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 :