White Feather caught in Thorns

Saturday 1480 – 17th March 2012.

The last couple of days I’ve been thinking about war and in particular the effect going to war has on the soldiers. This in light of the terrible massacre in Afghanistan of 16 civilians, many of them children, apparently by a US soldier . The soldier is said to have been injured twice during previous tours of duty in Iraq ( why was he sent back to a war zone again??? ) and witnessed his friend getting his leg blown off the day before the shooting.

We can only guess at whether these were factors in making him commit this terrible act but undoubtedly war leaves it’s mark on those who we pay to engage in it.

I have often swung backwards and forwards between thinking we have to have soldiers to protect nations and being a pacifist and come down on the side of pacifism.  It is easy for me to think and write this as I have the freedom to be able to write about what ever I want. Of course this freedom was achieved by the sacrifice of others or was it?

When I saw this white feather caught in thorns I thought of the poem below it, which has always moved me and I thought I’d share it with you..

It resonates still in today’s world of wars and for me the white feather symbolises those who break under duress or who do not want to fight and the thorns the damage that is done to them and subsequently by them to others.

All of them trapped.

You can hear Dannie Abse very movingly reading his poem here , which I recommend to you.

Or you can read it below.

Cousin Sidney

Dull as a bat, said my mother
of cousin Sidney in 1940 that time he tried
to break his garden swing, jumping on it,
12 shoes ˜ at fifteen the tallest boy
in the class, taller than loping Dan Morgan
when Dan Morgan wore his father’s top hat.

Duller than a bat, said my father
when hero Sidney lied about his age
to claim rough khaki, silly ass;
and soon, somewhere near Dunkirk,
some foreign corner was forever Sidney
though uncle would not believe it.

Missing not dead please God, please,
he said, and never bolted the front door,
never string taken from the letter box,
never the hall light off lest his one son
came home through a night of sleet
whistling, We’ll meet again.

Aunt crying and raw in the onion air
of the garden (the unswinging empty swing)
her words on a stretched leash
while uncle shouted, Bloody Germans.
And on November 11th, two howls of
silence even after three decades

till last year, their last year,
when uncle and aunt also went missing,
missing alas, so that now strangers
have bolted their door and cut the string
and no-one at all (the hall so dark)
waits up for Sidney, silly ass.

Dannie Abse


Some of you may know that at the start of the 1st World War an organisation called The Order of the White Feather was started by an Admiral Charles Fitzgerald and women were encouraged to give men who had not joined up a white feather which at the time was considered a symbol of cowardice.

Many men whose temperaments were wholly unsuited to fighting joined up rather than be publicly humiliated or worse, but of course they were cannon fodder which was what the military needed for trench warfare. It must have been almost inevitable that these were the men most likely to be killed first.

You can read about this here   ( I recommend the last article by Frances Beckett it’s very moving) and here

Food for thought


See you next week or over on Photomania


There’s a reminder of what this blog is about here


You can see lots of photos on my other blog Helen’s Photomania here



17 comments on “White Feather caught in Thorns

  1. […] course of this year.  I have written about the world moving too fast for me, a lot about War and Peace ( no not the book ! ) guns and Wikileaks; discovering anew the activist in me, for which I am […]

  2. I really like the metaphor you used regarding the white feather. It represents the innocent people who have nothing to do with the war (i.e. children) who are drastically affected by the wars — indirectly and/or directly.

  3. artboy68 says:

    Beautiful, Helen!

  4. Tilly Bud says:

    An excellent post. I didn’t know the poem; thanks for sharing it.

  5. Excellent post, Hellen.

    Now I’m going to try to access your other blog. Whenever I have tried in the past from my phone I get totally thrown out of the net!

  6. scillagrace says:

    Very interesting and evocative post, Helen! This time period in history is Steve’s favorite…a pivotal shift in “civilization”, as post-modernism and cynicism gain a foothold and more. What part of the human spirit was damaged beyond repair by that first World War? Another interesting question: do we recognize the propaganda that we are subjected to even today? Military, economic, religious, any variety?

    • hellenjc says:

      I think propaganda is a little more difficult today Scilla because of modern technology. The whole world usually knows what’s happening on the ground in a conflict within hours because of mobile phones, facebook, twitter etc.
      Of course there had been bloody conflicts before the 1st World war but there wasn’t the media to inform the masses..

      • scillagrace says:

        I do think media has changed, at least in the USA, and includes lots of hidden propaganda, except now we call it “spin”. Many of those “intrepid reporters” of the past are working an angle for a corporate wage. It used to be that journalists kept things real and intimidated the propagandists. I think that’s changed. But I do think technology has made it easier for the public to help keep things real!

      • hellenjc says:

        Gosh I like to think there are still some intrepid journalists.

  7. totsymae1011 says:

    I had an uncle who went to Vietnam and years later, he was startled at hearing loud noises and this was many years after the war, int he 1980s. These soldiers leave and none of them come back the same. We’ve been in battle so very long and the soldiers who go will continue to learn how to survive if they make it back home.

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