Charity work?

I’m reading The Ravi Lancers (1972) by John Masters and enjoying it. I’ll write a fuller account of the book later, but want to ask about a short passage that intrigues me. An officer is going back to the front in 1915, disgruntled with what he has seen in London:

Everything was going to the bad. He thought of the girls he had seen in London on his way through. Respectable girls, you would have said – you would have known, once, from their accents. Now they were selling themselves on the Strand and down the Haymarket. Giving themselves away, more accurately, for the money they asked went to war charities, they proclaimed.

Now I’ve read a fair bit about wartime prostitution (Conan Doyle’s protests against ‘harpies’, Arnold Bennett’s The Pretty Lady, Galsworthy’s Defeat, and warmly-recalled memories from the Canadians Acland and Harrison, and more), but I’ve never come across young ladies doing it for charity.
Did Masters make this up? The rest of the novel seems pretty well-grounded. If this is based on a source, was it a printed one, or folklore?
And were the ladies really so charitable, or was this just a way of making their customers feel good about the transaction?

Any ideas?



  1. janevsw
    Posted June 27, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    Hm – I wonder if an investigation of the Times Digital Archives would bear fruit? but one would have to second-guess the writer’s choice of noun, I suppose…

    • Posted June 27, 2013 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

      The Times has plenty of wartime correspondence decrying the ‘harpies’ preying on innocent soldiers.
      But if, as the novel implies, ‘ladies’, (as opposed to just women) were involved, I think the Times would just have kept an appalled silence – unless there was a juicy court case about it.

      • Posted June 28, 2013 at 2:37 am | Permalink

        I suspect you are correct about the Times maintaining silence. A problem in any search, of course, would be that those who engaged in such unladylike activities would no longer be considered “ladies” at all, regardless of background.

  2. Alan Allport
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    Masters’ memoirs of his time in prewar India and wartime Burma, Bugles and a Tiger and The Road Past Mandalay, are both excellent.

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