Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Film, Museum, Review, World War One

White Feathers & Remembrance: Stories From The Great War Part 2

Film poster for Time Bleeds (2013).  Short docudrama by Kent-based Viola Films. Directed by Samuel Supple and Produced by Debra McGee. Image courtesy of Viola Films.
Film poster for Time Bleeds (2013). World War One inspired docudrama short by Kent-based Viola Films. Directed by Samuel Supple and Produced by Debra McGee. Image courtesy of Viola Films.

Time Bleeds (2013) – Viola Films

Last year, award-winning Kent-based production company, Viola Films, made a fifteen minute, World War One inspired docudrama, Time Bleeds. Directed by Samuel Supple and produced by Debra McGeeTime Bleeds asks the question ‘What happens if we forget?’, an homage to the phrase of remembrance, ‘Lest we forget’.  Other collaborators involved in the project included University of the Creative Arts Canterbury and Folkestone-based artist Matt Rowe.

Still from Time Bleeds
Folkestone beach scene from Time Bleeds (2013). Image courtesy of Viola Films.

Shot on location in Folkestone, this experimental production sought to reconnect and engage local people with their town’s World War One heritage. The community cast for Time Bleeds was found through a series of method-acting workshops led by Gravesend actress Candis Nergaard. A key concept explored in both the creative development stage of Time Bleeds and subsequent filming, was the premise of what would happen if 1914 Folkestone became Folkestone in 2013, i.e if time bled.

      • Hear director Samuel Supple discuss Time Bleeds in an interview with Dominic King at BBC Radio Kent:

Samuel adopted a self-reflexive, guerrilla style approach to making Time Bleeds. The final edit is a montage of modern and period sequences featuring various story strands, interspersed with footage from Candis Nergaard’s workshops.

One of the film's young actors in rehearsal.
One of the film’s young actors in rehearsal. Time Bleeds (2013). Image courtesy of Viola Films.
Costume fitting for
Costume fitting for Time Bleeds (2013). Image courtesy of Viola Films.

The dramatic vignettes include a modern, musical nod to the infamous White Feather campaign and a farewell scene at a railway station between a mother and her young son who is leaving to join his regiment in 1914.

A 16 year old boy
A 16 year old boy bids farewell to his mother at the railway station. Time Bleeds (2013). Image courtesy of Viola Films.

In one particularly harrowing scene, a teenage boy faces a firing squad made-up of his contemporaries. They must execute their comrade following his conviction for cowardice.

A young boy is prepared to face the firing squad.
A young boy is prepared for his execution. Time Bleeds (2013). Image courtesy of Viola Films.

Many of the stories in Time Bleeds are inspired by real-life events from World War One but have been given a fictional twist to suit the medium. In the final result we see these various story strands brought together in order to create a cohesive, powerful and poignant example of community film-making at its very best.

The firing squad scene.
Shot for cowardice, scene from Time Bleeds (2013). Image courtesy of Viola Films.

The final test of sincerity is the willingness to face consequences, and the supreme test the perseverance to death. We hope that people will now be satisfied that the conscientious objector may at least be what he professes to be, and is not necessarily a mere coward masquerading under fine pretence.
(27th June, 1916, Manchester Guardian)

The notorious and controversial White Feather Campaign, featured in Time Bleeds, was the brainchild of conscriptionist Admiral Charles Cooper Penrose-Fitzgerald (1841-1921). On 30th August, 1914 he galvanized into action thirty women from the Folkestone, many of whom were holidaying in the area, to hand out white feathers to men not in uniform:

The purpose of this gesture was to shame “every young ‘slacker’ found loafing about the Leas” and to remind those “deaf or indifferent to their country’s need” that “British soldiers are fighting and dying across the channel.” Fitzgerald’s estimation of the power of these women was enormous. He warned the men of Folkestone that “there is a danger awaiting them far more terrible than anything they can meet in battle,” for if they were found “idling and loafing tomorrow” they would be publicly humiliated by a lady with a white feather.

