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#1 John(txic)

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 03:11 PM

Piece of First World War history discovered in city archives

Friday November 11 2011

A unique piece of First World War history has been discovered among Wolverhampton’s archives.

A rare white feather – sent to men accused of cowardice for not “doing their bit” for the war effort – was found along with a letter sent to local man William Weller, despite him being excused from military service on medical grounds and because his work in Wolverhampton was vital to the war effort.

The find, hailed by City Archivist Heidi McIntosh as “incredibly rare”, came when staff were looking through a collection of material belonging to the Wolverhampton-based Weller firm of architects, which designed many local buildings in the 19th and 20th centuries. William was one of the partners in the firm.

The Order of the White Feather was founded at the start of the First World War and aimed to coerce men to enlist in the Army by persuading women to present them with a white feather if they were not wearing a uniform.

The campaign proved very effective, so much so that employees working in state industries had to be issued with King and Country badges indicating that they too were serving the war effort. In addition, a Silver War Badge was presented to service personnel honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness so that they weren’t challenged for not wearing uniform.

The letter, sent in the latter stages of the war and signed by A. Chicken Heart, made the recipient a "Companion" of the "Most Noble Order of The Trench Dodgers" for his perceived "devotion to self regardless of narrow patriotism" – and included a white feather, the insignia of the order.

Heidi said: “The Order of the White Feather encouraged young women to hand out white feathers to young men who had not enlisted into the Army.

“They were meant to shame the recipient and would not be expected to be kept with pride as they were sent to people who were perceived as cowards.

“Arguably William, who was in his early 40s at the time, shouldn’t have been sent this white feather in the first place because he had been excused from service on medical grounds and because he was carrying out essential war work by building homes for steel industry workers, but it seems he decided to keep it along with the letter.

“And we’re very grateful that he did as it’s a fascinating artefact and an incredibly rare find – even the Imperial War Museum doesn’t appear to have one. It gives a stark and chilling alternative view of the war.”

The Weller papers were bequeathed by family member Brian Weller to the Wolverhampton Buildings Preservation Trust last year. The University of Wolverhampton’s School of Art and Design is working with Wolverhampton Archives and Local Studies Service to explore the architectural contribution that the Weller family made to the area, and are attempting to secure funding to make the material more widely available.

Patricia Cooper, the School of Art and Design's Associate Dean, said: “It was such an amazing surprise to find the white feather letter as part of the Weller architectural archive and although we are at the start of the cataloguing of the documents we eagerly look forward to finding out more about the Weller family history.”



The full text from the white feather letter is as follows:

Sir,

Your gallant + protracted defence against the brutal attacks of the local tribunal has been brought to the notice of the Supreme Council of the Most Noble Order of The Trench Dodgers.

I am to inform you that the Council have therefore, as a reward for your devotion to self regardless of narrow patriotism, made you a Companion of the said Most Noble Order, the insignia of which is forwarded herewith.

I am, Sir

Your obedient servant

A. Chicken Heart
Clerk to the Council




#2 TRAJAN

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 06:57 PM

I am, Sir, Your obedient servant, A. Chicken Heart, Clerk to the Council


Chicken hearted indeed! Too scared to put his/her own name to the thing! But the find is a great piece of factual evidence!

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#3 AussiesinArras

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 07:53 PM

Heard about it but never read "the real thing". Fascinating Stuff!!

Will leave the debate about whether it was an appropriate thing to do to others.

Peter

#4 Lachlan

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 06:44 AM

What an amazing find !

According to my mum's family verbal tradition, my Great Uncle, David Robertson, was given one such feather. My Grannie (David's sister) told my mum about it when she was a girl and my mum later told me of it. I believe he must have been given it during 1915, as he gave up his war-related job and volunteered on 2nd June 1915.

The worst part of the story was that according to my Grannie, it was David's fiancée who gave it to him. Rather than ditch his fiancee, however, it appears he married her that year.

That she gave him the feather might well be the case, as in a letter of early 1916 to his sister, David mentions that his wife had written to him and included a newspaper cutting stating that a Musselburgh soldier had been awarded a DCM. She then stated in the letter that David was to make sure to be the next DCM winner from Musselburgh. She sounded a bit pushy, so I would reckon she was also capable of pushing him to join up !

