Nan, one of our Royal Parks in the First World War research volunteers, takes a look at World War I romance on the Home Front:
Hyde Park saw many changes during World War I. Recruiting rallies and drilling soldiers became common sights, whilst park-keepers and police declined in force, and night-time lighting was dimmed to guard against air raids. But park officials heard more complaints about unchaperoned young people flocking to parks and streets as their fathers went off to war and their mothers took jobs for the first time. “Our growing boys and girls from fourteen to sixteen years of age … spend their leisure hours as they please, and are independent of parental control,” noted one worried observer hoping for more supervision. “Courting couples” - whether teenagers or young adults - became a major press concern.
Park users, and park officials, debated the proper role of Hyde Park: should wartime conditions mandate promotion of virtuous moral ideals and personal sacrifice? A member of the London Council for the Promotion of Public Morality complained that:
“twenty or thirty years ago the limit of alfresco courtship recognised by ordinary folks extended as far as placing an arm round a lady’s waist, whilst sitting on a seat. Now the seats … are discarded in favour of lying full length on the grass.”
In the same vein, a female war volunteer petitioned:
“on behalf of the many women who, like myself, are fond of a walk in a quiet part of the Park. … the gross indecency of a great number of very young girls & soldiers & civilian young men makes it really impossible for decent women to walk there after say 6 pm.”
Or on the other hand, should Hyde Park officials and police prioritize allowing recreation and respite from war pressures, even if older park users were shocked? Was there even any way to control “courting couples”? The Metropolitan Police commented that “Many of these [courting couples] have not the least idea of behaving improperly, and Police would not think of interfering with them, if they were to, their conduct would probably be complained of.” Another official commented, “There is no doubt that many women run after the men and many of the men run after the women but unless and until their conduct justifies and requires the police to intervene … patrolling officers can do little.”
A solution was found... Read on to find out how the Parks responded.