“I will not join the white feather ranks”

Sydney Spencer’s anguish over what service he should enter continues in this diary entry. Gil and Stan were his younger brothers Gilbert and Stanley, art students:

Sept 4th Friday
Now, Mr Diary, how do you think I should feel if after having spent little-to-be-spared money & time on finding what I should do, & being unsuccessful too, one of these dear ladies should offer me a white feather emblem of cowardice! For a little while yesterday I felt that perhaps I did deserve one, but when all wiser & older men than myself not only said that I had done all I could but that I should only be fit for an example & could instil some of my enthusiasm into freshmen next term by joining the OTC, & that I should never be of any use as a military man, then I felt at rest. Even now I must own I am rather restless & worried. I hate to feel so utterly useless, & even working as I have done in all sorts of odd ways to do my best to help, I chafe at my position, & boil inwardly at the thought that perhaps the imputation of “cowardice” & unloyalty may be thrown at me. The whole thing is a strain upon one, & I begin to long to put a finish to the whole matter by joining, useless or not. Despite the fact that my whole future may be utterly wrecked by this terrible war, & that I shall have to look to the German Emperor & his war party (not the rest of the nation) as the cause of my future failure, if failure it be; I am thankful that I can say with clear conscience that loyal as I am to my beloved England, & eager as I am to do my last & best for her glory, still by God’s grace I am free from that dagger, sharper and more deadly than the dagger of war itself – the dagger of bitterness – how I do deplore that bitter spirit which prompts whole crowds of people to say “Germany has played a dirty game. Pay her back as she has treated us!” May the fair scutcheon of England’s fame never be smudged & dulled by our despicable actions, & may the spirit of right prevail over & rule down the hot heads of people so bitter as to make them blind to every thing clean & fair!

I have just met a man who was at Keswick. He will not think of joining the regulars, he says. He will only join if he can get a commission! Am I to be blamed if I think he might deserve a white feather? He says he has just got a schoolmaster’s job & does not feel justified in throwing it up. He thinks it too infra dig to be a regular even in a good army!

[Later that day]
Wheatley Rose & Tea Gardens
I have said goodbye to Oxford!… If I do return to Oxford, it will be a saddened Oxford. Many of her sons have gone off to fight for England. I think that some 1100 have either got commissions or joined the ranks. If such a big number as that goes from Oxford, how can the papers say that the universities are not waking up to their duty! That fellow whom I met who feels that he does not care to take anything less than a commission, rather disgusts me. If he is a specimen of what many men are like, well, men are cowards. England wants men, & she shall have me if I can get efficient enough. I will not join the white feather ranks. Cowardice shall never be written in conjunction with my name! Now I have had tea I shall get on home. I hope & almost pray that Gil & Stan have enlisted. England needs us. Let that suffice!

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/12)

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