Saturday, 14 November 2015

White Feathers – First World War …



From my last post “Remembering” a number of you noted or brought to our attention in the comments other aspects and I thought I’d mention one in particular and ‘tell the story’ of why White Feathers were given out …




… this post came to mind, when I realised that I couldn’t write a ‘normal’ post after last night’s events in Paris.



Some of the ‘White Feather’ information has come from a Guardian article of 11 November 2008, which can be read in full here: an evocative and important read …


… particularly in relation to the writer’s mother and the dementia her mother suffered in her last years in the 1980s – you need to read what she ultimately remembered … desperately sad.



It’s interesting how an action, such as 'white feathers' by the masses is often misguided in its approach … though at the time, of course, we/they don’t realise … it’s only years later the reasons and effects become apparent.




How often do we criticise or form an opinion about something … that we’ve no idea about, or cannot see the full picture with all its ramifications.  We don’t think about the other side of what we see, or might be the cause.


Cowards for not serving … were they?  As we know John Kipling had been medically rejected … any man rejected by the authorities had no way of showing they had tried to serve.


The Tower of London
Conscientious objectors … some were taken to the Tower of London and locked up … in 1916 … but were not cowards – they were conscientious objectors.



A White Feather has been a traditional symbol of cowardice, used and recognised within the British Army and in countries associated with the British Empire since the 18th century …


… it also carries opposite meanings, however: in some cases pacifism, and in the US, of extraordinary bravery and excellence in combat marksmanship.



... you coward - why don't you enlist
I quote from Wikipedia‘a private who was on leave, was riding a tram, when he was presented with a white feather by a girl sitting behind him.  He smacked her across the face with his pay book saying: “Certainly I’ll take your feather back to the boys at Passschendale.  I’m in civvies because people think my uniform might be lousy, but if I had it on I wouldn’t be half as lousy as you”.



Sadly humans tend to form an opinion, without perhaps taking the time to ask a little more, or understand the circumstances.

The words "The Glorious
Dead" on the Cenotaph

I was thinking about the phrase ‘The Glorious Dead’ inscribed on the Cenotaph in Whitehall … it perhaps appears ‘a strange phrase’ now – yet I guess refers back over centuries to the fact we fought for King and Country ...


... and in the eras gone by … that was the way the world was lived.   Today we live somewhat differently and think differently … we want our lives to remain as they are, but don’t expect to serve our country - unless we chose to.


The White Ensign, the Union
Flag and the Blue Ensign
In an article in History Extra I found some further information about the Cenotaph and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior …


… the monument with the words “The Glorious Dead” was kept deliberately simple … but had been checked with religious leaders throughout Britain’s empire.



Mark Connolly, professor of modern British military history, has written this article on The Cenotaph …  again an informative and educative read.


Yesterday’s cruel mayhem in Paris, where over 120 have died, and another 100 are seriously injured, is something I cannot bear to think about – as a French bystander remarked … so many are my own age – young.


 This post is intended for reflection of damage done … and to remind us all to forget our own troubles – please just remember and consider others, give thought to all things – be caring, be understanding, live in peace … life could be too short.


My thoughts to all who mourn for Paris at this time …


PS - Diana Wilder has commented and left us a note on a Photographic Exhibition, and book, that I completely missed and had not heard about ... by Chloe Drewe Matthew entitled "Shot at Dawn" ... it is definitely worth having a link here to the Guardian article.



Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

49 comments:

Blogoratti said...

Wonderful post, strikes a chord indeed. Thanks for sharing and warm greetings to you.

Karen Walker said...

Wow,Hilary you really captured a beautiful emotional tone for this horrible tragedy.

Rhodesia said...

A very sad day and the whole of France is in shock. I wish something could be done about terrorism, but when people are prepared to take there own lives to mass kill others who are totally innocent........
A great post with lots of emotion. Diane

Jo said...

I like Fil's idea. Spread music. Give out good vibrations. This is totally horrible. The white feather was totally horrible too. People were shot for cowardice although today we realise it's shell shock - as you say, times change. I think terrorists are of the same mentality as the Gestapo many of whom had people at their fingertips whom they could maim and torture. Now it's done as terrorist activities. One despairs. So sing Jo, sing.

Mike Goad said...

Sad day, very sad, indeed.

Unfortunately,those who incite and those who do such evil acts are not caring, are not understanding, and are certainly not peaceful.

We mourn for Paris.

