White Feather

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by beagleboy, Nov 12, 2011.

Welcome to the Army Rumour Service, ARRSE

The UK's largest and busiest UNofficial military website.

The heart of the site is the forum area, including:

  1. Amazing what still turns up:

    World War I white feather found in UK town - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

  2. I have a number of postcards saying similar about territorial soldiers/battalions who were home only. Not sure why my great grandad had them, hand written comments say things like 'they don't mean us do they'. (its seems he was injured and then posted to training/home service units on SE coast)
  3. I do remember as a wee lad my grandmother talking about 'white feathers', however grand dad/s (a rare daily-double of both served in WW1 & WW2)didn't mention anything, they were probably thinking there 'she' goes again been into the cooking sherry.
  4. One of the reasons that the Silver War Badge (sometimes called the Silver Wound Badge) was issued to discharged wounded soldiers was to prevent them being given white feathers and being abused in the street for being war dodgers.
    • Like Like x 1
  5. How were non serving men treated during WW2 , men such as farmers , miners engineers etc ? My grandfather did 9 years in the Warwickshire Yeomanry including all of WW1 , he never served in WW2 as he was a farmer , just wondering how people seen that .?
  6. Often wondered that myself. My grandfather (maternal side) wasn't allowed to join up in the 2nd World War, he was killed in an industrial accident in 1942 anyway but I've often wondered how he felt about it.
    In rural Northumberland I suppose a lot of men were in reserved occupations (mining etc)
  7. One piece of local folklore related to me by my grandad was of his father having to intervene in a street fight caused by a young chap striking a middle aged woman for handing them out.

    The young chap hadn't been given one himself, being well-known locally for 'doing his bit', but he objected to someone who was comfortably safe in the knowledge she'd never be called up accusing others for cowardice.

    I have to say, I sympathise with that point of view.
    • Like Like x 8
  8. I don't think it was a big issue, as most of the population realised that the country was running on an efficient war economy, and that millions of men were better used in farming, manufacturing industry and - famously - the mines, rather than uniformed service. Given that a high proportion of non-serving men (and women) took up auxilliary duties such as fire-watching, air raid wardens, auxiliary firemen, home guard, etc, there was no particular reason to see or feel guilt at not serving in uniform. My grandfather was a young man in WW2, but he was a senior engineer at Rolls Royce heavily involved in Merlin engine production and the development of jet engines. Nearly all of his friends and neighbours were also held back as vital manufacturing staff, and many of them served in the LDV or other volunteer services to make up.

  9. Yes it's an interesting part of history which feminists are very keen not to acknowledge, how many men died because of the guilt and emotional blackmail caused by women safe at home?
    • Like Like x 2
  10. phil245

    phil245 LE Book Reviewer

    this is an article that appeared in the Mail, 19/09/11.