On 3rd May 1917, David didn't win the DCM, but he was killed during that morning's attack on Greenland Hill, Roeux, the 3rd Scarpe.

#5 Magnumbellum

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 03:57 PM

For clarification, it should be noted that the Order of Trench Dodgers would have been the chicken-hearted sender's own variation of the white feather fiasco. Most were given without elaborate comment.

It appears from the letter that the sender picked up William Weller's name and details from a Tribunal report in the local press, which makes the sending even more notorious, as the grounds for exemption would have been made clear.

The press report should be linked with the record of the feather in the local archives.

#6 MichaelBully

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 10:11 PM

Interesting . I am not really convinced by the behaviour of the women who issued white feathers in person in any case, but to send such a letter annonymously like this seems more deplorable. The CO's were excercising a right to conscientious objection that was recognised by the Military Service Act that became law on 2nd March 1916, and though I am far from being a pacifist myself, I can't think of any reason why a pacifist shouldn't apply for an exemption that would at least be consdered in law. I have read enough tribunal reports in local papers of the time, to realise that certainly in this district , the right to be recognised as a CO was quite difficult.
Strangely enough, I was thinking about this issue again today as I was at the IWM as I saw this poster ;
http://vads.ac.uk/la...uid=29361&sos=0

Local papers of Sussex did not name the man applying to be a CO as tribunal or district appeal stage.....just be noted as 'a bank clerk, 24, of Hove' type of allusion. I have heard of a local paper in North Kent that named the man applying to be recognised as a CO at military service tribunal stage.





#7 truthergw

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Posted 13 November 2011 - 01:08 PM

When men were handed a white feather in the street, the person doing so would not normally give their name. The letter is simply following that form. With reference to the article, I am not at all sure that the campaign was ' very effective'. There were far too many instances of feathers being given to men who had been invalided out or were engaged in reserved occupations. After the hysterical jingoism of the first few months faded away, this despicable practice was generally seen for what it was.

#8 MichaelBully

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Posted 14 November 2011 - 10:40 PM

Interesting Tom, would be interested to know how many men who received white feathers -either by post or in getting handed one of the wretched things- would know who the woman concerned was ?
I don't think that the white feather campaign was successful in its own right; and to some extent backfired as it could appear that the young men of Britain didn't really want to volunteer and had to be somehow shamed by women into doing so.
But taken as part of an ongoing sanction against those who appeared reluctant to fight , or even as a manifestation of women's 'war enthusiasm' , it could have some
impact. Receiving a white feather could possibly be the last straw so to speak, which led a man to volunteer.

When men were handed a white feather in the street, the person doing so would not normally give their name. The letter is simply following that form. With reference to the article, I am not at all sure that the campaign was ' very effective'. There were far too many instances of feathers being given to men who had been invalided out or were engaged in reserved occupations. After the hysterical jingoism of the first few months faded away, this despicable practice was generally seen for what it was.



#9 sutton-in-craven

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Posted 10 December 2011 - 06:16 AM

I wonder how many of these 'white feather' women later felt guilt or remorse at their actions, particularly after the war when all the thousands of memorials throughout the land were unveiled in the 1920s.

Paradoxically, I reckon the practice of anonymously posting a white feather to a perceived 'trench dodger' was an act of cowardice in itself.

I cannot imagine the sickening feeling these blokes must have felt after receiving one of these white feathers.


#10 MichaelBully

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Posted 10 December 2011 - 03:56 PM

Indeed. The antics of 'white feather' women are so difficult to research as hardly any women came forward after the Great War and admitted to being amongst their number.

I wonder how many of these 'white feather' women later felt guilt or remorse at their actions, particularly after the war when all the thousands of memorials throughout the land were unveiled in the 1920s.

Paradoxically, I reckon the practice of anonymously posting a white feather to a perceived 'trench dodger' was an act of cowardice in itself.

I cannot imagine the sickening feeling these blokes must have felt after receiving one of these white feathers.



