An unusual piece of First World War history has been plucked from Wolverhampton City Archives to be showcased in Germany.
A rare white feather – sent to men accused of cowardice for not “doing their bit” for the war effort – has been delivered to the Bundeswehr Military Museum in Dresden for their ‘Gender and Violence’ exhibition.
The white feather is believed to be one of only two known of in the world, with the other located at the Imperial War Museum in London.
Heidi McIntosh, Senior Archivist at Wolverhampton City Archives, said: “We are lucky to hold so many iconic pieces from the past and this incredibly rare ‘White Feather Letter’ is one of them.
“It is a great honour for the Archives that this item from our collection will be displayed internationally.”
The white feather will return to its City of Wolverhampton home to be part of an exhibition commemorating the anniversary of the end of the First World War in November.
It was found in 2011 along with a letter sent to local man William Weller, despite him being excused from military service on medical grounds and because his work in Wolverhampton was vital to the war effort.
Staff made the discovery when they were looking through a collection of material belonging to the Wolverhampton-based Weller firm of architects, which designed many local buildings in the 19th and 20th centuries. William was one of the partners in the firm.
Heidi added: “Arguably William, who was in his early 40s at the time, shouldn’t have been sent this white feather in the first place because he had been excused from service on medical grounds and because he was carrying out essential war work by building homes for steel industry workers, but it seems he decided to keep it along with the letter.
“We’re very grateful that he did as it’s a fascinating artefact.”
The Order of the White Feather was founded at the start of the First World War and aimed to coerce men to enlist in the Army by persuading women to present them with a white feather if they were not wearing a uniform.
The campaign proved very effective, so much so that employees working in state industries had to be issued with King and Country badges indicating that they too were serving the war effort. In addition, a Silver War Badge was presented to service personnel honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness so that they weren’t challenged for not wearing uniform.
The letter, sent in the latter stages of the war and signed by A. Chicken Heart, made the recipient a “Companion” of the “Most Noble Order of The Trench Dodgers” for his perceived “devotion to self regardless of narrow patriotism” – and included a white feather, the insignia of the order.
The Weller papers were bequeathed by family member Brian Weller to the Wolverhampton Buildings Preservation Trust.
Wolverhampton City Archives, situated at Whitmore Hill, houses over 1,000 years of recorded history.