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peterwarr

White Feathers In World War One

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I’ve often read in general publications about men in the early part of WW1 being handed a white feather because they were thought to be cowards.

However, after checking a lot of Sheffield newspapers and documents for the period I’ve not found a single occurrence in Sheffield. That’s odd.

  • EITHER white feathers weren’t given out in Sheffield,
  • OR they were given out but didn’t get mentioned in publications.

Does anyone have any ideas or information, please?

Thanks a lot.

Peter

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The first World War was initially fought by volunteers not only as a result of the famous poster "Your Country Needs You"  but as a result of Recruiting Sergeants visiting mass gatherings like music halls, fairs, town centres and anywhere where there was a crowd. There appears to have a policy implicit perhaps rather than explicit for the women to get their men to enlist. One obvious approach was the song at every music hall with the lines " We don't  want  to lose you but we think you ought to go  etc etc"  intended deliberately for a female singer. 

The white feathers was a more or less a private gesture. not only to relatives and close friend's but as time passed and more men were needed l believe there were cases of white feathers being handed out to likely lads who were perfect strangers. Being sent  anonymously through the post was another method .

 Being a private personal choice as to recipient and as far as l know not the thing to talk about because of the shame factor, it was not the sort of thing to be recorded. By World War 2 it was in the past but oddly the expression was revived mildly at first.  This caused sufficient concern for official lapel badges to be produced declaring the wearer was on "War Work".  so blocking the obvious question of "Why aren't you in the Forces? For students of Dad's Army there is an episode where Privates Pike and  Walker are asked just that question. Whether there was a similar badge  in World War 1 l cannot say but somebody will pop up with the full story.

In short the white feather was intended to shame  so was kept quiet and certainly not publically  recorded.

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The realities and true horrors of what was unfolding on the Western front was largely kept from public consumption by strict control of news and by propaganda , especially in the early days of the conflict. The pathetic issuing of the feathers, mainly by women, was an indication of jingoism at its worst and of  ignorance in a world where patriotism was taught from an early age.

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I heard a story the other day which may ,or may not be true. A local VC winner was on his way, by train, in his brand new suit to be presented with his medal by King George. A  woman seeing him in his civvies went over to him and presented him with a white feather. He quietly accepted it and said 'nowt.

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