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Remembered Today:

white feathers given


andrew pugh

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Good Evening All.

I wonder how young girls and women from small villages and towns felt after pressuring youg men from those communities with white feathers to join up.Did they have any remorse not seeing these lads return after the war, not seeing them on the street corners in the factories ect.How did they feel when they did find out what happened to them?I wonder if one would blame another for sending her friends brother off never to return.Look forward to your comments.

Regards Andy

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Michael Johnson

I wonder how prevalent it was in small towns? So much easier in the city where you can hand them to total strangers.

I'm sure that the women who did so didn't first seek out their own family members.

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One of my OH's great granddad's was an Under Manger in one of the pits at Pontefract.

His job was to be underground with the men and at times of trouble he was part of the rescue team (in fact this is how he died - rescuing miners from a pitfall).

During the Great War he was given white feathers - whilst travelling on a tram, which suggests the giver was unknown to the recipient.

I can't begin to imagine how he must have felt.

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One of the men in 9th Sherwood Foresters went on leave in civvies as his uniform was falling apart. On his return train journey to London a young lady gave him a white feather. The man said nothing. I wonder what the girl would have said if she had known that the soldier was on his way to the Palace to receive his VC from the King.

sm

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I seem to remember a story of a soldier on leave, in civvies, who was given a white feather and promptly used it to clean his pipe, remarking that pipe-cleaners were hard to come by at the front ...

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Any women who did this were doing it indiscriminately. Male key workers in war industries were often given white feathers. As a result arm bands were sometimes issued by factories.

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My Great Uncle Tommy was given a feather in the street, the lady was somewhat taken aback when asked what it was, as he was blind due to an accident down the pit, he had a knack though of looking at objects which concealed his blindness. He promptly rebuked the woman and pointed out he would have been delighted to serve with his five brothers. Apparently she was turned upon by other women from the village,some of whom had lost sons.

who did not not appreciate her efforts.

It did not seem prevalent in my area, possibly because of the lack of anonimity in a small town where "everybody knows each other"

John

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Hi all,

Found this in the Atlanta Constitution, dated Nov 7, 1915:

"Nine hundred Irishmen who intended to sail for New York today on the Cunard steamship Saxonia were prevented by the steamship company from taking passage. The company declined to permit them to sail after there had been several stormy encounters between the Irishmen and street crowds, which took the view that able-bodied men should not be permitted to evade liability to military service in this manner. The arrival of the Irishmen in Liverpool drew a crowd outside the steamship offices. Two Irishmen were knocked down by women. Others were set upon and decorated with white feathers."

I can add the rest if there is interest...has anyone noted any other instances of women knocking down 'shirkers'?

Thanks,

-Daniel

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Any women who did this were doing it indiscriminately. Male key workers in war industries were often given white feathers. As a result arm bands were sometimes issued by factories.

Quite so Alan,

There were also the 'On War Service' badges worn by these people too to singify that although not in uniform they were doing their bit.

One of the quirks of the Derby Scheme was that the men attested for the Army and then waited, often for quite some considerable time to be called up. They too were issued with an armband to dissuade would-be feather donors.

I should imagine it took quite a bit of restraint to not react badly to having a white feather thrust into your hand.

Cheers,

Nigel

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And to think these days, there are stories of RAF personnel being verbally abused in the street BECAUSE they're in uniform.

How times have changed.

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Interesting thread. Living in a small town - 3,000 inhabitants 1914 - and have perused the local rags frequently; I haven't come across references to white feathers at all. I have come across many newspaper letters and published small adds, though, explaining why Joe Soap was not in uniform. They are often headed "To the people of Ruthin concerning Joe Soap". The preponderence of these notices does suggest that there was a general awareness and expectation for likely men to be in the colours. The military tribunals, with detailed accounts published monthly, also gave the populace a good understanding of where the menfolk stood. I also believe that neighbours knew each other well enough to understand that the 18year old living three houses away suffered from a congenital disease, and was physically unable to cope with a soldier's life. The town 'knew' who the B and C category men were.

Having said that, there seems to be a great unease regarding the starred men working on the farms and in the county offices here. There were frequent letters stating that fit starred men working in the local authority should be replaced by injured men discharged home. The council went so far as to state that such discharged men would be given proirity in new appointments.

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I think I have said before that this went on during WW2 as well.

My father was once given a white feather; he was in a job he was forbidden to leave as it was "equivalent to military service" - he worked in the Naval supply department which is still civilian, but in the army he would have been RASC/RAOC.

He couldn't use military canteens either, even though he was supposed to be an equivalent - and a good number of his colleagues went down on supply ships, were on Malta during the sege, and so on. Goodness knows why they weren't put into uniform (as they were entitled to be).

Mind you, I know that in the late 1960s I was in the same department and when the place where I worked discussed going into uniform due to our particular job at the time, the Treasury vetoed it due to the cost of supplying the uniforms! So we had to sailor on in civvies. And it was a nuisance for reasons too long to go into.

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  • Admin

My Great Grandfather was given a white feather when he was home on leave in Reading and had changed into civvies and was out for a stroll. Apparently he was a very mild mannered man, but not on this occasion.

Michelle

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My father in law was given a feather during the 2nd war despite having been turned down for active service due to his skills keeping ships engines in order and building new ones for new ships. It hurt him considerably and whilst we can understand the sentiments it wasnt right. My grandfather rushed off to war and left his wife destitute with 4 kids before getting buried in Calais in 1916. His 4 kids grew up being abandoned and cared for by family members with little obvious gratitude from a ' grateful nation'.

