ContextIn 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?
- What the VC is amd what it is for?
- What is a white feather given for?
- Compare and contrast on blog.
Conscription, conscientious objection, and pacifism:
New Zealand soldiers awarded a Victoria Cross:
Explains how Te Raukura is an important symbol to the tribes who affiliate to the Taranaki rohe. This symbol is captured in the form of a white feather, or a plume of white feather.
Social sciences (level 4):Understand how formal and informal groups make decisions that impact on communities.
English (level 4):Listening, reading, and viewing:Purposes and audiences
Show an understanding of how texts are shaped for different audiences. (Indicators: identifies particular points of view within texts and recognises that texts can position a reader.)
Health and physical education(level 3):Personal health and physical development:Personal identity:
Describe how their own feelings, beliefs, and actions, and those of other people, contribute to their sense of self-worth.
Relationships with other people:Identity, sensitivity, and respect
Identify ways in which people discriminate and ways to act responsibly to support themselves and other people.
Identify the pressures that can influence interactions with other people and demonstrate basic assertiveness strategies to manage these.