(Gullace, N.F., (Apr.,1997), ‘White Feathers and Wounded Men: Female Patriotism and the Memory of the Great War’, The Journal of British Studies, Vol. 36, No.2, pp.178-206, Published by The University of Chicago Press. Extract from p.178)

Unfortunately, this fervent show of female patriotism by the women of Folkestone, resulted in some rather unpleasant misunderstandings. Men at home on leave, who had simply changed into their civvies and popped into town for a pint, were accosted by Fitzgerald’s band of overzealous women. Ignorance by these women of the men’s circumstances was commonplace.

It was not too long before white feathers, the symbol of cowardice, were handed out all over the country. Men who were invalided out from service as well as those in either reserved occupations or who had simply been found unfit for military duty, were subjected to a succession of humiliating encounters. These ‘White Feather’ women became increasingly unpopular. Eventually, the government responded by allowing those who were officially sanctioned as unfit for service, to wear a badge which read ‘King and Country’. The White Feather women were warned not to approach men bearing this insignia.

Following the introduction of conscription in 1916, very few men were subsequently classified as ‘unfit’ for duty. Previous conditions, that would have precluded a man from enlisting, such as short-sightedness, were now overlooked. Basic fitness was all that was required and if they were lucky, they would manage to successfully dodge the shells and bullets raining down on them in the trenches.  Quality was sacrificed for quantity as the conflict escalated.

One hundred years have now passed since World War One began. The last living veteran of the conflict died in 2012, a British citizen, Florence Green, who served in the Women’s Royal Air Force. In these next four years of Centenary events, it is important that the experiences of those impacted by the conflict are never forgotten. It is today’s younger generation to whom we must call upon most to keep these stories alive and help retell them to the next generation.

WW1 exhibit at Hurst Castle, Hampshire. Top left is the iconic WW1 propaganda poster, aimed at women to put pressure on their husbands and boyfriends to enlist.
World War One exhibit at Hurst Castle, Hampshire. Top left is the iconic World War One propaganda poster, aimed at women to put pressure on their husbands and boyfriends to enlist. Conscription did not come into force until 1916 which meant that propaganda campaigns such as, ‘Women of Britain Say Go!’, became a potent symbol of patriotic fervour. The approach of The White Feather campaign was different, one of direct action by the women themselves, targeting men perceived to be shirking their moral duties. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.

Later on this year, Viola Films will be running a series of free master-classes for residents in Medway and Swale to encourage them to work together in producing films inspired by World War One and the impact it had on the local area. The project is collectively known as, ‘For the Fallen’, and Viola Films will run it in conjunction with Blue Town Heritage Centre (BTHC), Sheerness.

Participants will explore the question ‘Why commemorate the First World War?’. Master-classes will be held at the Royal Engineers Museum, Gillingham (5th and 12th April) and the BTHC (29th March). The final films will be screened at an awards ceremony and special gala event. ‘For the Fallen’ will also include the development of a website and an app, thus offering ongoing opportunities for learning and participation. This project has been made possible thanks to a grant of £9,400 being awarded to The Royal Engineer’s Museum through the Heritage Lottery Fund’s First World War: Then and Now programme. ‘For the Fallen’ has also benefited from a £4,790 grant from Creative People and Places Swale and Medway. To read the press release in full, click here.

  • If you want to take part in the free master-classes, you need to fill in a short application form, which can be found here. The application form needs to be completed and returned via e-mail or post by Monday 10th March 2014. Please return all forms to Rebecca Gazey on or post them to the Museum’s address: Royal Engineers Museum, Prince Arthur Road, Gillingham, Kent, ME4 4UG.
One of the contemporary flourishes in Time Bleeds. A modern take on the numerous propaganda posters issued during World War One.
One of a number of contemporary flourishes in Time Bleeds (2013). This design is by Simon Pruciak and Matt Rowe. A modern take on the numerous propaganda posters issued during World War One encouraging young men to enlist.  Image courtesy of Viola Films.