The Dark Side by Clarence Simonsen

War, Sex, VD, and “Piccadilly Princess”

The Dark Side 1

The Dark Side 2

These flying photos were taken on 18 May 1945, showing the nose art “Piccadilly Princess” on Lancaster NG347, No. 424 Tiger Squadron RCAF, artist was Mat Ferguson from Calgary, Alberta. This appeared to be a normal pin-up girl nose art but in fact it had a hidden message, and the code letter “P” could stand for “Prostitute” while the pin-up girl was a street-walker from Piccadilly Circus, London, England. After hostilities in Europe ended 8 May 45, No. 424 was assigned to No. 1 Group at Skipton-on-Swale, Yorkshire, and ferried British and Canadian troops from Italy to United Kingdom. I’m sure many of these same WWII combat veteran Army troops would soon visit the real Piccadilly girls in London.

The Dark Side 3

Image from Mat Ferguson photo album 2001, showing his normal pin-up girl art taken from Esquire magazine.

The Dark Side 4

During the war squadron artist Mat completed a number of Varga pin-up girls as nose art on the squadron Halifax aircraft, such as this March 1944 “Pistol Packin’ Mama” which became “Hellzapoppin.” In January 1945, Tiger squadron began to convert to the British built Mk. I and Mk. II Lancaster bombers, and three were painted with Varga pin-up girls, including QB-P, serial NG347, “Piccadilly Princess.”

The Dark Side 5 A Veteran at 20

The Dark Side 6

This RCAF ad appeared in the 1 November 1942, issue of Maclean’s magazine and enlistment was 17 1/2 years of age. In one year, many of these young men were fighting and being killed in the massive air war action over Europe. Many would also contact venereal disease, some deliberately to escape the known high aviation operational death.


From their unknown beginning, sexually transmitted diseases [STDs] have always posed a threat to military members throughout history. During World War Two, the impact of gonorrhoea and syphilis greatly affected the fighting strength of  male military personnel, while others deliberately contacted VD to escape high risk combat operations. Yes, there is a dark side to the high casuality air wars over Europe, shared by both Canadians and Americans.  Syphilis became the most feared by military leaders and society because of the symptoms, disfigurement, lack of proper treatment, and the simple fact it was so easily spread by an inescapable human behaviour for sexual intercourse. The origin of syphilis is still not known and disputed by researchers, however most agree it was brought to the Old World by the Spanish sailors of Christopher Columbus resulting from their sexual adventures in the new world.

Early in WWII, [1940] young twenty year old male Canadians in the RAF and RCAF were particularly effected by venereal disease which was contracted by one-night-stands and casual pick-up girls. This produced a variety of official Canadian Government attempts to combat the VD problem, using graphic color basic training films combined with education, prophylaxis, rapid personnel washing after sex, [Pro. Stations in England] cartoons, and warnings on match covers. [Everyone smoked during WWII]

The Dark Side 7

In 1942, new Canadian bases were being established in the area of Yorkshire, England, and this produced an unforeseen effect in the rise of VD. Due to the sudden large demand for sex, prostitutes doubled their price, their time with each customer was decreased, washing after sex was omitted, and the cleanliness of local brothels dropped. On 1 January 1943, No. 6 [RCAF] Group was formed and the RCAF medical staff discovered No. 6 Group of Canadians had a VD rate seven times higher than the other bomber groups in the RAF. There is little doubt that many aircrew deliberately contracted VD to escape death on operational flying, and some later admitted a dose saved their life. In December 1942, the British Government passed a Defence Regulation that any prostitute identified by two males who received VD, had to undergo an examination and treatment. This new law had little effect, plus another VD problem was developing, the Yanks were coming to England.

The 8th Air Force Head Quarters was officially formed at Bushy Park, 15 miles S/W of London, England, on 25 June 1942. The slow build-up of the U.K. American bomber force would take another year and no substantial bomber force would attack the enemy until mid-1943. The sudden large numbers of Americans arriving in Britain in 1943 caused a troublesome increase of gonorrhea and syphilis, and the Canadians would soon be pushed to second for the duration of the war.

In two and one half years of war, 350,000 Americans would serve in U.K. as part of the 8th Air Force and they were the highest paid of all armed forces. Well liked British comedian Tommy Trinder gave his version of the Yanks in England with his line – “Overpaid, overfed, oversexed and over here.” While the good humoured line stuck, it was also partly true. Conditions in wartime England were very harsh, and thousands of British men had been killed in the first two years of fighting. The British women of all ages supplemented their uneasy life with many sexual adventures involving the rich Americans and these liaisons produced over 50,000 marriages. Millions of other love matches were merely commercial transactions for money, food, drink, nylons, and cigarettes. Like the Canadian Government the American perspectives varied on how to combat this alarming high VD outbreak.


The Dark Side 8 V-Gals

The Dark Side 9

The Dark Side 10 Venereal Disease

In Canada, the Canadian Government took out full page ads, this one appeared in the 15 December 1944 issue of Maclean’s magazine. The new wonder drug penicillin [priceless discoveries] has become a magic cure for VD.

Piccadilly Circus in London was home to the British WWII streetwalkers and where the major spread of sexually transmitted disease took place during World War Two.