We must be ready for the future. I don't think it's going to stop there.

D.G. Hudson said...

I'm one of those hurting for Paris. I watched the news yesterday after my daughter called me and said Paris had been attacked. Striking at the core of a country, its people, is a way to bring emotions to a fever pitch.

It's a sad day in Paris, but the French people don't just get sad, they also get mad. The world will watch but her Allies will help, as this threatens us all. An excellent post Hilary that reminds us life is so short, and sometimes that is due to the actions of others.
Vive La France!

jabblog said...

Indeed we cannot always understand the reasons for others' actions or apparent inactions. The atrocities in Paris can only be understood by the fanatics who accomplished them.

beste barki said...

Thank you for sharing the sorrow Hilary.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Blogoratti - many thanks for understanding the post - striking the chord is what should happen to us all ...

@ Karen - thanks so much ... I appreciate your kind comment.

@ Diane - you must be in huge shock ... I too wish something could be done - events are unfolding so fast. I can't believe people are prepared to blow themselves up ... so desperately sad.

@ Jo - certainly music can help .. for now we seem to be hearing new things all the time.

@ Mike - yes a very sad day. Those perpetrators do not have a care of anyone in the world ... as you say we must be ready for the future. Events are unfolding ...

@ DG - I can believe you ... the unfolding news is quite dreadful. Life is going to change for us Europeans ... sadly - we will still be free ... but ...

Yes - we never know when our life will end - at the will of others in such an event as last night ... or can we live our life out in peace ...

@ Janice - good to see you ... I'm not even sure if the fanatics understood - they surely couldn't understand ... one wonders how they were converted - the whole thing is just terrible.

@ Beste - thank you for coming by ...

Thank you so much for confirming my thoughts ... these horrors are just appalling ... my thoughts to all who suffer, and especially those peoples of Paris, and other country's personnel ... Hilary

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you so much.
My heart aches for all those affected by this latest atrocity.
And for the things we have done with the very best intentions. Like the white feathers and for those who we executed for cowardice (many of whom we would now recognise as being shell-shocked or suffering from PTSD.
I worry about what our reponse to the tragedies which took place yesterday in France will be too.

Deborah Weber said...

Powerful post Hilary. May we all carry as much love and light and compassion as we can.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Thanks for this enlightening and meaningful post. I was completely unaware of the use of white feathers to signify cowardice. How sad. The ones who truly deserve the title of coward are those fanatics who have killed so many innocents in Paris, and in other parts of the world.

Like the hymn says, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." And with all of us who care.

Inger said...

Hilary, this is a wonderful post. I am heartbroken about Paris, about France, and I am very worried about the rest of Europe. I grew up during WW2 and afterwards, when I was a young person, I thought that the world had learned a lesson and life would be better for everyone.

And I had no idea about the white feather and its relationship to cowardice.

Fil said...

Hi Hilary
A very interesting and thought provoking post - I'd never heard about the white feather until I heard this song written by the lovely English singer songwriter Chris While - I thought you might like to hear it https://youtu.be/E8PZfiuOZSc
You are so right - life could be short, we should do the best we can with the days we have
Fil xx

Diana Wilder said...

This is such a moving post, Hilary, and such a sad one. Isn't it strange that the cruelest people are those who are in no danger. War is hell, as William Tecumseh Sherman said, but it seems that those who have been the cruelest to the non-soldiers are the ones who aren't actually fighting.

I read about the 'shot at dawn' exhibit and went to look it up for this comment. So very, very sad.

But at least I can smile at the fellow who smacked the girl across the face with his passbook.

dolorah said...

The world is becoming judgmental, and violent. I am pro military, but that doesn't make me a war enthusiast. Some people can serve their country in other ways besides putting on a uniform and packing a gun. Look at how you serve and honor your country Hilary; by bringing the history - both tragedy and beauty - to so many people to see.

War I can almost understand, but Terrorism is so senseless. Truly horrific, as the articles say. Terrorists are not soldiers, in my opinion.

Marja said...

So much sadness. The world never learns
For me a white feather is a symbol of angels and I try to hang on to that light in time of darkness.....and try to live in peace.
It is difficult to see all that senseless killing then and now. Great post

Ana coelho said...

well said Hillary! so much sadness....My heart goes to those families that have lost a loved member of their family....

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ EC - you've brought up some very salient points ... about shell shock and PTSD ... and I wonder what the response will be - and how it will affect us all.

@ Deborah - exactly ... we need all the love, light and compassion we can have for others.

@ Susan - the white feather aspect I knew about - but suddenly felt it was something that could tie in with the Paris terror - and felt it was worth writing about.

The despair so many families must be feeling now - too too terrible. Wonderful hymn line you've given us ... so appropriate: "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."

@ Inger - you know us better than many ... London and Paris being your hoe for a while. You'd have thought WW2 would be the end of it ... just so desperately sad that war and terror continue on.

I hadn't really known some of the aspects about the 'white feather' .. and there is more, which I've linked out to ...

@ Fil - it's interesting how we pick up historical information - your white feather via Chris While's song ... it is very apt now.

Life could be short ... I felt I had to put that in ... we don't think enough about caring and love as we live our lives ...

@ Diana - thank you ... I felt I needed to post something about Friday ... and with Remembrance Day so close - this seemed appropriate ... all so sad.

I hadn't heard about the Shot at Dawn exhibition ... so looked it up and will read it properly and then post the link - it definitely adds to the mix of knowledge we need to read about.

Thank you - it is something to smile about, yet sad too ... but they didn't understand.

@ Donna - the world is changing and what we do to combat these terrors I don't know. Thank you for noting that I offer some relevant thoughts to the history we are experiencing .. I hadn't thought of that aspect.

I agree - terrorism is senseless ...

@ Marja - sadly it's the people who rise up and cause this mayhem: ending too many lives ... and causing so much hurt for those injured, or those families affected by the terror.

@ Ana - it is desperate for those families of the injured and of the dead.

Thank you for your comments and for adding to my information .. Diana's note on the Shot at Dawn exhibition ... I've added to the post - as it's relevant too.

It is going to be difficult for us Europeans and other countries affected by this outrage ... my thoughts to everyone concerned. Hilary

Vallypee said...

It is no longer 'their' war over 'there', Hilary. It's 'here'. I feel that's what has shaken so many people rigid, otherwise there would be an equal response to all the other terrorist attacks that plague cities in the middle east. A lovely post. I suppose it's not a big step in some people's minds from thinking of pacifism as something noble to seeing it as cowardice.after all, the flag of surrender is white too... You are so right that we should stop and think first before responding and reacting. Conscientious Objectors were very courageous, and were not well treated at all.

Susan Scott said...

Hi Hilary and thank you for your thoughtful post whose links I will read later. I agree with all the sentiments expressed. We had many conscientious objectors here in SA in times past who believed in the ideal in saying no to unjust wars and who were jailed for their beliefs. I hope there is no knee-jerk reaction to this dreadful tragedy.

I was in Turkey in September and we visited the battlefields Gallipoli where soldiers from WW1 are buried. Such sadness in a place of such beauty ..

In this time of shared sorrow, may we remember so many other places in the world where horror strikes daily. All we can offer is our love of humanity and the ideals for which we stand, and prayers for peace around the world.

Patsy said...

Some people are cowards - but you can't tell who they are just by whether they choose to fight or not.

A Cuban In London said...

First of all, thanks for your comment on my blog and the birthday wishes. I really appreciate it.

Secondly, what a beautiful and important post this is. I loved the fact that it's nuance-rich.

Thirdly, like you, I am appalled at what happened in France.

Thank you.

Greetings from London.

Gattina said...

I didn't know this expression "White Feathers", but I think each person should be free to choose if he wants to become a soldier or not.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Val - terrorism has, as you say, 'come to Europe'. It is interesting to see what will develop ... I quite enjoy reading and listening to the commenters -- it stimulates my brain ... and I keep learning. Thanks for adding to the post.

@ Susan - I think the links are very relevant. Yes conscientious objectors, people who were mentally out of it through shell-shock .. just so difficult to understand that their feelings and illness were not taken into account in some way.

I hadn't realised your visit included the battlefields at Gallipoli - that must have been very moving ... as you say "such sadness, in a place of such beauty".

I know we must not forget other parts of the world where horrors happen ... and exactly I agree with your final sentence: " All we can offer is our love of humanity and the ideals for which we stand, and prayers for peace around the world".

@ Patsy - exactly we need to understand each person's reasons ...

@ ACIL - pleasure. Thank you and I'm glad you appreciate my sentiments here ... France is just so so sad ... I just hope we don't over-react .. but stop and think ...

@ Gattina - it stems from the First World War - though had been used for a couple of hundred of years before that.

Now we are allowed to choose if we join up or not .. but in 1914 - the expectation was there ...

With thoughts to everyone - Hilary

rosaria williams said...

Hard to write about these things. Thanks for this thoughtful perspective.

Guilie Castillo said...

Timely reflections, Hilary. Friday's events in Paris were horrific (the consequences will be triply so), but so was Thursday's bombing in Beirut. And so are the events in Syria, ongoing for months and months. I'm sad for Paris, but I'm heartbroken at the world—a world whose compassion comes with a bias of color and race, or gender and sexual preference. A world that blames a refugee crisis for a terrorist attack. The most horrific consequence of terrorism, for me, is how we all pull back into our shells, like turtles, and draw the lines dividing "Us" and "Them" not in sand but in cement. It's the world we need to mourn for... And it's us we need to change, in order to change the world.
Guilie @ Quiet Laughter

L. Diane Wolfe said...

And those ISIS terrorists came in disguised as refugees, both shameful and complicating things further.

Sherry Ellis said...

What happened in Paris was terrible! Will it ever stop?

I didn't know about the symbolism of the white feather. Thanks for your post!

Betsy Brock said...

Yes, such sad happenings in Paris. The whole world mourns with them!

I never knew about the white feathers, so that was very interesting. Such a thoughtful post, Hilary...thank you.

Lynn said...

Wise words, my friend. My heart is heavy for the people of Paris.

Denise Covey said...

Hi Hilary. I found it dreadfully hard to write a blog post, but I made the focus the Paris Attacks so felt not so trivial. It is so hard to come to terms with, but I guess we ain't seen nothing yet from a group determined to convert the world to its way of thinking.

I didn't know that about the white feather. Thank you.

Denise :-)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Rosaria - usually I don't write about these things. But the White Feathers could be written about and bring in Paris .. I'm glad you appreciated the thought.

@ Guilie - I hadn't realised about Beirut til late Saturday ... I've been away. Syria is just terrible and all the things you say are so true. It is us that needs to change and particularly rulers, those in power .. we need everyone to work together - and bring us peace ... which we can and will emulate.

@ Diane - sadly some of the terrorists came from France and lived in Belgium ... one or two appear to have come in via boats. It is exceedingly difficult.

@ Sherry - I sincerely hope it will stop ... we can't be intimidated by these people like this. The White Feather symbolism is interesting to know about.

@ Betsy - we all do mourn with them ... so many talented people. Thank you re the White Feathers and then your thoughts re my tone of the post ...

@ Lynn - thank you ... Paris really is suffering ... as too Europe.

@ Denise - it was not the post I was going to write. Because it was Remembrance Day for the First World War and the 2nd WW and other wars last week ... I realised I could keep the same mood, but add in some information re the White Feathers, as to the words "The Glorious Dead" that Mike had commented on ...

Normally I wouldn't write up or post something after this sort of horror - the tone would be difficult.

Thank you everyone ... we all feel so for the Parisians and particularly those who have lost loved ones, or whose loved ones are injured or traumatised by these events ... with thoughts - Hilary

Southpaw HR Sinclair said...

Beautifully said.

Elsie Amata said...

Very well said, Hillary. Thank you.

Christine Rains said...

A beautiful post. I think the conscientious objectors were just as brave as the soldiers.

Karen Lange said...

I agree, so many of us form opinions without knowing the story behind the story. Many of us fight battles others know nothing about. Thanks for the info, and for sharing your heart. Sending love and hugs your way. :)

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

It is unthinkable how much we hate. People equate it to today, but this hatred and rage is nothing new. We hated during the Crusades. During the Namaqua Genocide, Holocaust Genocide, Armenian Genocide. And that's only a faction. I purposely haven't watch the news since Friday. I took a moment to hold the dead in my heart. The shame, hopeless, and horror I feel only gives strength to the terrorist. That's what they want, to terrorize us.

Theresa Milstein said...

I had no idea about the white feather, and its controversy. I'm glad you explained it. Being well informed is so important before forming an opinion.

Chrys Fey said...

What's going on in France is horrible. I had no idea what a white feather meant. And you're right that everyone (at one time or another) develops an opinion on something they really don't understand or know about. Being under-informed and close-minded should be a crime.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

The Paris events are so sad and distressing and I'm afraid the first of more pain to come. And I see no way to end the violence and all the suffering it has caused. Your post is very thoughtful and thought provoking as usual.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Sometimes you just can't win as with those returning from the Vietnam War who were spit on by people upset with the war. In WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GO TO WAR,

( http://www.amazon.com/dp/0802145922/ )

Karl Marlantes wrote of wearing his uniform to be able to get the discount and to afford being able to visit his parents.

