1931, the US Navy introduced free condoms, with a remarkable decline in newly reported VD cases.

In 1915, the London Rubber Company was formed to sell imported foreign condoms. More and more it imported top quality latex-wear and was a much respected company. In 1929 they launched the now famous Durex Company which requires no further explanation, and now its product transcends all other male contraceptive products.

In WW2, it was thought prudent to issue all Allied troops with gratuitous condoms. Germany, who mass-produced condoms for the world wide market, didn't give their population or their armed forces a free issue because of the fear of a declining nation at a time when Hitler needed more German's to help him rule the world; Joseph Goebbels was tasked to grow an Aryan race, the ideal and pure race. As in the case of the Americans in the paragraph above and other Allied forces in this paragraph, these free issues were not forced upon people at the point of a gun, but they were readily available and discreetly advertised at the point of departure from a ship [if navy] to terra firma. If, subsequently, a service man caught VD and it could be proved that he ignored or shunned an offer of free devices, his future was very bleak, militarily and financially.

The age of disinfecting people [oneself and professionally] had gone, for the man at least, although perversely, affected women were temporarily stopped from passing on their pox, if, that was, that men behaved sensibly!

The Royal Navy, though notably not the Army or Royal Air Force, continued after WW2 in giving free condoms irrespective of where they were based, but soldiers and airmen could only get free issues when serving abroad.  In some cases, free female contraceptives were issued to married WRENS, and WRNS officially known to soon becoming wives. These of course had absolutely no association with VD, but with avoiding pregnancy, for were a Wren to become pregnant, it spelt the end her career.

This article, written in 1973, remembers the time in the 1950's of National Servicemen in the Navy..