Flash Fiction for for Aspiring Writers is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks us to write a piece of fiction from the photo prompt provided in around 100-150 words – give or take 25 words. It encourages us to comment, constructively, on other entries, so supporting each other’s writing. If you’d like to join in with this challenge, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday to Tuesday every week.
Here is this week’s prompt, kindly provided by Etol Bagam:
No White Feather
Reg swigged back his ale and grinned at his wife, chuckling at the stand-up’s jokes. The music hall was packed, every table full. Ale was flowing and the noise from the audience was rising rapidly.
‘I knew you’d enjoy it,’ he said, taking her hand. Some good turns on – though I didn’t know Vesta Tilley’d be singing tonight.’
Agnes nodded. ‘I’ve heard of her. She dresses like a man to make people laugh – and to persuade men to recruit into Lord Kitchener’s Army. Not married ones, I hope . . .’
Cheers erupted as Vesta Tilley appeared on stage, dressed in a soldier’s uniform. Her first few songs had everyone singing along. Then all fell silent as she stepped down from the stage, wandering amongst the tables singing, ‘Oh, we don’t want to lose you but we think you ought to go,’ touching men’s shoulders as she passed.
As most of the men, Reg rose and followed Vesta back to the stage. He’d fight the Hun for king and country. No white feather for him.
’Word Count: 175
If you’d like to view other entries, click the little blue frog below:
For anyone interested, here is a some information about music halls and a few things mentioned in my story that might be unfamiliar to people:
British Music Halls were originally tavern rooms which provided entertainment in the form of music and speciality acts such as short plays, comedy sketches, acrobats, minstrels, dancers, magicians, jugglers and even trick dogs. By the middle years of the nineteenth century the first purpose-built music halls were being constructed in London. Soon there were many around the country:
In effect, they were half pub, half theatre. The large halls had a stage but in the seating areas, tables were provided so that patrons could continue their drinking and socialising (generally noisily) while the ‘acts’ were on:
The halls created a demand for new and catchy popular songs, many composed by professional song writers with their working class audiences in mind. Songs like ‘My Old man Said Follow the Van’ and ‘Waiting at the Church’ described situations which the urban poor would be familiar with.
‘Well oiled’ on cheap beer, the audience chorused songs they loved and abused acts they loathed. In some places audiences would throw things at dud acts, and the bottles carried by the waiters were chained to the trays to prevent them being used as missiles.
Music Hall’s support for the war effort is well documented – although no one can deny that owners, landlords and song writers made a lot of money out of it. By the end of 1914, 30 or more specially composed songs promoting recruitment had been written. Many music hall performers threw themselves into the effort, including, the most popular of all the singers, Marie Lloyd . . .
. . . and the singer most famous for her army recruitment success, Vesta Tilley:
Vesta Tilley had sung in music halls since she was 5 and generally dressed in men’s clothes (although during the day she took care to dress in her usual women’s wear to emphasise her femininity). One of her most popular songs was about a young swell, ‘Burlington Bertie‘. During the early years of WW1, along with many other music hall performers, she helped in the recruitment of thousands of men.. She dressed as a soldier and sang patriotic songs, including Jolly Good Luck to the Girl Who Loves a Soldier and The Army of Today’s All Right. She was given the nickname of ‘Britain’s best recruiting sergeant’.
In 1914 Lord Kitchener introduced voluntary enlistment to increase British forces. It helped to create Britain’s first mass citizen army. Kitchener was one of the few British leaders to believe that this war would be long and difficult, and not ‘over by Christmas’. Within a year it became obvious that it was not possible to continue fighting by relying on voluntary recruits. Conscription was introduced in March 1916.
The name ‘Hun’ was a derogatory term for German soldiers. It resulted from a remark made by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany in 1900, when he sent his armies to deal with the Boxer Rebellion in China. He told his troops to show no mercy – just as the Huns, 1000 years earlier, had exhibited wanton destruction as they swept through Europe.
The White Feather has been a traditional symbol of cowardice, used within the British Army and countries associated with the British Empire since the 18th century. It aimed to humiliate men who were not soldiers.
The White Feather Movement was a propaganda campaign in England during WWI to encourage men to enlist in the army. White feathers were distributed by women of the Order of the White Feather to any man they deemed capable of joining the army who was out of uniform. They aimed to make men realise that women viewed them as cowards. Other men would therefore be so afraid of receiving a feather they would join the army. Conscientious objectors were seen as cowards and received white feathers if their stance became known.
This poster was not one printed for this movement, but a part of the Parliamentary campaign: