The notorious White Feather Campaign is chiefly associated with the First World War, but in fact the disgusting practice, in which women (led by feminists) handed out white feathers to young men in civilian clothes as a way of shaming their presumed ‘cowardice’, was also widespread in the Second World War.
Tragically, at least two teenage boys committed suicide after becoming victims of the resurrected White Feather Campaign.
Cyril R Wray, an 18 year old who had volunteered for service but was not called upon, gassed himself after recieving letters and white feathers through the post accusing him of cowardice. The Evening Telegraph of June 9th 1943 reports :
Bernard Sills was just 17 when he recieved in the mail two white feathers framed in the shape of a question mark together with the word ‘coward’. The young cadet had volunteered to serve but was discharged when it was found he was an underage child. A few hours after recieving the white feathers, he put on his cadet uniform and left his house, taking his rifle with him. He was found dead in an air raid shelter after blowing his brains out.
From the Cairns Post of July 27th 1943 :
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Shortly after, one of Bernard’s grieving friends, and himself aged only 15, also recieved white feathers through the post.
White feathers were giving out to hundreds of males during the entire length of the Second World War, to boys too young to serve, and to war heroes who were on leave and out of uniform. The practice became so widespread and upsetting that in 1942 the government decided that a badge should be given to men discharged from service on medical grounds – this was a new badge in addition to the ‘King’s Badge’ which had been launched at the onset of the war in anticipation of a repeat of the White Feather Campaign :
Occasionally, women were ‘brave’ enough to hand out their feathers in person, rather than anonymously through the post. One such woman recieved a surprise after handing out a white feather to a war hero who had lost an eye in combat in Syria :
Currently reading ‘The Second Sexism‘, the important new men’s rights book that uses philosophical analysis to argue that males are experiencing disadvantages in society that are the result of sexism. I’ll write a review sometime soon, but the couple of chapters I’ve read thus far have left me impressed. Here, the author David Benatar is discussing the discriminatory pressure on males to enlist and fight in war :
One particularly graphic example of this is the campaign, during the First World War, of British women distributing white feathers – a symbol of cowardice – to young men who were not in uniform. These were distributed even to adolescent boys who were technically too young to register. One boy, Frederick Broome, who had succeeded in enlisting at age 15, fought in battle, was returned to England in a febrile state and then discharged at the insistence of his father, who produced his birth certificate to convince the authorities. Then, while walking over a bridge in town, then age 16, young Frederick was accosted by four girls who gave him three white feathers. He later recalled as follows :
“I felt very humiliated. I finished the walk over the bridge and there on the other side was the Thirty-seventh London Territorial Association of the Royal Field Artillery. I walked straight in and re-joined the army.”
Note that I have not sought the author’s permission to quote the above passage – I assume he will have no objections to me highlighting a small sample of his work on a men’s rights advocacy site.
The quoted quote from the boy soldier is taken from (according to the author’s notes) ‘We Will Not Fight‘, by Will Ellsworth-Jones.
In the notes section, David Benatar also reveals that the feminist icon Virginia Wooff dismissed, against all the evidence, the claim that white feathers were handed out during World War I in any great numbers. She apparently attributed the belief to ‘male hysteria’.
You can read an interview with David Benatar on the subject of his book here in the Pink Paper.
**UPDATE : I have added a follow-up to this article which deals with the historical relationship between feminism and the white feather campaigns, something which redditors seem to be having a hard time believing :