As today, May 8, is VE day, it seemed only appropriate to contribute a timely ErosBlog post.

I have always admired Paul Fussell as one of our most elegant writers on war. An infantryman gravely wounded in France in March 1945 who went on to become a Professor of English, Fussell has given us three magnificent books on the British and American experience in the First and Second World Wars: The Great War and Modern Memory (about the First World War), Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, and Fussell’s own memoir of his experiences as a soldier and after, Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic.

Wartime contains a chapter entitled “Drinking Far Too Much, Copulating Far Too Little,” which might be of especial interest to ErosBlog readers. Fussell comments on the sparseness of erotic material available in the British and American world of the 1940s:

“Now, when the urban newsstand flaunts its pornographic wares which, if not heady enough, can be eked out with materials available at the nearest Adult Bookshop, and when your local X-rated film theatre routinely and legally depicts scenes formerly viewable only at stag parties, it is impossible to realize that things were once quite otherwise….There was no Playboy_ or Penthouse or Hustler and certainly no Squeeze, Rapture, or Adult American Dreambook. The sexiest magazine generally available was probably Esquire, with its drawings by “Petty” and “Varga” [sic?] of languorous girls with immensely long legs — thought more exciting then than now — and precisely delineated breasts.”

One wonders how our boys in uniform got through the war at all. Fussell goes on to say:

“Throughout the war the London Daily News ran a comic strip depicting a scantily-clad ‘Jane,’ much relished by the troops. Only on VE-Day did she go so far as to take off everything. This created a sensation, and many were not sure what they thought about it.”

I’ve often wondered about this particular May 8, 1945 strip. You can find some stuff on the Internet about Jane, but my casual search didn’t turn up the strip to which Fussell was referring. I had always imagined some sort of erotic payoff for the victors.

In a sense this turned out to be true, but not as I had imagined. Recently I acquired a book that contained the strip as part of its center plates, right adjacent to a portrait of a smiling Clement Atlee. (The book is Peter Clarke’s The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire.)

Jane prepares to celebrate VE-Day.

Jane celebrates victory in Europe

This leads to an unfortunate scene…

Jane mobbed and stripped

..that concludes with a joke in dubious taste.

Jane wrapped in the flag

Echoing a sentiments found in Clarke and Fussell, I must say that there seems to have been quite a shift in social mores between then and now. Or even between then and 1970. In 1945, a Playboy pictorial would have been beyond the pale. But something that looks suspiciously like a group assault on a young woman was the occasion for a joke in a widely-read newspaper.