No White Feather – Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers

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:

wpid-photo-20151005074310397And this is my story:

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.

A single white feather close up. Author: Joao Andrade de Frietas. Uploaded by Rex Public Domain.
A single white feather close up. Author: Joao Andrade de Frietas. Uploaded by Rex Public Domain.

’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:

The Hackney Empire, a typical Music Hall. Author: Ewan Munro from London, UK. Commons
The Hackney Empire, a typical Music Hall. Author: Ewan Munro from London, UK. Commons

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 Oxford Music Hall 1875. Public Domain. Uploaded by File Upload Bot (Magnus Manske) Wikimedia Commons
The Oxford Music Hall 1875. Public Domain. Uploaded by File Upload Bot (Magnus Manske) Wikimedia Commons

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 . . .

Postcard print of Marie Lloyd. Author Louis Saul Langfier (1859-1916). Public Domain
Postcard print of Marie Lloyd. Author Louis Saul Langfier (1859-1916). Public Domain

. . . 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’.

Vesta Tilley in her role as Burlington Bertie. Public Domain
Vesta Tilley in her role as Burlington Bertie. Public Domain

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.

Kitchener's First World War Recruitment Poster. Public Domain. Author Alfred Leete, 1882-1993
Kitchener’s First World War Recruitment Poster. Public Domain. Author Alfred Leete, 1882-1993 Wikimedia Commons

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:

May 1915 poster by E.V. Kealey from Parliamentary Recruiting Committee. Public Domain
May 1915 poster by E.V. Kealey from Parliamentary Recruiting Committee. Public Domain. Wikipedia Commons


48 thoughts on “No White Feather – Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers

    1. I’m quite hooked on stories set in WW1, PJ, and quite fancy writing my own book set at that time, one day. The prompt just reminded me of an old-time music hall and that was that. Sorry it was so late. It’s been one of those weeks.

      1. I would think there are many fascinating stories during WW1. That will be nice for you to write a book centered on that time in history! I understand Millie that you are very busy and that on the weeks that you are able to write a story that it might be late. I am just happy that you were able to write one this week.

      2. Thanks PJ. I’m trying to get on with my book, so time is really getting tight. But I couldn’t resist writing something for this prompt.I can’t promise every week, unfortunately.

  1. Excellent tale Millie and the social history behind it is fascinating. In Australia the gov tried several times to introduce conscription through referendums and each time they were defeated. The reason was the large Irish catholic population who didn’t support the war effort and thereby prevented conscription from becoming a reality. Hence my Irish Catholic grandfather and his brothers didn’t go to war but my mother’s father from Scotland did and sadly died a young man at age 56 from injuries he incurred.

    1. Thank you for sharing all that with me , Michael. I didn’t know the story about conscription ‘problems’ in Australia – but I’m not surprised by it. At that time, relations between Britain and Ireland couldn’t have been worse. There were lots of bombings in Dublin and so on. So it stands to reason that Irish Catholics wouldn’t want to support Britain in anything. I don’t know when all this will end, even now. So much hostility and hatred. That your mother’s father died is very sad. So many thoudands died in that awful war. Oddly enough, my mother’s brother was one of them. You and I are the same generation, after all.

      1. Yes some very sad things happened. I had a cousin born in 1916 and his dad was killed in France. My aunt never re married and lived into her 80’s. Remarkably that little boy in the 1920s lived with his grandparents, my great grandparents in the house I now live in. He lived to be 94 and remembered living here.

  2. So interesting to read about Vesta Tilley and her dressing as a soldier to try and recruit men into the military. Also, the White Feather Movement, a movement to “shame” men into joining the military. I would imagine that no man wanted to receive a white feather, especially from a woman (back then). Excellent story with very interesting information about it!

    1. Back in those days, men felt the need to be ‘real men’. Cowardice was a dreadful stigma to live with. Many of the conscientious objectors were beaten up – and worse – because they wouldn’t fight. The fact that they didn’t want to kill other people on principle was seen as the greatest
      cowardice. Thank you, PJ.

