Book Review – Bruce Cherry, They Didn’t Want to Die Virgins: Sex and Morale in the British Army on the Western Front 1914-18 (Solihull: Helion, 2016)


Bruce Cherry’s book seeks to ‘reappraise the sex life’ of the British soldier serving on the Western Front during the Great War.[1] The motivation for his investigation is that ‘respected historians…have denied or underplayed the amount of sexual activity’ that soldiers had and this has led to a ‘historical and subliminal cover up’ of an important part of a combatant’s experience during the First World War.[2]

The book is organised into two parts.  The first explores the British Army’s attitude and approach to sex, the extent and nature of sexual activity of the troops and how the prevailing moral codes of Edwardian civilian society regulated behaviour before war and how this changed once men were in uniform. The second part of the book, the majority of the publication, explores the different venues and location —seven of the eleven chapters—primarily explores the different kinds of sexual activity soldiers engaged at in rear echelon areas, billets, brothels and other locations.

His central argument is that sexual activity amongst British soldiers in France and Flanders was much wider and more extensive than the figures given for VD and STDs suggest.[3]

He also suggests that sex was an important element of military morale amongst the BEF.[4] While sex did not directly underpin actual combat effectiveness it ‘was of vital importance in the soldiers’ battles against tedium of army life and in preserving his civilian identity…Sex in its multiple guises, whether successfully enjoyed or merely anticipated, was undoubtedly a morale builder, a distraction from the horror of war.’[5] The Army recognised that sex was important part of a soldier’s life, his sex urges were impossible to control and it was better that they let soldiers meet their needs than try and repress sexual activity that could led to barrack room problems, homosexuality and sex crime.[6]

This is an innovative and interesting study and adds to our study and understanding of military morale within the BEF during the Great War.



[1] Bruce Cherry, They Didn’t Want to Die Virgins Sex and Morale in the British Army on the Western Front 1914-18 (Solihull: Helion, 2016), p.286.

[2] Ibid,  pp.23, 291.

[3] Ibid,  p.286.

[4] Ibid,  p.36.

[5] Ibid,  pp.36-37.

[6] Ibid,  p.288.