The (Sex) Bomb that Won the War

20 March 2018

History | War and Conflict

During World War Two and its aftermath, journalism played a vital role in keeping servicemen informed and connected, wherever they happened to be stationed across the world. Service Newspapers of World War Two, which publishes this week, features around 200 different titles that give a wonderful glimpse into a part of wartime life that is rarely explored.

One of the highlights of this collection for me is ‘Jane’ – the racy British cartoon strip that kept morale high during the years of conflict. She scandalised, motivated and entertained in equal measure, garnering a cult following which lasted long after the peace was signed.

Image © British Library. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Jane started life in 1932 as a regular strip in The Daily Mirror, drawn by artist Norman Pett. Pett’s wife posed for his sketches in the early years, before other commitments took priority. Then in 1940 Pett teamed up with professional model Chrystabel Leighton-Porter, who became Jane as she was known and loved during the war years.

The running joke and popular appeal of Jane was her habit of getting into all manner of scrapes and invariably ending up losing some if not all of her clothes. The nudity element was outrageously cheeky for the time, but never smutty. Jane was always portrayed as being sweetly unaware of her sexual side, and her storylines, complete with patriotic plots and featuring her boyfriend Georgie Porgie and faithful dachshund Fritz, were respectful and light-hearted. It was this innocence that justified Jane’s near-constant state of undress to the moral standards of the day.

Image © British Library. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

It’s not surprising, then, that Jane was such a hit with the troops. Starved of female company, and desperate for anything to alleviate the crushing boredom of a life steeped in routine and regulations, units all over the world hotly anticipated the arrival of newspapers containing the next Jane instalment. Although Jane was a Daily Mail cartoon, she was ‘borrowed’ by several service newspapers in order to distribute her to wherever the troops happened to be. Union Jack, Eighth Army News, Pacific Post, Good Morning, and The Maple Leaf all featured Jane at one time or another. Not only was she considered a reward for hard-working soldiers, she also came to embody the idea of what the men were fighting for. Stories of how she galvanised troops into action give her a legendary status even to this day. For instance, it was said that when Jane first appeared fully nude in the strip, the 36th Division in Burma stormed forward six miles in one day. Submariners heading off on duty would be out of touch with the rest of the world for weeks or months at a time, with no way of getting newspapers. To overcome this, some publishers allowed captains to take advance copies on board, under strict instructions to keep them under wraps until the official publication date. One story goes that when a certain submarine was sinking and the crew were expecting to die, they asked the captain to release all the copies of Jane that he had in his safe so that they could spend their final moments looking at her. Fortunately they lived to tell the tale.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously called Jane ‘Britain’s secret weapon’. Undoubtedly her contribution to the war effort is second to none, and her place in history is forever assured thanks to the continued exposure of her undergarments.

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About the Author

Harriet Brunsdon Jones

Harriet Brunsdon Jones

I’ve been working at Adam Matthew since March 2013, following several years in magazine and journals publishing. Projects I’ve worked on include Shakespeare in Performance, Popular Medicine in America, Global Commodities, and China, America and the Pacific – all assisted by copious quantities of tea.