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white feathers, widespread?

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Hello,

I have been wondering about white feathers, was this a widespread activity, was it confined to cities or all areas, did only middle class women engage in this?.

Was this activity targeted at men of all social classes by women, was it a "classless" activity?.

I have been talking this morning to the author of a book on the volunteers of a mining community in the North East of England and he said that he never read of any white feather activity amoung women in the area.

Was this due to the working class nature of the area? and the industry?.

So was this activity only confined to certain areas of the country?.

I would be most interested in opinions, because I believe that this would have therefore determined the attitudes of "shame" in families based on demographics and local geography.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would greatly value your opinions.

Thank you.

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bill24chev

If the "white feather" was a sign that a women believed a man was scared to risk his life it did not apply to the mining communities. For example the war memorial in Westhoughton Lancashire has 197 WW1 names, the memorial in Westhoughton to those who died in the Pretoria pit disaster commemorates the death of 345 men and boys.

This loss in a single small town probably was similer to losses for similer sized towns that had their local Battalion involved at the Somme on the 1st July 1916

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kenf48

There is an old thread on this topic http://1914-1918.inv...+white +feather

which covers most of the ground.

As to the specific question as regards location and class the practice was widespread but seems to have been more prevalent in urban population centres although this includes small towns such as Deal in Kent (the campaign is said to have been the idea of a retired Admiral in Folkestone so in a way spread from that South Eastern area of the country) where less than a month after the outbreak of war the Town Crier shouted 'Oyez! Oyez! The White Feather Brigade. Ladies wanted to present to young men of Deal and Walmer who have no one dependent on them the Order of the White Feather for shirking their duty in not offering their services to uphold the Union Jack of Old England. God Save the King!' It was reported that before this cry many young men had been 'feathered' and had no idea of it's significance. I think you could place Deal in the category of small market town rather than a major urban centre. The letter in the thread above came from Wolverhampton which indicates a fairly rapid and extensive geographical spread of the campaign.

As to class the middle classes tend to be over represented in the literature as they were the one's who kept diaries or wrote letters and recorded their thoughts. In that respect there is evidence that both young and old women participated in handing out the feathers and it was certainly a big enough problem that it was raised in Parliament and eventually led to dock workers, and other essential occupations such as miners being issued with protective badges and of course, the Silver War Badge for ex-servicemen. It's been suggested young women delighted in embarrassing young men of a higher social class!

As far as mining communities there was a real problem when on the outbreak of war so many miners enlisted, causing alarm and concern to the government of the possibility of shortages in what was a vital industry for the war effort. Eventually this led to the Union becoming involved in the enlistment and conscription process, so I imagine in such communities there was little need for, or take-up of the practice. Once again, as with class most of the accounts and examples seem to occur where there was a middle class simply because fewer of the industrial, working class recorded the events around them.

Ken

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centurion

I've seen it mentioned in the abstract often but very rarely any specific cases of one being given to a particular person and even then these appear to be second hand anecdotes rather than first hand accounts. They first appear in literature at the beginning of the 20th century in a 1902 adventure novel by British writer A. E. W. Mason and were not a WW1 invention.They were allegedly given to seemingly fit men under 40 who were not in uniform - ie not doing their bit. One has to wonder how common they really were.

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centurion

As to class the middle classes tend to be over represented in the literature as they were the one's who kept diaries or wrote letters and recorded their thoughts. In that respect there is evidence that both young and old women participated in handing out the feathers and it was certainly a big enough problem that it was raised in Parliament

Or so Wiki says but whilst I can find a great many references to white feathers in Hansard dating well after WW1 (and one from 1871) I haven't been able to locate such an issue raised in the House during WW1

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Pighills

If the "white feather" was a sign that a women believed a man was scared to risk his life it did not apply to the mining communities.

Sorry, but you are absolutely wrong it could and indeed DID happen in mining communities.

My husband's great grandfather was an under manager at his local pit (it involved going into the mines and overseeing the work from down under). He tried to join up three times, but wasn't allowed to, due to his occupation and was duly presented with a white feather whilst travelling on a local tram by a local woman. This was in the Leeds area.

He went on to lose his life underground in a rescue mission when there was a mining accident, but he never forgot that white feather, and bought himself a motorbike so he didn't have to go on public transport.

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healdav

Sorry, but you are absolutely wrong it could and indeed DID happen in mining communities.

My husband's great grandfather was an under manager at his local pit (it involved going into the mines and overseeing the work from down under). He tried to join up three times, but wasn't allowed to, due to his occupation and was duly presented with a white feather whilst travelling on a local tram by a local woman. This was in the Leeds area.

He went on to lose his life underground in a rescue mission when there was a mining accident, but he never forgot that white feather, and bought himself a motorbike so he didn't have to go on public transport.

I have recounted before that my father received one in WW2, despite his being in a job "equivalent to active service" and was specifically forbidden to volunteer and was exempt from any call up.

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Guest

Thank you for you replies.

I have been looking through the forum all day, on both mining and white feathers and I have come to the conclusion that it was the middle classess who had nothing better to do!, but then maybe that is my working class die hard trade unionist background talking.

Once again, thank you.

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Mr Pighills

Wintgens,

Just reading the thread with interest ...

Not sure the Pontefract / Castleford/ Featherstone area was rife with middle class timewasters ... Then or now.

Time for Plan B as to where to point the finger of blame !!!

