A newspaper tells the story of a man who is given two symbolic offerings in a single day: the first for valour, the second as an accusation of cowardice. Why was this story published in newspapers around the world?
In 1915, “V.C.’s White Feather” was published in newspapers around the world. The story contrasts two symbolic offerings: a white feather, used to accuse someone of cowardice, and a Victoria Cross medal, awarded for “acts of valour”. Giving someone a white feather was a form of social bullying. The feathers were handed or mailed to men who didn’t wear uniforms; the intention was to shame them into signing up for duty. In comparison, the Victoria Cross is the highest military award possible and receiving one was a rare distinction.
The practice of giving someone a white feather was less common in New Zealand than in some other countries. People here recognised that there were many reasons why a young man might not be in uniform. Even so, sometimes unusual people were targeted; for example, a 98-year-old man in Gisborne received a feather in the mail.
As a symbol, a white feather can have different interpretations. For example, for some iwi, a white feather symbolises peace rather than cowardice.
- What can we observe?
- What do we already know?
- How might people view this story in different ways?
Possible discussion questions
- What did you think was going to happen when one of the women walked over to the young man?
- Why did she give him a white feather? What did it mean?
- Was the woman showing bravery or cowardice by giving the young man the feather?
- What is a Victoria Cross? Why was it awarded?
- Can you think of other symbols that might seem insignificant to someone unfamiliar with them but that hold a lot of meaning?
- What are some ways that people try to apply social pressure today?