      1. I can imagine that they would not want to be seen as cowards especially in those days. Manhood and bravery meant so much to them. Thanks for the information!

  3. Dropped in to say hello after a long absence! Also, I read Shadow Of The Raven.. not going to lie, I just downloaded the ebook thinking it was something related to Edgar Allan Poe, but I was pleasantly surprised! And then I found out it was written by you! You are a truly amazing author. Reign, Queen of Historical Fiction 😀

    1. Hello to you! It’s been ages since I last saw you on your blog! I imagined it was because of your need to study for your exams. I hope all that’s behind yo (for now! New sets of exams just keep coming, don’t they?) How strange the way you mistook my book for one by Poe. (It must be someting to do with that raven that taps on the window in Poe’s book?) Anyway, thank you for reading it – and your lovely comment at the end. 😀 If you’re now back to blogging, I’ll look out for your posts! 🙂

      1. I thought it was one about Poe– I’d just finished one such series named Nevermore by Kelly Creagh. The Raven, exactly! I am back, yes 🙂 and you are so much more than just welcome. I’ll be looking out for more books!

      2. Book 2 was published last December and I’m writing the third in the series a the moment. I really need to speed up with it, so will be slowing down my blog a lot from now on. Hope you are well and happy! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Ineke. This is a period of history I’ve taught about many times. I know all about Kitchener’s role in the Boer War, and know how he would be a hated character to you all out there. Very understandable. I could never understnd the compulsion to conquer other nations. But then, I wasn’t born into that period, with the desire to dominate the world!

      1. Yes, some nations want to be in charge and then a stronger one fights them and there we go again. Always fighting for better status. There as still older SA people who still hate the way they had to fight for their own rights and were also forced t fight for another country. This is why I really don’t like the whole idea of sending “young trained soldiers” to fight for peace in other countries! That is history, always in the making.

      2. I don’t suppose we’ll ever understand it. I’ve read a lot about what happened in South Africa and it’s appalling. I’ve never been proud of British behaviour in the conquest of othre lands. But, empire building was what so many nations were doing at the time – and had done since time began so many past empires lay testament to that.
        I agree that soldiers fighting for peace doesn’t make sense at all.

  4. Vesta Tilley is a quite empowering figure…. So great that you introduce her to us as you included in your flash fiction…
    I learnt about the symbolism of the white feather in one episode of the series Downtown abbey…. Interesting and so witty of you to introduce this element here, dear Millie…
    Last… but not least … I much enjoyed the extra information with regard to the British Music Halls … Excellent post… Sending best wishes. Aquileana 🐉☀️

  5. I always enjoy war stories, especially those rich in period detail. Who says educational can’t also be entertaining! Nicely done, Millie.

    1. Thank you for that, Prospero! I love anything about the First World War, and have often thought of writing a book set at that time. It was a terrible war, and so many thousands of lives lost in those horrendous trenches. I’ve taught about the period so many times.

  6. Although I knew about the white feather and, of course, am familiar with the song Burlington Burtie, but I certainly hadn’t heard of heard of Vesta Tilley.

    1. I knew about ‘Burlington Bertie from Bow’ – but not that it was a later version and not the one Vesta Tilley sang. My mum and grandma used to talk about Vesta Tllley. Not that either of them had seen her, but they knew all about her. I know my grandma had brothers in WW1 and at least one of them died out in France.

  7. The story itself was already very interesting, but the detailed explanation made it even more fascinating. 🙂 I wouldn’t know what white feather is without your explanation. I wonder how many people actually know what white feather means when we hand them the white feather 😛 The half pub and half theatre thing was also very interesting! People in the past seemed to know how to enjoy life lol 😀 🙂

    1. I find it all fascinating, too, Khloe.It’s a shame that something as pretty as a feather could bring such shame to a man. They were harsh times but I suppose they really needed as many men to join the army as possible. 😀

    1. Thank you, Chioma. I’ve been down in Essex all week, so I haven’t managed to do a story for PJ’s prompt this week. I enjoyed doing last week’s though. Stories set during the First World War always fascinate me.:)

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