Penny trails and white feathers

During WW1, those at home were encouraged to support the men at the front by donating money or goods to the war effort. Colin Franklin-Browne recalls watching fundraising parades and penny trails (lines of coins which the public were encouraged to add to) on Wellington’s streets in 1914-15. He also remembers the dark side of this patriotic fervor. Women’s patriotic groups sent white feathers, symbols of cowardice, to men who had not enlisted. The women targeted pacifists, men not yet in uniform and even those unable to enlist for medical reasons.

Year:1914-1915 (Recorded 1980s - exact date unknown)

Location:Wellington, New Zealand

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Penny trails and white feathers

During WW1, those at home were encouraged to support the men at the front by donating money or goods to the war effort. Colin Franklin-Browne recalls watching fundraising parades and penny trails (lines of coins which the public were encouraged to add to) on Wellington’s streets in 1914-15. He also remembers the dark side of this patriotic fervor. Women’s patriotic groups sent white feathers, symbols of cowardice, to men who had not enlisted. The women targeted pacifists, men not yet in uniform and even those unable to enlist for medical reasons.


Year: 1914-1915 (Recorded 1980s - exact date unknown)

Length: 05:54

Source: Radio New Zealand Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Catalogue Reference: 242806 Colin Franklin-Browne's memories. Part 1.


People: Colin Franklin-Browne

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

Tags: Home Front, Fundraising, Women

Subject: War and society ; Social aspects – New Zealand


Image Title: Australia. Department of Defence (1915). Volunteered for Active Service. Medically Unfit.

Image Source: http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/182145056


During WW1, patriotic societies were set up to fundraise for different aspects of the war effort, such as supporting Belgian refugees or sending comforts to soldiers. Those at home devised many ingenious methods of raising money for their cause. Fundraising galas, raffles, penny trails, lotteries and concerts took place in most communities throughout the war.

However, the patriotic fervour and enthusiasm to support the war effort also led to the dreaded white feather campaigns. White feathers were often sent by women’s patriotic groups to men of service age who were not in uniform. The gesture was directed at pacifists and those who were slow to enlist, who were termed ‘shirkers’.  Sometimes the feathers were also sent unwittingly to men who had tried to enlist but had been rejected by the army on health grounds. In some cases, they were even sent by mistake to returned servicemen.

Under the headline “White Feather Fanatics”, the New Zealand Truth in October 1915 condemned the ‘unknown and heartless females’ of Nelson, who had sent packets of feathers to a local young man. The paper called it “a most cruel and undeserved insult…he is the youngest of a family of five sons and his four brothers are at Gallipoli…the boy in question would have been there too had he not been deemed medically unfit.”(1)

Other newspaper accounts mention the suicide of a man in Britain who was tormented by receiving an anonymous white feather after being turned down for military service.

In Australia, men who had volunteered but had been rejected on medical grounds could be issued with a special button to wear, so they could avoid being targeted with white feathers. The one shown here was issued to Guy Marten Berry in 1915. 

1. New Zealand Truth, Issue 540, 23 October 1915, pg 2