The white feather

It was what every young single man who had not enlisted dreaded - being sent a white feather, a symbol of cowardice, by a female friend.

White feather

The sentiment behind the Order of the White Feather quickly caught on, supported by the likes of suffragettes leader Emmeline Pankhurst. And in August 1914 it quickly filtered its way down through society, often unworthily branding the recipient.

The Luton News revealed one such instance of a young man who had received a white feather from an anonymous lady friend. He in fact had several years experience as an officer in the Territorials and had offered himself for re-instatement immediately on the outbreak of war. But the Battalion to which he belonged was full up. He sought to enter another branch of the Service, and his name had been on a War Office list for three weeks. In frustration he was even preparing to enlist in the ranks.

The story produced a letter the following week from a contributor signing himself "Single, Not Enlisted and Unrepentant". He saw the campaign as being targeted at single men specifically, while there were equally eligible men who were "hiding the white feather under the plea that they are married".

He instanced one man "guilty of the heinous crime of being single" who had one brother who was dangerously ill, another very ill and a third member of the family who was seriously ill, with doctors in attendance on all three and no father to share the responsibility.

"He is NOT enlisting," said the writer. "Moreover, he says he does not care if it snows white feathers - he will just wear them till the thoughtless senders enquire the reason, and then apologise for thinking they knew better what he was free to do than he knew himself.

"But he says he will enlist, and take the chance, if any of the people with super-abundant white feathers, or any of the 'patriotic' comfortable people who get up on their hind legs and talk about the 'backward youth' of the country, will undertake to give the same amount of cash and of personal time and attention to his invalids as he does."

He knew of half-a-dozen young men eligible in every way to enlist but were "married" yet had no children, and he noted that firms were sacking single men while others advertised "married men only need apply".

As for the young lady who sent the white feather anonymously to the young man trying to join up and fight abroad, the writer added: "May I say that she proved herself more fitted to wear the feather than he, by not having the courage of her opinions and hiding behind anonymity. Let the girls give their feathers in person, if they have the courage to".