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The whole idea of the white feather seems so terrible. I always feel that WW1 brought the birth of cynicism and that before that there was an innocence which encouraged you volunteer. I sort of think nowadays you might carry a white feather with you just in case - "Its OK I already have one!"

Actually the present day response might be for the "Conchies" to adopt it as a logo.

Rambling thoughts....

Peter

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Because there was universal conscription in WW2, being handed a white feather could be treated with the contempt it deserved. It merely demonstrated a deficiency in the person offering it. It was otherwise in WW1 before conscription was introduced. Newspapers and public speakers incited women to this despicable act and it is very hard to find any excuse for those who committed it. Certainly some of this behaviour was provoked in women who had lost a loved one and were reacting in this unreasoning manner when they saw someone who appeared to have been spared the dangers of the front. Whether we feel that their irrational actions were to some degree understandable, the feathers would not have been handed out without the approval of the authorities. In Scotland at least. this could have been prosecuted as " conduct likely to lead to a breach of the peace". A fine catch-all invoked by police as and when required. English law will have an equivalent charge if not the same one.

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In 1915 Cathcart Wilson warned the Home Secretary, Reginald McKenna, that state employees were being subjected to insolence at the hands of some advertising young women presenting them with white feathers and inquired whether he would authorize the arrest of such persons for acting in a manner likely to create a breach of the peace.

Reference House of Commons Parliamentary debates, March 1, 1915.

Andy

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Hello,

I've just been watching The Antiques Road Show from Dundee.

It will be repeated:

03 Feb 2009, 00:15 on BBC One (except Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales)

It included " an extraordinary letter sent to a conscientious objector."

Actually a letter with a white feather. Sent to a prominent Quaker (I missed the name, I'm afraid.)

Also several documents and a photo.

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It included " an extraordinary letter sent to a conscientious objector."

Actually a letter with a white feather. Sent to a prominent Quaker (I missed the name, I'm afraid.)

That was an interesting piece cgm, cant recall his name either but he sounds like a very strong character to go on to France and assist others,likely a dangerous step as the Gendarme suggested he wear a type of uniform to prevent him getting torn limb from limb by wives and sisters of those who had lost a loved one. My grandfather left UK in Dec 1914 and died in April 1916 leaving a wife and four kids. His wife had to get help from a brother and sister to bring them up to prevent starvation so she would not have welcomed such men , I believe. The nation quickly forgot the heroes whose families suffered long after their brief moment of glory !

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Good Evening All.

I wonder if any of these women had any remorse, or felt guilty of what they had done, and either became nurses or joined the womens services themselves?

Regards Andy

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I wonder if any of these women had any remorse, or felt guilty of what they had done, and either became nurses or joined the womens services themselves?

My grandmother just felt angry that her husband had to be daft enough to volunteer and die while others hid behind excuses and stayed alive. She used to say it might have been better to let the Germans have France if her man had been alive to provide for her children. I suppose it is easier to pontificate if you are untouched by the conflict.

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  • 1 year later...

Hello,

I've just been watching The Antiques Road Show from Dundee.

It will be repeated:

03 Feb 2009, 00:15 on BBC One (except Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales)

It included " an extraordinary letter sent to a conscientious objector."

Actually a letter with a white feather. Sent to a prominent Quaker (I missed the name, I'm afraid.)

Also several documents and a photo.

He was Bernard Douglas Taylor, from Scotland (? Dundee). After acceptance by his Tribunal as a CO, he went to France with the Friends' [Quaker] War Victims Relief Service. They (and members of the Friends' Ambulance Unit) wore military uniforms, but with no badges, either of rank or origin, at all.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Glad this topic has re-surfaced. There is also a similar thread.

 

I would like to know more about this subject but there seems to be a great shortage of source material : Women who gave out white feathers during the Great War do not seem to have written much about their activities or motives, and subequent attempts to encourage them to come forward after the Great War have yielded little results.Most notably when the BBC commissioned a programme in 1964 about the women with the white feathers. Men and families of men who were given white feathers came forward, but only one of two women handing out white feathers appeared.

I admire Vera Brittain's 'Testament of Youth' a great deal, but one subject that Vera was understandably a little reluctant to write about was that in 1914 her younger brother Edward needed their father's consent to join up: Their father was very reluctant whilst there seemed to be whole posse of women, Vera, her mother, female neighbours, who excerted enough pressure on Arthur Brittain to give consent for Edward to volunteer. Vera was complicit in encouraging her brother to go to war. I have often wonder how other pressure was excerted by women, more sublte then the white feather, to get the men into the uniform.

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  • 1 month later...

Hello Michael.

I have just read your comments about wanting more information about the white feathers.

I did a presentation to my writing group last year on my grandfather's invovlvement in the war as an Army Service Corps driver. One comment I found - which is wholly misleading - suggested that the ACS - or Ally Slopers as they were known - were little short of being shirkers and not brave enough to fight. It really upset me so I did some more research. Basically it was very bad research which I have dismissed entirely.

The idea of the white feather being dispensed was instigated by an Admiral Charles Fitzgerald who held a meeting in Folkstone. His intention had been to get his women audience to harrass those men he thought were not doing the right thing for king and country. The symbols were to be directed he urged to 'young men of public school and university education' who it was felt should have been there to volunteer. He felt that they were 'found idling and loafing'.

One of his most enthuesiastic advocates was Mrs Pankhurst.

Yours Jax.

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