An attractive lady in a business suit walked up to him and spit in his face and spun on her high heels in smug self-righteousness.

This was told at the end of the book, and you had already seen the Hell he had gone through. Marlantes was a Rhodes Scholar, an intelligent man who thought through his reasons to accept the draft call and not run to Canada.

The war left mental wounds which took decades to heal.

You are right: we humans are too quick to judge.

Let us pray the nations find some reasoned way to combat the hate of Isis.

Manzanita said...

This is so interesting. Why didn't I ever know about the white
feather?
So she gave him a white feather and he smacked her in the
face. mmmm I bet that was a surprise reaction. I'd be mighty
careful who received my feathers after that.

I just saw an old movie with Gary Cooper of Quakers during
the Civil War. They were definitely pacfists and were certainly
ridiculed.

4-F during WW2 brought ridicule too.

TexWisGirl said...

i've never heard of presenting white feathers.

DMS said...

I have never heard of the white feathers being presented to people. I always learn a lot here. :) I don't have many words after what has been taking place in Paris- but I do agree that we need to be kinder to each other. Spreading peace and kindness is very important right now.

Wishing you all the best!
~Jess

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Holly - many thanks.

@ Elise - I appreciate that.

@ Christine - yes to object must have been exceedingly difficult ...

@ Karen - yes we do fight battles we know little or nothing about. I, including myself, wish we'd think before we speak ... or just keep quiet.

@ Joylene - it is difficult to comprehend .. how some people can hate with a real hate. I hadn't known about the Herero and Namaqua genocide, though I certainly should have known having lived out there, and then you mention other genocides ... we're not a kind peoples are we.

You're right .. I haven't paid that much attention - but because it's over the Channel - it is considerably nearer and so I've been watching some of the time.

@ Theresa - thank you .. and yes I'm glad I was able to write about it, as I too knew little. As you say remembering there are always other sides to each 'argument' ... finding out those is important.

@ Chrys - it was and is a terrible tragedy. I'm glad I was able to put up some information about the 'white feather'. Your comment about 'being under-informed and close-minded' ... should be discouraged - we need to learn as much as we can before forming an opinion.

@ Susan - it has been so sad and so difficult to comprehend and how we control such controlled violence and get them to change their way of thinking is very challenging. Thank you re the post's thoughts.

@ Roland - interesting to read about Karl Marlantes and then the lady's apparent outrage ... for what. That's a very good example of a mis-guided action and certainly a completely mis-informed opinion.

We are way too quick to judge and not appreciate all the aspects of the ideas in front of us.

I too sincerely hope we find a reasoned way to combat what is going on in the world.

@ Manzanita - things are different in different countries ... and there is so much else to get to grips with in these major wars ... things get omitted in the scheme of what's being taught.

We all react against certain points of view, and war can polarise these. 4-F I'd no idea about ... I see it's the Selective Service System used for those applicants not suitable for American military duty.

@ Theresa - it's a sombre aspect of WW1.

@ Jess - I'm glad you learn when you come over here or at least appreciate other subjects. Paris has been a terrible tragedy ... a cruel one. As you mention we need to be kinder and spread peace.

Thanks everyone - it's been good having you here and adding to the post - giving us other details to consider ... with thoughts to us all at this time - Hilary

mail4rosey said...

I didn't realize feathers meant anything at all symbolically. Looks like they have for a long, long time.

Judgments are quick to come by, and rarely well-founded. There's always another side to consider.

Paris hurt my heart. Unjust always pierces.

Nilanjana Bose said...

"How often do we criticise or form an opinion about something … that we’ve no idea about, or cannot see the full picture with all its ramifications."

So true.


We all feel a little broken after last week's events...for Paris, and for ordinary people killed in other places by extremists. All we can do is live with hope and positivity.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Rosey - yes I was interested to read about the symbolism of white feathers. Also you're right about being judgemental so easily ... exactly it is so sad.

@ Nila - we sadly so often just criticise or form an opinion without knowing all the details.

I agree we do all feel a little broken after Friday's events ... let us live with hope and positivity ...

Thanks so much - good to see you .. cheers Hilary