Thursday, 5 May 2016

Crime on the Home Front: from "brides in the bath" to consorting with Australians

“Your wife is not going on as she ought to. She stops out all night and has sold up most of your things. She has left the baby by itself, and the poor little thing cries all day. I have seen her out with Australians.”

So went a letter received by one Private Henry Canham, serving in France during the First World War. Returning on leave, he learnt that his wife had contracted a venereal disease from an officer, and promptly shot her dead with his service revolver.

The upheaval of war had a huge effect on life on the Home Front as well as on those serving on the front lines. The presence of large numbers of soldiers in the country’s capital had – according to vocal public figures at the time – the potential to spread moral turpitude and disrupt family life. But the soldiers themselves were also a magnet for criminal activity – including robbery, assault, and even murder.

New research by Dr Andrew Maunder (School of Humanities) has unearthed some of the nefarious goings on of that period.

You can read more about these cases on the Everyday Lives in War blog. Find out what happened to Private Henry Canham, and learn about the grisly fate of Canadian soldier Alfred Williams. And of course ‘normal’ criminal activity carried on as usual – as the infamous case of the Brides in the Bath will reveal…


Dr Andrew Maunder is Head of English Literature & Creative Writing, and Reader in Victorian Studies at the University of Hertfordshire. He is part of the Everyday Lives in War centre – one of five First World War engagement centres funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. His latest book, British Theatre and the Great War, 1914-1919 is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

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