Today my Dad remembers his sex education and prostitution in navy ports such as Istanbul.


Most of us were young. I was 19 years old approaching 20 years and quite naïve. Back at home among young people sex was not a word that came readily to the tongue nor was what it meant talked about only in a roundabout way. In others, so far as I was aware, promiscuity was not common and from most men’s point of view a woman who was suspected of giving it out was to be avoided. Whether the same attitude applied to most women in respect of a man I don’t know.

In the Navy, predominantly an all male environment it was similarly talked about but presumably only indulged in when ashore where women were available. In most ports, prostitution was often more or less secretly available in the upstairs rooms of bars.

I and my mates visited the bars but drew the line at the upstairs entertainment. Basically I was brought up as were most young people with the view that sex came with marriage and that pre-marital sex resulted in all kinds of terrible diseases. My father’s advice “Keep away from red lamp holes” still held.

Coming back to Istanbul. The groups of other sailors that we met urged us to go and look at the streets of brothels. So off we went, sailors three. There were two streets parallel to each other consisting of two storey terraced houses. Lots of sailors from the British ships were walking up and down these streets all dressed in full white uniform. The story was that of these streets one was for the working class of the populous and one for the better class of people.

Sex was available at a set rate of one shilling and ten pence for the one street and two shillings and four pence for the “better quality” street. To draw a comparison my daily rate of pay was three shillings of which I had to allot on shilling to my parents. It wasn’t the cost that put me off but the thoughts of getting into bed or couch with a strange foreign woman and of what might follow.

In the middle of the more expensive street one house was given over to a prophylactic centre where after sex one could have a free injection into the penis to avert V.D. This gave away many of the sailors who had indulged because those who had taken “the cure” were coming out of this centre with a large iodine coloured stain of the front of their white trousers. We left the area with a clean sheet as did many others.

To me that was the end of Istanbul and we were back on board ship by tea time. Istanbul was a great disappointment because it had nothing to offer a huge number of British sailors. We wandered the streets of the city where none of the ordinary people with whom we came into contact spoke nor understood English and where by a geographical anomaly were European but by language, religion and lifestyle were Asian.

    The Pramshed

    Today Dad describes nights out in Valletta and the joys of beer, brothels and British chocolate.

    So typical “run” into Valetta went like this. One o’clockish set off, catch a bus in Biryebuggia (the same buses that we used as tourists in the 1970s) and get off in Valetta. Walk around for a while, go up into the Barracca Gardens and watch the movement of ships in Grand Harbour. Maybe walk down into Sliema and have a beer in a bar and walk along the seafront. Sailors, sailors everywhere. Back up into Valletta. 6pm long trousers on. Walk round a bit more, shops are coming to life. Look at the bombed out Opera House on King Street. Find a suitable bar where food is cheap, order steak (steak was horse meat) egg and chips (almost the staple request), have a beer.

    Then mid-evening make your way to Strait Street known as “The Gut”. This is one long street of bars and brothels parallel to King Street. All the Fleet is here most just sightseeing, those with money and no sense partaking. Girls in the doorway offering their wares. The drinks are extortionate. The girls are supposed to be contortionists. This is no place for sailors like us except for sightseeing.

    Come out of Valletta into nearby Floriane, find a bar and have another couple of beers and then by 10pm-1030pm catch the bus back to Kalafrana when the few shillings you have left has to last another two weeks.

    Back home in England most commodities were still rationed. Naturally being fed by the Navy, we were well provided for but nevertheless in any visits to Valetta we enjoyed being able to buy British chocolate and sweets plenty of which were available. Probably because of the hardships suffered by the siege, there was an effort to let let the Maltese have a taste of good fortune which was not available at home.

    Looking to a tie when I should return to England, I made of point of from time to time buying foodstuffs (tinned) that I knew my parents were going short of at home. Corned beef, tinned ham, tinned steak and tinned fruit and saving them up to take back with me whenever that would be. There was no indication of what length of time I might serve in the Mediterranean. Peacetime sailoring before the war meant that a sailor drafted to a ship on commission would serve in that ship until the ship’s commission was completed. This did not apply to shore stations as service in them was more or less a transitory arrangement. This was the case at HMS Falcon. We knew at Kalafrana that we Safety Equipment men were being held as a reserve and that we could be transferred at any time to a ship in replacement of men who had returned home for demobilisation.