 The Dark Side 11 Piccadilly Circus

In 1943, the American 8th Air Force VD rate in Britain reached its highest WWII yearly level of 61 per thousand men, which was two times the U.S. rate [28 per 1,000] and six times that of the British Army rate in Britain. The British Army and Navy had very strict enforcement on unprotected sex, including forms which recorded all the info. for medical background. It is interesting to compare the 1943 WWII numbers with 1963-1970 U.S. Army VD rate in the Vietnam War, which was 262 per 1,000 American troops. VD also saved a number of lives from combat death in Vietnam.

From 1941 to 1945 the U.S. Army in Britain VD rate averaged 43 per 1,000 strength. The high 8th Air Force rate was a combination of removal of home life influence, too much to drink, and some aircrew who deliberately contracted VD to escape combat missions and possible death. The true explanations for the sudden higher rates of VD in the 8th A.F. may never be fully known but unprotected sex with the prostitutes of Piccadilly Circus presumably caused the largest increased spread of sexual disease in England.

These British girls soon earned the trademark names – Piccadilly Lilly, Piccadilly Warrior, Piccadilly Commando, Piccadilly Tilly, Piccadilly Virgin, Piccadilly Lady, and Piccadilly Princess.

These prostitute nicknames also appeared on at least 31 bombers in the American Mighty 8th Air Force which flew from bases in England. The 8th Air Force B-24 and B-17 bomber “Nose Art” became an unofficial reminder that unprotected sex with the girls of Piccadilly Circus would get you in big trouble.

The Dark Side 12 Piccadilly Commando


Piccadilly Commando, B-17 serial 42-3057 91st B. G.  A total of ten, 8th A.F. bombers carried this name. This British nude prostitute carries a bomb which stood for the exploding spread of VD, a time bomb.

The Dark Side 13 Piccadilly Lilly II

Piccadilly Lilly II, B-17G, serial 42-37800, 100th B. G.  A total of four, 8th A. F. bombers carried this name. This good time nude British blonde party-girl prostitute looks like an angel, but she will give you VD.



Phil Brinkman was an accomplished commercial artist who travelled North American painting huge murals prior to World War Two. He was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Force as a draftsman since there was no official ‘mural artist’ in the Army. He was transferred to the 486th Bomb Group just before they departed for England and painted the famous B-24 series of Zodiac nose art in the 834th Bomb Squadron. In August 1944, the group transferred to new B-17G aircraft and Phil painted four with impressive female art.

The Dark Side 14 Piccadilly Lilly

This is a copy of the original Piccadilly Lilly sketch done by Phil Brinkman in 1944, and received by Simonsen in 1982. I am still seeking any image of this impressive painting done of a British WWII hooker from Piccadilly Circus.

The Dark Side 15 Vargas January 1944

This gate-fold [center section] appeared as the January 1944 “Varga” [Vargas dropped the “s’ in all his wartime paintings] pin-up calendar in Esquire Magazine.

The Canadian RCAF serviceman soon discovered that British streetwalkers, [prostitutes] had a custom of having unprotected sexual intercourse standing up and “wall jobs” became part of their new wartime vocabulary. The Canadian RCAF aircrew always wore their raincoat while on leave and it was not totally for the British weather. The British street girls wore no underwear and just stepped around the corner for a quick ‘wall job’, while the rain coat covered the sex act from the public eye. One RCAF member informed me how he could never understand why all the men on leave in London were wearing a raincoat in the summer. Then it was all explained to him. In the last year of World War Two [1945] the RCAF VD rate reached the highest in the war with 7.6% personnel infected with a sexually transmitted disease. Some of these young men deliberately contacted VD in order to escape death in the late stages of the air war over Europe. Air Marshal Harris wanted these men charged as malingerers and their flight records destroyed, however the RAF Director-General of Medical Services disagreed and all were treated and released. The Canadian public and mom and dad back home were never informed of the high RCAF VD rate. It is interesting to note, the new introduction of penicillin and the rapid access to treatment [Pro. stations for washing after sex] clearly did nothing to lower the VD rate among Canadians in the RCAF aircrew during the last four months of World War Two. From 1943 to 1945 the VD rate in No. 6 [RCAF] ground crew remained steady, four times lower than that of aircrew.


This RCAF Lancaster Mk. II was named for a Piccadilly prostitute

Replica painted on original WWII Lancaster skin from Nanton, Alberta.

 The Dark Side 16 Varga


In private collection of Capt. Medvies, RCAF, 1 Wing, Kingston, ON.


16 thoughts on “The Dark Side by Clarence Simonsen

  1. Interesting. My father mentioned this problem with troops in his memoirs. In 1941 on the troopship to the Far East, stopping at Cape Town, and in Singapore, it was an ongoing concern. While doling out prophylactics, he told his men that by ‘incurring a venereal infection while in HM service, they would in fact be guilty of damaging government property, a chargeable offence!’

      1. Dear Pierre, thank you for clarifying – I am however interested in Cape Town’s role as a ‘stoppage point’ for the navy and Hilary did mention the city in her post. I thought perhaps she might have a few more tidbits related to her father’s brief pause in the city as during the war the travelling nature of servicemen changed the dynamics of this space quite profoundly.

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