#11 Ken Santa Fe

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 11:57 PM

I had assumed the practice of distributing white feathers originated in WWI. This because I saw the display in the IWM in their WWI section. Recently though I was reading Stephen Benet's epic poem of the American Civil War - John Brown's Body which contains the following bit from Book 4:

"You were a flame for the Cause. You sang songs about it.
You sent white feathers to boys who didn't enlist
And bunches of flowers to boys who were suitably wounded."

The You is the character Sally Dupre, a Southern woman.

Now, Benet's poem was written in 1928, and at the time Benet was living in Paris so it's possible he was influenced by reports he was hearing from the Great War. Alternatively it's possible that the distribution of white feathers has a long tradition.

Anybody know?

#12 MichaelBully

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 09:14 AM

Ken, I thought that the handing of white feathers to men who did not go to war started as from 1902 , with the publication of 'The Four Feathers'.

http://greatwarficti...-the-great-war/

#13 khaki

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Posted 11 February 2012 - 12:38 AM

I know that this thread is a bit old, but the 'white feather' issue has always irritated me, especially so as the conventions of the day probably prevented most recipients who were handed them from replying. My question is, was it actually "legal" to hand out white feathers, and did the authorities make any effort to stop the activities of women who handed them out in public.
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#14 Magnumbellum

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Posted 11 February 2012 - 03:30 PM

The long answer is effectively given by the link in MichaelBully's immediately preceding post. The short answer is that it was not illegal to hand out white feathers, but the increasing handing of them to men engaged in work of national importance, to men certified as medically unfit, and ultimately to men "invalided out" of the Army led the concept into the disrepute which it so thoroughly deserved.

#15 truthergw

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Posted 11 February 2012 - 03:58 PM

The long answer is effectively given by the link in MichaelBully's immediately preceding post. The short answer is that it was not illegal to hand out white feathers, but the increasing handing of them to men engaged in work of national importance, to men certified as medically unfit, and ultimately to men "invalided out" of the Army led the concept into the disrepute which it so thoroughly deserved.



I think it might have been deemed to be illegal if the authorities had wished to do so. In Scotland it might have led to a charge of ' conduct likely to lead to a breach of the peace'. I am confident that a similar charge could have been brought in England. That would have required a hint or two from the powers that were. Perhaps, at the beginning, anything which helped stir up enthusiasm for the war and allowed women to participate , was thought to be A GOOD THING.

#16 Stoppage Drill

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Posted 11 February 2012 - 04:13 PM

One of these letters, with feather, came up on the "Antiques Road Show" a year or so ago. Anybody else recall it ?

#17 Sue Light

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Posted 11 February 2012 - 04:25 PM

I notice that the article quoted at the start at this thread doesn't mention that the 'Order of the White Feather' campaign was initiated by a man, Admiral Charles Fitzgerald, who had a long career in the Royal Navy, joining in 1854 at the age of thirteen. If he found it abhorrent to see fit men failing to 'do their duty' then I can imagine that there were many other men with similar thoughts. Although women have always been the visible and publicised feather-givers, it seems quite likely to me that there were also many men supporting the campaign and silently cheering them on. And of course the letter above could just as well have been written by a man with an axe of one sort or another to grind, particularly late in the war.

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#18 truthergw

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Posted 11 February 2012 - 06:09 PM

Quite correct. The campaign could not have survived without establishment support and that, at the time, meant men. There was always a level of support. People with relatives at the front would not have liked to have seen men who appeared to be able bodied, still at home. On the other hand, as the war wore on, more people became aware that men were needed at home as well as at the front. They were also more aware that not all disabling conditions were apparent to the man or woman in the street. Another factor was that women who handed out feathers were not always contributing to the war effort themselves nor were they going to share in the danger they were urging these men to expose themselves to.

#19 CGM

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Posted 11 February 2012 - 07:36 PM

One of these letters, with feather, came up on the "Antiques Road Show" a year or so ago. Anybody else recall it ?



