During World War I all good Englishmen were expected to contribute to the war effort. For most men, this meant enlistment in the military services. Many men were taken in
, served and then were discharged.
Reasons varied from ignonimous to dishonorable to honourable to heroic.
Regardless of how they left, upon exit they received a Silver War Badge
to be worn on the lapel of their civilian clothing. The back of each war
badge listed a Roman Numeral corresponding to reason for discharge.
Originally this badge was to denote their willingess to serve. Later, it
acted as a protection from fierce young ladies.
In the early
20th Century, courage was the mark of a respectable man. During WWI, if
an apparently able-bodied man looked as if he had not attempted military
service, he was branded a coward. Groups of young women would go around
handing white feathers to men who appeared to be shirking their duty to
King and Country.
If a young lady attempted to hand a white
feather to a man and he pointed to his Silver War Badge, the shame then
fell upon the young lady.
In The White Feather, or Hero James
Cowper attempts to enlist, but is turned down as "unsuitable for
service". Because of this, he is awarded a Silver War Badge for his
willingness to serve... not that it does him much good. If anything, it
brings him more trouble.
Heidi Wessman Kneale
Author of The White Feather