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kenf48

Or so Wiki says but whilst I can find a great many references to white feathers in Hansard dating well after WW1 (and one from 1871) I haven't been able to locate such an issue raised in the House during WW1

Mr Cathcart Wason question to the Home Secretary Hansard March 1st 1915 (includes a mention of the issue of badges to those engaged on essential work)

http://hansard.millb...sulting-conduct

Ken

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bill24chev

Sorry, but you are absolutely wrong it could and indeed DID happen in mining communities.

My husband's great grandfather was an under manager at his local pit (it involved going into the mines and overseeing the work from down under). He tried to join up three times, but wasn't allowed to, due to his occupation and was duly presented with a white feather whilst travelling on a local tram by a local woman. This was in the Leeds area.

He went on to lose his life underground in a rescue mission when there was a mining accident, but he never forgot that white feather, and bought himself a motorbike so he didn't have to go on public transport.

Sorry, but you are absolutely wrong it could and indeed DID happen in mining communities.

My husband's great grandfather was an under manager at his local pit (it involved going into the mines and overseeing the work from down under). He tried to join up three times, but wasn't allowed to, due to his occupation and was duly presented with a white feather whilst travelling on a local tram by a local woman. This was in the Leeds area.

He went on to lose his life underground in a rescue mission when there was a mining accident, but he never forgot that white feather, and bought himself a motorbike so he didn't have to go on public transport.

I did not say it did not happen I was pointing out that The reason for white feathers did not apply to miners who were risking their lives on a daily basis, not to mention they were also at the heart of the war effort, no coal no foundries to build the munitions or to power the bulk of the Grand Fleet.

I suspect that the lady giving the white feather to your Gt Grandfather- in- law was not fromthe mining community or would have known his role in the war effort./

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Pighills

Bill, if that was your intention it didn't come across.

Your assumptions regarding the young lady are wrong. Being an under manager of the pit, he was certainly well known, indeed this young lady was familiar to him, hence the motorbike. So, somone who knew a man was a miner presented him with a feather and you say it wouldn't apply. Hmmmmm.

Sweeping statements are never a good thing.

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kenf48

In December 1914 (following the naval raid on Scarborough) the Times carried an article claiming this would give an impetus to recruitment in Yorkshire, however the article went on to say that as the West Riding was the industrial heartland of the country the factories and mills were working at full capacity. It described three men who attempted to join a 'Pal's Battalion' but whose skills were considered more important on the Home Front.

Interestingly the writer, while praising the patriotism of Yorkshire men felt compelled to conclude "The casual visitor to Leeds may be struck by the young men not in khaki, but this is not a case for the white feather league. As long as its factories continue to supply the Army with clothes ammunition and supplies, as they are doing at present, its citizens are doing as patriotic work as could be desired."

It suggests the writer was aware that the influence of the 'league' had spread to the industrial North as Kim's anecdote confirms.

Ken

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Sapper Will

The IWM published a book of soldiers' accounts in the 1970s titled Men At War, or something like that. It has a memoir by an artilleryman who said that a group of young women attempted to give him a white feather when he was on a train in civie clothes. He slapped one of them across the face with his paybook, or so he claimed!

When the women tried to apologize he said, "There are lots of women working in France."

Edit: It's been some years since I read the book, so I may not remember correctly. Perhaps he only shoved his paybook in her face; slapping seems a bit extreme.

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dink_and_pip

Very interesting paper on this subject: White feathers and wounded men. Journal of British Studies vol36 no.2 1997 http://www.jstor.org/stable/176011

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kenneth505

kenf48 in Post #4 above cites a thread I'd posted in as well where I mentioned that American author Stephen Benet made a reference to White Feathers in his epic poem of the American Civil War - John Brown's Body. He was writing in the late twenties.

Revisiting the topic I find myself wondering when the use of a white feather to indicate cowardice may have begun in literature or culture generally. I would guess it has something to do with raising a white flag. Which of course begs the question, when did raising a white flag become a signal of surrender?

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W.J.Caughey

Anyone ever heard of a Story called "The Craven" by William D White?. Unfortunately this is just a synopsis of the story published in a newspaper Oct 1914, the rest of story was to appear in a later addition which I could never get hold off.

THE CRAVEN

"Unknown to his companions Alec Geoffrey is medically unfit to enlist in the Army or Navy, his friends think him a coward because he has not done so.

On the morning of the departure of the troops from the town where he resides, he is the recipient of a white feather bearing a note, "For the Craven".

Sometime after, he is out for a cycle spin in the country, when his attention is arrested by a female's cry for help. On investigation he observes a young women lying insensible across the metals of the railway which runs at the bottom of a steep embankment. An express can be heard in the distance, but Geoffrey, though realizing the danger, decides to endeavor to rescue the maiden.

Later on

In an improvised hospital at the front, Pte Bearwood is lying wounded. Among the postal packets which arrive is a paper from Bearwood's home. The nurse in attendance offers to read him a few extracts and presently comes across a report, "A Brave Action which detailed Alec Geoffrey's rescue of the young women who luckily was not seriously hurt but her rescuer was injured by another passing train. The nurse discovers Bearwood greatly agitated and he then informs her that the young women is his own sister and how he was the instigator of Geoffrey receiving the white feather, though not aware of his friends condition. On being invalided home there is an interesting sequel which is unfolded in the story. “

Walter

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