    The young British soldier was on a four-day leave from the horrendous fighting at Ypres on the Western Front, and arrived home in a uniform crawling with the lice that infested the grim trenches of World War I.
    The first thing his mother did was strip it off him to give it a good clean and press. So when Private Harold Carter went to the music hall that night in 1915 for a knees-up and a bit of much-needed light entertainment, he put on his civilian suit.
    He was standing in a queue outside when ‘a lady’ - his description, though some might question it - pushed towards him and thrust a white feather into his hand, a symbol of cowardice. Told he was a ‘worm’ and a ‘skunk’ for not doing his duty, he said he left and ‘went home, disgusted’.
    When the war began, recruitment was massive and enthusiastic as millions of young men responded to Lord Kitchener’s poster appeal: ‘Your country needs you’. But not every man rushed to join the colours, so girls brandishing white feathers were organised by a retired sailor, Admiral Charles Fitzgerald, to shame ‘slackers’ into joining up.
    The first foray of his Order of the White Feather was on the seafront at Folkestone, where 30 of them pounced on any man not in uniform.
    ‘Are you deaf or indifferent to your country’s needs?’ the girls demanded to know, before reminding the men that British soldiers were fighting and dying while they took their leisure. ‘Here’s a gift for a brave soldier,’ they said sarcastically as they handed out the feathers. Fuelled by newspaper reports, the movement quickly spread. The white feather was a potent symbol. Its origin as the mark of a coward came from the defunct ‘sport’ of cock-fighting, but a popular novel of 1902, The Four Feathers, had introduced the idea to a new generation.
    In that book by A. E. W. Mason, an officer who resigns from the Army rather than fight with his regiment in the Sudan is sent feathers by brother officers and his fiancee. Their jibes spur him into action to redeem his honour.
    Here was a bandwagon for patriots and bullies alike to jump on. And it became more prevalent as the war dragged on, casualty lists lengthened and more cannon fodder was needed for the front line.
    Siren voices were always part of the recruiting drives. From music-hall stages, busty burlesque singers belted out, ‘On Sunday I walk out with a Soldier/On Monday I’m taken by a Tar...’ The song went through the days of the week ending with the resounding, ‘But on Saturday I’m willing/If you’ll only take the shilling/To make a man of any one of you.’ The suggestiveness brought choruses of raucous laughter. Here was a not-very-subtle appeal to men to assert their manhood. The white-feather girls were doing the same thing, but in a much more menacing way.
    Some said recruiting sergeants worked hand-in-glove with white-feather girls. A 17-year-old was upbraided by two of them in Camden High Street, in North London. As they walked away, a sergeant appeared from the doorway of a drill hall and invited him in. ‘We’ll prove you’re not a coward,’ he reassured the boy, whose pride had been wounded. The next thing the lad knew he’d taken the King’s Shilling and was in khaki.
    Some feathers were presented to specific targets. One girl remembered tying one to her uncle’s coat. ‘It was disgraceful that he had failed to enlist,’ she declared, while the writer Compton Mackenzie complained that ‘idiotic young women’ were using them as a means of dumping boyfriends they had tired of.
    But generally the feathers were handed out indiscriminately and anonymously, and the girls were often woefully off target. But for many young men, the horrors of trench warfare were preferable to being branded a coward
    Fred Broome had joined up as soon as the war began, convincing a not-very-fussy recruiting sergeant he was 18 when in reality he was 15. He was at Mons and Ypres before being sent back sick from France, at which point his father intervened with his birth certificate and had him discharged.
    Fred was walking across Putney Bridge when four girls accosted him with feathers. His explanation that he had already been in the fighting and was still only 16 was laughed at. ‘I felt humiliated,’ he recalled. But their callous treatment worked. He marched straight into a recruitment office, lied about his age again and joined up for the second time. In the East End of London, girls added insult to injury by using feathers plucked from chickens’ bottoms and letting the recipients know where they had come from.
    One soldier, who had returned badly wounded, was on a bus when a woman gave him a white feather to him ‘because you’re a coward’. He showed her his damaged leg and invited her to look for the missing part, ‘lying on a battlefield somewhere’.
    For men who stayed at home because they were needed for industry and war work, the embarrassment became so acute that they insisted on having a badge or armband to indicate a legitimate reason not to be in khaki.
    Similar sentiments drove the Active Service League, founded by the formidable Baroness Orczy, author of The Scarlet Pimpernel.
    Its 20,000 female members pledged not to be seen in the company of any man who had not answered ‘his country’s call’. A small ad in The Times read: ‘Jack, If you are not in khaki by the 20th, I shall cut you dead - Ethel M.’
    Who were the women goading men in this way? Some may have been suffragettes. They found their voice campaigning for votes for women and now brandished their girl-power on other matters. Others were war widows and mothers with sons at the front aggrieved that other young men were out of harm’s way. But it is hard to resist the conclusion that a large contingent were young women enjoying a sense of empowerment the war brought.
    Flappers was how some victims described the girls who humiliated them, which, in those days (before its better-known use in the Twenties) denoted what The Times called ‘a young lady who has not yet been promoted to long frocks and the wearing of her hair ‘up’.
    In other words, a teenager, sassy and full of herself, a breed not unknown today. Then, as now, they often hunted in packs and can have given little thought to the deadly consequences. A South London woman recalls her brother being out with a local scout group when he was handed a white feather and told to ‘go and fight’. Deeply embarrassed, he enlisted in the Navy that night, went to sea and was drowned in the battle of Jutland. He was 17.
    The grandfather of historian Francis Beckett was exempt from military service because he had three small daughters. But after being ‘white-feathered’ in the street, he volunteered as a rifleman and died of wounds in 1918. Beckett’s mother, one of those three daughters, never forgave ‘that unknown woman who gave him a white feather, and the thousands of brittle, self-righteous women all over the country who had done the same’.
    Girls with white feathers may have believed they were being patriotic. The problem was that few had any idea of the realities of the war they were bullying the country’s young men to join.

    Out on the battlefield, it was not a glorious game, where girls could cheer on their men from the touchline. It was a struggle to the death, millions of deaths, and each man’s decision to join it demanded respect, not humiliation.
    • Like Like x 3
  11. I think Richard Van Emden's book on young soldiers includes an account of an under aged soldier who had joined up served in 1914, and then invalided out after his age was revealed after hospitalisation for pneumonia in the first winter. He described how after his demob he was attacked by a swarm of women waving white feathers. We wrote that he found it easier to join up again that try to epxlain that he had already served in the army but was under aged anyway.

    There is another story of an officer on leave being handed a white feather. He thankls the woman and uses it to clean his pipe, then hands it back.

    In an industrial total war the men and women who were employed making the materials of war were as important as those at the front. Industry is a business and does well out of wars. Skilled industrial workers are paid better than soldiers. Its not surprising that there was a lot of ill feeling between those who served in the forces and those seen to benefit.

    This was handled better in WW2 than in Ww1. There were massive supertaxes which levelled income and Britian was alomost a command economy. I guess Hitler helped by ensuring that there was no such thing as safe at home.

    My father's father served in WW1. He was a farmer who had started as a game keeper. He was attached to some military organisation in the UK and became some sort of go between the staff of this camp and the local munitions companies. My guess is that he must have been a resourceful Q and never left the UK. He has no Great War medals. After the war he became a farm manager for one of these industrialists who had done well out of the war. Arguably British industrialists helped win the war. They outproduced the Germans and supplied the British army with good kit for the time and in quantities that flattened the hun. Was he doing more for his country in the UK or in the trenches?

    There may have been some family pressure to keep him safe too. His older brother was killed on the aisne in September 1914. I only foudn out about that because until the CWC website we beleived a family legend that he was oen of the missing. His mother never accepted that he was dead and left the back door unbolted for the rest of her life in the hope that one day her eldest boy would come home.
    • Like Like x 1
  12. this was a good interesting thread till it got crayoned all over!
    • Like Like x 2
  13. Didn't knowyour grandfather personally of course but I think we can safely assume he would have been at least slightly annoyed at being killed, possibly even miffed.
    • Like Like x 3
  14. Porridge_gun

    Porridge_gun LE Good Egg (charities)

    I think, thoroughly vexed!
  15. my maternal grandfather was a silversmith by trade and tried to join the navy at the beginning of WW2 but failed the medical due to a badly broken leg he'd gotten playing shinty. my gran told me that he recieved a white feather (possibly two) in the post before he ended up leaving inverness and going to work in the tin mines down south.