Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Order of the White Feather

The Order of the White Feather was founded in Folkstone in August 1914 by retired British Admiral Charles Cooper Penrose-Fitzgerald to encourage women to give out white feathers to young men who had not joined the army. The pacifist Fenner Brockway claimed that he was given so many white feathers that he had enough to make a fan. The practice caused considerable discomfort for police, government employees, or demobilized wounded who were somehow serving the war effort.

The government became concerned when women began presenting state employees with white feathers. It was suggested to Reginald McKenna, the Home Secretary, that these women should be arrested for "conduct likely to disrupt the police". McKenna refused, but he did arrange for state employees to be issued with badges testifying that they were serving "King and Country".
A White Feather Is Presented in a Downton Abbey Episode

Although he was a serving soldier, the writer Compton Mackenzie complained about the activities of the Order of the White Feather. He argued that these "idiotic young women were using white feathers to get rid of boyfriends of whom they were tired". 

Source: Spartacus Educational Foundation


  1. Interesting story written during the war or shortly thereafter about a man who blamed the war on women. He would rail that he had received his wounds and many had died because the women had demanded that he and others should go and fight one another. Hmmm.

  2. The white feather as the article stated was given to men these women felt should be in the army. There are many instances where rejected for service were given these as well. Though many men rejected initially, entered service when the Army eased regulations that had caused men to be rejected. Also, men who had critical industrial skills, were released when the government needed these home to manufacture munitions drew the wrath of the silly girls. Many of these women were not aware in the early years of the war that army still discharged soldiers whose time expired. I thought the whole idea of white feathers, they were used in the American Civil War as well, was idiotic.

  3. Wonder how many Americans visiting the UK(before April 6 1917)were given the feather?I hate to think just how many men were given that symbol and enlisted and died needless deaths on the wire!!!......
    Joel Norman---Missouri

  4. Admiral Charles Cooper Penrose-Fitzgerald was a lar-de-dah landed gentry blowhard who despite chestful of shiny medals had never fired a shot in anger, nor had one fired at him. I hope he and his feathery bitches are roasting in that special part of hell set aside for the terminally anal-retentive.

  5. Today, many women are pushing to be in the "Combat Arms"; I as a male am all for it; and it may have a surprise dividend as well, children born to warrior parents. It might as well be an inducement to attract more talent to the volunteer military...get to blow things up and meet the woman/man of your dreams.

    I think the other "Anonymous" of 12:47 hit it right on the head.

    As for the "White Feather", wow, getting it and a "Dear John" letter after joining up would really be a double whammy.

  6. Big difference from "White Feather" Sgt. Carlos Hathcock, the highest scoring U.S. sniper in Vietnam, 93 kills confirmed by third party observers, not his spotter.

  7. An excellent mystery dealing with this topic is Jacqueline Winspear's "Birds of a Feather" "It is the spring of 1930, and Maisie has been hired to find a runaway heiress. But what seems a simple case at the outset soon becomes increasingly complicated when three of the heiress’s old friends are found dead. Is there a connection between the woman’s mysterious disappearance and the murders? Who would want to kill three seemingly respectable young women? As Maisie investigates, she discovers that the answers lie in the unforgettable agony of the Great War."