#whitefeather diaries

About this site

The white feather diaries is a social media storytelling project marking the centenary of World War I. It offers an insight into overlooked aspects of war: resistance to killing and the relief of suffering.

About the project

The website follows the lives of five young people who lived a century ago and opposed World War I. Their stories, published periodically over three years, take us from the outbreak of war to the introduction of conscription and groundbreaking legislation recognising conscientious objection. Through daily posts we share their moral dilemmas and their often dangerous decisions.

For those wanting to delve further into these fascinating stories, each blog entry includes rich background material about the content of the post or the diarist and their contemporaries.

The white feather diaries sheds light on the hidden stories of those whose bravery saved lives and changed British legislation, leading to a wider recognition of the legitimacy of the right to refuse to kill. It poses the question, "What would you do?" and encourages discussion about issues still relevant today. This fascinating project, drawing from original diaries, letters and other materials, will run from 2014 to 2016. To stay informed about new posts, please follow The white feather diaries on Twitter or Facebook.

What is the significance of the white feather?

At the time of World War I conscientious objection was poorly understood. Many people regarded conscientious objectors as cowardly for not joining the armed forces. The Order of the White Feather was founded at the start of the war by Admiral Fitzgerald. It encouraged women to give white feathers, a symbol of cowardice, to young men who were not in uniform to shame them into enlisting.

Quakers in World War I and beyond

The period 1914-16 was a time of social, political and religious upheaval. The white feather diaries captures this change through the journeys of five pacifists. All five were, or became, Quakers.

Quakers received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for their contribution to the relief of suffering during and after the two World Wars. Quakers are still working to prevent conflict in volatile areas of the world and in their local communities. In the section called 'Stories behind the front line’, parallels are drawn between the issues that affected the diarists a century ago and modern concerns. The section gives a flavour of recent peace work undertaken by Quakers and others.


Quakers in Britain

The work of Quaker Peace & Social Witness

American Friends Service Committee

Nobel Peace Prize speech


With thanks to Philip Austin, Mary Brocklesby, Fiona Burtt, Adrian Cadbury, Simon Colbeck, Ben Copsey, Owen Everett, Jill Gibbon, David Hoare, Richard Hoare, Charlotte Marten, Deb Nash and the staff of the Cadbury Research Library, the Friend Publications Ltd, the Imperial War Museum, Leeds University Library and the Peace Pledge Union.


Your Thoughts

Submitted by John on
My grandfather served in the trenches, and was invalided out with trench foot (considered a self-inflicted injury - despite the mud, the blood and the excrement, you were supposed to keep your socks dry). When he was home on leave a woman handed him a white feather. He took it home, and laid it on the table. My grandmother was horrified "Didn't you tell her you'd been invalided out?". "Nah", my grandfather replied "it didn't bother me, and it probably made her day".

Submitted by Wendy Pattinson on
We're planning a display at a local library for Quaker Week (for 3 weeks actually) and would like to use content from the WF Diaries. I assume this is acceptable use of the material. I have one White Feather bookmark. Could we have some more please? I couldn't see them on your resources page. Thank you - on behalf of Swindon LM.

Submitted by nikolasd on
Hi Wendy, I will contact you about this tomorrow. Sorry for the late response. Nik

Submitted by nikolasd on
Hi Wendy. I have no contact details. Please email nikolasd@quaker.org.uk , Nik

Submitted by Maggie Guillon on
Do you have any plans to do something on WWII conscientious objectors? My father was one, and although he never kept a diary he suffered terribly throughout his life from a complex mixture of guilt and fear of censure. He, like all objectors, deserve to be remembered with honour.

Submitted by ElizabethP on
We don't at the moment I'm afraid as this project is about marking the centenary of World War I. The stories of those who objected during WWII are no less deserving of recognition though.

Submitted by Lesley Williams on
Can you advise me as to how I can find out more about my Great Uncle, James Frederick Riches, who was a Quaker and was imprisoned during WWI as a conscientious objector? Is it possible to trace details of his tribunal and imprisonment etc?

Submitted by ElizabethP on
Hi Lesley, I'd recommend contacting the Friends House Library (library@quaker.org.uk) in the first instance as I believe they do have records. Unfortunately only two sets of tribunal documents were kept for historical records: Middlesex and Lothian and Peebles. The National Archives holds the Middlesex ones www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/conscription-appeals and the National Archives of Scotland holds the other www.nas.gov.uk/about/081103.asp. Some others do survive but I'd check through the National Archives to see if his was one of them. Elizabeth

Submitted by Victor Hulbert on
I have very much appreciated reading through your site. The stories bear greate similarities to those of my grandfather & great uncle - both Seventh-day Adventists with similar pacifisit principles to those of the quakers. From their experiences we have recenty opened a peace garden as a place of tranquity and remembrance. I found it a very moving experience. I can send you details if you are interested.

Submitted by ElizabethP on
Thank you Victor, that sounds like an appropriate memorial. Please do send me details – my email is elizabethp@quaker.org.uk

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