I remember writing a post about it here

#20 MichaelBully

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 05:10 PM

Interesting Tom . Do you think that the 'white feather' campaign had support from politicans ? Or many senior military figures? In many respects Conscription being implemented in March 1916 supplanted the need for the women with the white feathers.

Quite correct. The campaign could not have survived without establishment support and that, at the time, meant men. There was always a level of support. People with relatives at the front would not have liked to have seen men who appeared to be able bodied, still at home. On the other hand, as the war wore on, more people became aware that men were needed at home as well as at the front. They were also more aware that not all disabling conditions were apparent to the man or woman in the street. Another factor was that women who handed out feathers were not always contributing to the war effort themselves nor were they going to share in the danger they were urging these men to expose themselves to.



#21 truthergw

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 05:44 PM

There was a long standing movement from well before the war for implementing national service. Opposed from a political point of view by much of the Liberal Party and most left wing parties.Supporters of conscription would not be averse to any spontaneous demonstration that voluntary enlistment was not sufficient. From anecdotal evidence from my own family and friends as well as my reading, I believe that the pressure on men to enlist came from two different directions. One, political with a right wing orientation and the other, as the war was prolonged, people who had a man at the front or who had lost a loved one. As you say, conscription removed the need for pressure. There is a tangled political tale here which deserves a thread or three to itself.

#22 MichaelBully

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 06:27 PM

Oh yes Tom, knew that there was a long standing movement in Britain to support conscription long before the Great War. Just wondering whether any leading politicians or military figures -besides Admiral Charles Fitzgerald- who were specifically advocating women handing out white feathers to men who didn't enlist?


There was a long standing movement from well before the war for implementing national service. Opposed from a political point of view by much of the Liberal Party and most left wing parties.Supporters of conscription would not be averse to any spontaneous demonstration that voluntary enlistment was not sufficient. From anecdotal evidence from my own family and friends as well as my reading, I believe that the pressure on men to enlist came from two different directions. One, political with a right wing orientation and the other, as the war was prolonged, people who had a man at the front or who had lost a loved one. As you say, conscription removed the need for pressure. There is a tangled political tale here which deserves a thread or three to itself.



#23 truthergw

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 07:31 PM

I have not come across any mention of this or at least I do not recall having done so. I should think that politicians would have been a bit more circumspect. The admiral was presumably just another example of the many rather eccentric creatures of which the Royal Navy seems to have had more than its share.

#24 MichaelBully

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Posted 19 February 2012 - 08:50 AM

Yes agreed, looks like the admiral may have launched his own initiative stimulated by a burst of war enthusiasm.Perhaps he was deemed 'too old' to fight and wanted to do something to support the war effort.
In the first few months of the Great War, it was by no means clear how many men Britian would need, and perhaps the demand could be met via an extensive recruiting campaign trying to seek out the most suitable men old enough to serve, rather than every man of military age. It must have been particularly tough for men who were initially turned down for military service to be deemed as 'cowards' and to be handed a white feather.
Regards, Michael Bully


I have not come across any mention of this or at least I do not recall having done so. I should think that politicians would have been a bit more circumspect. The admiral was presumably just another example of the many rather eccentric creatures of which the Royal Navy seems to have had more than its share.



#25 truthergw

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Posted 19 February 2012 - 10:16 AM

The plans for an expeditionary force of 6 divisions plus cavalry were laid and the movement plans also complete. The trouble was that these plans, like the conversations between the Entente staffs, were made by the military but had to be approved by the cabinet of Liberal politicians, most of whom were basically anti war. Considering that fact, the acceptance within a very short time of Lord Kitchener's view of a long war requiring an army of hundreds of thousands, the cabinet proved eminently flexible. Lloyd George for instance, going from opposition to acceptance in a very short space of time. Having conceded a major philosophical point on allowing Britain to become entangled in a major European war, the majority of liberals were very reluctant to concede another basic tenet and impose conscription. Parties further to the left, with the exception of Labour led by Henderson, were even more reluctant to see their electorates providing the cannon fodder for an imperialist war. As I said earlier, this is leading us far astray from women, with or without the connivance of men, sending white feathers. It was not an isolated phenomenon and did have a political dimension, perhaps more than appeared on the surface.



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