About Howard Marten
Howard Marten was the son of a London shopkeeper and became a pacifist at an early age. As a teenager, he campaigned against the Boer War, making himself unpopular at school. His father was a Quaker and his mother a Congregationalist. Howard became an active Quaker and, not long after leaving school, found work as a bank clerk in Piccadilly.
Attacked in the press
As a peace activist, Howard was involved in several groups campaigning against the war. Anti-war organisations included the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Union for Democratic Control. Perhaps the most prominent was the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF), set up to resist conscription but, in effect, also to oppose the war.
Howard became chairman of the Harrow branch of the NCF. He later looked back on those campaigning days.
My family and friends were quite sympathetic. There was no question about that. You see, my father being a Quaker, my mother very sympathetic towards it, I had no difficulty on that score, and most of my personal friends felt the same. I only had one friend who was in the army and lost a brother in the war and who was for a time inclined to be stand-offish about the whole thing, although in later years we renewed our friendship on a very friendly footing.
The co-ordinating body at that time was known as the No-Conscription Fellowship. The two leading spirits in that were Fenner Brockway and another man, Clifford Allen. They weren't the only ones by a long way but they were the most well-known. But then it was organised into groups - branches.
There was a branch at Harrow. You see, you felt the necessity of keeping in touch with people of like mind to watch the whole situation. It was just as well we did, because it did keep a public eye on what was going on. I was a member of the Harrow branch. In fact I was chairman of the Harrow branch.
We felt we must band together to watch the acts of Parliament; to keep in touch with the press attitude. You see, we'd got to deal with a very hostile press at that time, and the thing was to keep in touch with the press position and if necessary to arrange for suitable reports and replies to be made through the columns of the press - to attacks, or speeches on the subject.
The No-Conscription Fellowship organised a bureau that co-ordinated all these press attacks and replies and published periodical reports on what was going on. And one of the features of the various branches was to keep local members in touch with the attitudes of local people to the pacifist views. It was very poorly understood by people at large. They didn't know much about pacifists at that time.
Today, campaign groups highlight misleading or inadequate media coverage of events. It’s all too easy to believe everything we see or read in the news. How do you find out whether you understand all sides of a story or debate? Does the internet make things easier or more complicated?
Howard had arrived in France with sixteen other COs, all of them knowing that they faced the death penalty if they disobeyed orders while deemed to be on “active service”. After imprisonment and various punishments, four alleged ringleaders were singled out and court-martialled. Howard was one of them.
Imprisoned in Harwich Redoubt, Howard and the other COs decided to refuse work of a “military character” but agreed to cleaning and catering. In another edited extract from Howard's writings, he describes life as a prisoner at Harwich – and how it was cut short.
Howard was now deemed to be in the army. He was taken to an army barracks where he was held in the guard room.
On the introduction of conscription Howard Marten sought exemption as a conscientious objector. He went before a local tribunal to argue his case.
On 28 December 1915, the Cabinet agreed to introduce conscription for unmarried men aged 18–40. Howard was 31 and not married. He knew his opposition to war was about to become extremely personal, but this was still for him part of a wider struggle and a bigger faith.
As 1915 wore on, the casualties mounted, the number of volunteers dropped and pressure to introduce conscription intensified. Howard Marten knew that conscription would affect him personally. He later talked about his life in London as the war progressed.
While Laurence was growing more sympathetic to the armed forces, bank clerk Howard Marten was campaigning fervently against the war. Faced with the possibility of conscription, he was one of thousands of people to join the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF). He later talked about the people he found in the group–including those not from the peace movement, but from the police.
Poetry played an important part in Howard's life. He wrote a good many poems throughout the war years, neatly written down in a carefully preserved notebook. Early on in the war, he wrote a poem about the Quaker notion of the “inner light”, which played such an important part in his pacifism.
In this week's extract from Howard's later conversations about the war, he links both principle and personality in describing the formation of his views.
Howard's campaigning against the war is a reminder that pacifism is not passive. Indeed, it often leads to conflict.