It was in the year of 1895, activation of the Royal North Surrey Regiment to join the army of Sir Herbert Kitchener in the Mahdist War against the forces of The Khalifa - John Laurie. He had been forced into an army career by family tradition with concerns he could be a coward in battle, Lieutenant Harry Faversham - John Clements resigns his commission on the eve of its departure. Three of his best friends and fellow officers, Captain John Durrance - Ralph Richardson, Lieutenants Burroughs - Donald Gray and Willoughby - Jack Allen, saddened by his action resulting in each sending him a white feather attached to a calling card. His fiancée, Ethne Burroughs - June Duprez, stays silent, so he demands a fourth from her. She refuses, so he gets one from her fan. He then acknowledges he did act like a coward and seeks redemption. He departs for Egypt. He then becomes a mute Sangali native, with the help of Dr. Harraz - Henry Oscar, to blend in as he cannot speak the local languages.
During the army's advancement, Durrance is ordered to take his company into the desert to distract the Khalifa's army away from the Nile so that Kitchener's army can sail past. Durrance is blinded by sunstroke, and the company is overrun. Thought to be dead on the battlefield, and with Burroughs and Willoughby captured, the disguised Faversham takes the delirious Durrance across the desert and down the Nile to safety. He is caught putting the white feather and card into Durrance's wallet, Faversham is caught by a military detail and mistaken for a robber. He is placed in a convict gang and soon escapes.
One half year later the blind Durrance has returned to England and Ethne agrees to marry him. At dinner with Ethne, her father, and Dr. Sutton, as Durrance is relating the tale of his rescue, pulls out a keepsake letter from Ethne. A white feather and his card drop out, revealing to the others that his rescuer was Harry Faversham. He is unaware of their seeing the feather and card.
Burroughs and Willoughby are incarcerated into the dungeon of Omdurman. Still playing the addled Sangali, Faversham surreptitiously gives them hope of escape and slips them a metal file, but arouses the suspicions of the guards. He is flogged and imprisoned with the others. He reveals his identity to his friends and organizes an escape during the Kitchener's attack. Faversham leads the other prisoners in overpowering their guards and seizing the Khalifa's arsenal, where they hold until the arrival of Kitchener's forces.
Durrance learns of Faversham's deeds from a newspaper account and realizes it was Harry who saved him. He sends a letter to Ethne, releasing her from their engagement on the false pretext of going to Germany for a prolonged course of treatment to restore his eyesight.
It was Harry at a dinner with his friends and Ethne, where General Burroughs - C. Aubrey Smith, Ethne's father, acknowledges that Harry has given back their feather, except ex-fiancé Ethne. Faversham makes her take back her white feather and interrupts the general in the midst of his favorite war story about the Battle of Balaclava which the general complains that he will never be able to tell that story again. -Martin Snytsheuvel