Venus in the Trenches: The Treatment of Venereal Disease in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Faculty of Arts
This dissertation examines the treatment of venereal disease (VD) in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). The Canadians had one of the highest rates of infection during the war with 15.8 per cent of servicemen being diagnosed with VD. These figures generated concern among Canadian officials about the negative impact this could have on both public health and opinion. Overseas officials needed to develop policies and procedures to control the spread of the disease. When strict disciplinary measures did little to address the issue, the military experimented with more lenient ones rooted in science and medicine. Even with these measures in place there were still thousands of men who needed medical treatment, which required the creation of a VD management system. The development of this system is the main focus of this study. As the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) was part of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) they operated under the guidelines and procedures established by the British War Office.
With two theatres of operation, VD required the creation of two systems. In France, VD cases needed to be treated and returned to the line as quickly as possible, which was complicated when mobility returned to the battlefield in late 1918. There was little agreement between the RAMC and CAMC about treating VD at the front. But the RAMC had authority and was unwilling to discuss changes to procedures at a critical point of operations. In England, the CAMC had more influence over the development of the VD management system. Special VD hospitals were established by the CAMC to treat the large number of cases that developed locally. Staffed primarily by civilian-trained CAMC doctors, these hospitals became important sites for VD research and development. Treatments utilized new developments such as the use of salvarsan, which was a highly toxic compound. Drug therapy was complicated by problems in the system that were uncovered in a 1918 investigation. VD research being conducted by the CAMC was seen as a crucial component of screening soldiers returning to Canada. Authorities in Canada insisted that strict measures be put in place to prevent the return of infected servicemen. Despite their known limitations, the Wassermann and Schwartz tests were used to detect cases of VD. While these procedures were in place for much of the war, they had to be abandoned when the war ended and Canada was tasked with demobilizing its overseas contingent at a rapid pace. Exploring the CAMC through the lens of VD allows for a long overdue examination of the medical war of the CEF.
Rosenthal, Lyndsay, "Venus in the Trenches: The Treatment of Venereal Disease in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919" (2018). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 2107.
Canadian History Commons, History of Science, Technology, and Medicine Commons, Military History Commons