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

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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 my Dad remembers a visit to Istanbul.

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    A strict dress code was the order of the day for any matelots going ashore, namely full whites. This was the only time when I was on the Ocean that full whites were demanded. So dig out the whites from the bottom of the kitbag where they had been for the last 10 months and get them pressed because before going ashore there was sure to be a keen scrutiny from to tip to toe that the ship’s pride should not be let down – although more of that later.

    Leave would start each day at 1pm and as usual would be a journey by liberty boat (on of the ship’s motor boats) from ship to shore. If you missed the ship’s boat at 1pm then the next opportunity was the 5pm boat. Returning to the ship was by boat at 5pm or a succession of journeys were made in the late evening until all personnel were back on board. Different arrangements were made for officers from a different part of the ship.

    As the boat approached the city was before us on the hill. It was dominated by the St Sophia mosque and the Blue Mosque, both of which were topped by huge domes and minarets on the four corners.

    We were set down on the quay and groups of sailors were strolling up into the city. We three, Sam, Daisy and me like many another group simply walked round taking in the life of the city. It was hot and sunny an ideal day for exploring a city that has a real Eastern feel about it. Pavement stalls welling all sorts of goods with strange smells of spices and of cooking. The language barrier made any conversation difficult. In those days the ordinary Turkish people did not have any English.

    After a while we were ready for a sit and a drink and so we dropped into the next café we saw. It was quite busy and as we found three seats the locals were looking at us curiously as we were them. We smiled and said “Hello” and they replied in what was the Turkish equivalent and that was the limit of conversation. One of us went to the counter and asked for coffees. They were shortly served in tiny cups, a bowl of sugar lumps but no milk. The coffee tasted quite bitter even after sugar was added but we made ourselves drink it.

    Turkey was (and is) a Muslim country and therefore there was no alcohol available. We hadn’t a lot of money to spend and what we had would have gone on beer anyway. All we could do really was just wander around and there was not a lot to see. We kept meeting up with other matelots and they were are bored as we were. At least the sun was strong during the day.

    The general impression was that Istanbul as far as I was concerned was going to be a magical and mysterious sort of Eastern city but it was more of a let down to me. The Turks that we saw seemed to be of the poorer class and there was no evidence of culture. But after all we were only common sailors.