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Jumping to Conclusions

Do we make incorrect assumptions?

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider the effect of the assumptions made by the Order of the White Feather during the First World War.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a white feather or an image of a white feather and the means to display it during the assembly. An example is available at:

  • You will also need three students to speak the parts of the soldiers.


  1. Many of us are quick to jump to conclusions. We might see the way someone dresses or hear the accent with which a person speaks and make assumptions about them. We might dislike a particular subject at school and assume that therefore every lesson is going to be boring. We might be unwilling to try an unfamiliar food because we are sure that we won’t like it.

  2. Many of us will have experienced times when people have made assumptions about us. We might have been upset by how people treated us or why they would assume things about us that are not true.

  3. The same was true many years ago: people made assumptions about others and sometimes, these could be hurtful and incorrect.

    The First World War started in 1914. Things are different today, but in 1914, it was the men who went off to fight, leaving the women and children at home. Admiral Charles Fitzgerald was an ardent war supporter who believed that it should be mandatory for all men to enlist in the armed forces. He believed that one way of achieving this was to set up the Order of the White Feather.

  4. Show the white feather or the image of it.

    The Order of the White Feather intended to shame men into enlisting in the British armed forces by recruiting women to give a white feather to any man not in uniform. Fitzgerald initially recruited 30 women in Folkestone to help his venture, but they were soon joined by many others including feminists and suffragettes of the time. (Interestingly, the idea of the Order of the White Feather went against many of the beliefs of these groups who were fighting for the equality of women in other ways.) Young men who volunteered to fight were applauded for their courage, but those who didn’t volunteer were to be handed a white feather as a sign of cowardice. The use of a white feather in this context was based on old cockerel fighting lore that a cockerel with a white feather in its tail is a coward.

  5. Identify that there were many reasons why men might not join the armed forces or be wearing their uniform.

    - They might be too young.
    - They might be physically disabled.
    - They might be in particular employment, such as doctors or shopkeepers.
    - They might be the sole provider for a family.
    - They might be discharged veterans.
    - They might be conscientious objectors.

  6. Explain that three readers are going to tell the true stories of three men who were presented with a white feather by the protestors. The assumptions about them were wrong each time.

    As the readers tell their stories, ask the students to imagine what these men would have felt like.

  7. Reader 1: My name is James. I tried to enlist in 1914, but I was turned away because of my poor eyesight. It was difficult to watch all my friends leave for the war, but I had a wife and three young daughters to care for. Two years later, I was coming home from work when a young woman came up to me. I thought that she needed some help, but as she neared me, she took out a white feather and sneeringly tried to pin it onto my jacket. The next day, I went back to the recruiting station. Eyesight, it seemed, was no longer an issue. The army just needed bodies that could shoot. I had the feeling even then that I would not come home to my family.

    Ask the following questions, leaving time for thought or for answers to be given as appropriate.

    - What did the giver of the white feather assume about James?
    - How do you think James might have felt when his first attempt to enlist failed?
    - How do you think he came to terms with that?
    - What effect would his enlisting have had on his family?

  8. Reader 2: My name is Norman Demuth. Before I joined the army, I was a musician and composer. In 1916, I was seriously wounded and discharged from the army. I was given many white feathers by young women who obviously saw me as a coward. Little did they know. One night, coming home on a bus, I was given yet another white feather. This time, I decided to be rude. Thanking the woman, I said, ‘I wanted one of those,’ and used it to clean my pipe. Handing it back, I said, ‘You know, we didn’t get these in the trenches.’

    Ask the following questions, leaving time for thought or for answers to be given as appropriate.

    - What did the giver of the white feather assume about Norman?
    - Why do you think Norman had never mentioned being a soldier?
    - How do you think the other passengers on the bus might have reacted?

  9. Reader 3: My name is George Samson. I am 26 and fought as a seaman at Gallipoli. When I was back home and on my way to a ceremony, a young woman came up to me and pinned a white feather to my lapel. In fact, I was on my way to receive the Victoria Cross at the time, awarded to me for keeping up the spirits of many wounded soldiers while we were under heavy fire. I myself had suffered serious injuries. It just didn’t seem worth telling her though.

    Ask the following questions, leaving time for thought or for answers to be given as appropriate.

    - What did the giver of the white feather assume about George?
    - What qualities had George displayed during the war?
    - Why do you think he didn’t tell the young woman where he was going?

Time for reflection

In each of these stories, incorrect assumptions were made about the people concerned. The women’s judgment was based wholly upon the appearance of the men. They did not take the time to research or listen or show any emotional understanding. In reality, many of the men who joined up died.

All of us are guilty of making assumptions about other people. Let’s think about a few questions.

Has anyone made a wrong assumption about you? How did you feel?

Pause to allow time for reflection.

Have you ever made a wrong assumption about someone? How do you think they felt?

Pause to allow time for reflection.

Let’s be people who take the time to listen to others, give people a second chance and look for the best in others rather than assuming the worst.

In school, let’s aim to think the best about those around us.

Dear God,
Please forgive us when we judge, criticize and even ostracize others.
Please help us to listen to others.
Please help us to learn to respect the opinions of others.
Please help us not to jump to conclusions, but to look for good in everyone we meet.
May we not make incorrect assumptions, but get to know people and who they really are.

Publication date: November 2018   (Vol.20 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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