#whitefeather diaries
John Hoare

About John Hoare

Joseph Edward (“Ted”) Hoare was the son of a bishop. He was a prefect at Repton, an elite boarding school in Derbyshire, and belonged to the Officer Training Corps. When Ted turned 18 in 1914, he seemed to be a model of social respectability and destined for a bright future.

On the eve of the war, Ted was injured at a school camp and spent several weeks recovering over the summer. While doing so, he prayed and read about religion, politics and ethics. In the autumn Ted returned to school as a convinced Christian pacifist.

Bad for the school

Tuesday 12 August 2014
John Hoare

As we saw last week, teenager John Hoare was asked to see the headmaster when he returned to boarding school with pacifist convictions and said he wanted to resign from the Officer Training Corps (OTC). His sister Alice wrote that the headmaster, Geoffrey Fisher, treated him with “ostracism and contempt”.

John later described what happened.

The first term when I went back, having made my mind up that that I was going to resign from the school Corps, in which I was in fact the senior boy officer, it was a very difficult term, partly because of having the Oxford exam to work for and chiefly because of this difficulty about my being a pacifist, not knowing another one in the world at that time.

Repton school's headmaster and prefects , 1914-1915. The headmaster, Geoffrey Fisher, is the centre, with John on his left

Image: Repton school's headmaster and prefects , 1914-15. The headmaster, Geoffrey Fisher, is in the centre, with John on his left. Used by kind permission of John Hoare's sons, Richard and David Hoare.

One memorable remark which the new headmaster made in one of the interviews that I had had with him has stuck in my mind. He came out of his study brandishing a copy of The Times and said “You know something about Friends?” and I said “Yes, a bit.”  I had in fact read in school a life of George Fox by H.G. Wood, and I had Quaker ancestors but that was some time back. And he said, “Well, here's a letter in the Times from some leading Friends in the North in which they abandon completely their pacifist traditions.” And then he said to me, “I don't suppose there are two hundred people in the country who think as you do”, which was rather a paralysing thing to say.

I mean it was said in absolute sincerity, but it is an interesting indication because Geoffrey Fisher was a very able person. He was a very young headmaster then. Later on, twenty-two years later on when he was Bishop of Chester and I was about to get married, I met him in the street. He said “Oh, I think you were one of the loneliest people I have ever known”, which is a reflection you see on the state of public opinion at that time.

I think the situation was saved for me by the Sister at the sanatorium whom I got to know quite well the term before, accidentally rather, and although she didn't agree with me she was an extremely friendly person, used to invite me up to tea and so forth, and I owed a great deal to that fact.

I won't say I abandoned my pacifism, but I really abandoned the position which I had taken up of having nothing to do with the School Corps and so forth, under pressure I think from Geoffrey Fisher mostly and public opinion in general. I couldn't do anything myself and it was “Oh so bad for the school”, he urged upon me.

The headmaster was wrong in at least one respect: there were thousands of people campaigning against the war. But at this stage, as a young man, John was not in touch with any of them. Whatever our principles, how do we resist pressure to abandon them? Have you ever encountered a similar kind of pressure?

Your Thoughts

Submitted by Steven on
I can't imagine the sense of loneliness people in this situation must have been feeling at the time. I also can't imagine having the courage to disagree with my friends, my teachers and my country. It's not really a very apt source, but one thing that always stuck with me was a line I read in Harry Potter when I was a child: '"There are all kinds of courage," said Dumbledore, smiling. "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends".'

Submitted by Jill Gibbon on
Curiously, Geoffrey Fisher's grandson and Bert Brocklesby's granddaughter got married 75 years later in a quaker wedding.

Submitted by nikolasd on
That is interesting Jill. Did John and Bert become close friends and did that lead the families to become close?

Submitted by Jill on
Tom and I met quite by chance many years after these events. Tom was G.Fisher's grandson, and I'm Bert's granddaughter. As far as I know our grandfathers' never met. They represented very different views in the war but, happily, Tom and I share an antiwar stance.

Submitted by Nick Edwards on
People like John Hoare, acting against overwhelming public opinion at a time when Gandhi was unheard of in Britain, were true heralds of the new consciousness. In far less testing times, I too had a slightly similar experience aged 15. There was a compulsory cadet corps at the direct grant grammar school I attended in the 1970s. I was happy enough to march about like an idiot and wear the uniform (especially as they didn't make us cut our hair!) but I refused to do the arms training. This stance also saw my case go as far as the headmaster, who eventually accepted my arguments and chose not to expel me. The reflections in these web pages should encourage us how far humanity has come in a hundred years. We are at the very tipping point where the majority believe that war and violence in general is no longer acceptable as a means of conflict resolution. Only a little more patience and loving energy is required for war to be firmly confined to history.

Submitted by LollyO on
School masters had a lot of power and influence over their students in those days, and could make someone like John quite miserable. Interestingly, John assessed himself as not having abandoned his sense of pacifism, but instead saw himself stepping back from his decision to abandon the school corps altogether. Looks like he simply kept his pacifism to himself after this. What a lonely situation for him, and yet he didn't abandon his views, which says much about John's commitment to pacifism, despite the pressure put upon him.

Submitted by RobinB on
Reflecting on the school cadet corps. We must not forget that there is a strong will in government to form Combined Cadet Forces in all our schools. This is not just an antiquated Tory enterprise, Gordon Brown was also keen on this idea. This is why we must all be on our guard about the militarism that government, military and others are trying to revive.

Submitted by nikolasd on
Thanks RobinB - you may have seen our report at http://www.quaker.org.uk/militarism on the new tide of militarism.
Conscientious objectors undertaking work at Dartmoor
Friday 1 April 2016

Conscientious objectors were offered the chance of doing “alternative work of national importance” under the Home Office scheme. John had for a long time been offering to do such work, although others did not agree. Here is John's description of his move from prison to alternative work.

hands outside a prison window
Friday 25 March 2016

Last week we saw John sentenced to six months’ hard labour. He began the sentence at Wormwood Scrubs. He was in the prison for only three weeks. He wrote a description of life there shortly afterwards. 

Satirical pencil drawing of CO being inspected by a prison doctor
Friday 18 March 2016

After John's court-martial he had to wait several days for the verdict and the sentence. Here are extracts from his diary at the time.

COs engaged in alternative work
Friday 11 March 2016

John was conscripted later the year than Howard or Bert. By this time the Home Office had come up with a scheme to offer some COs the option of doing alternative work of “national importance”. Pacifists were split over whether to accept it. 

The CO in prison drawings
Friday 4 March 2016

John was ordered to join the Non-Combatant Corps in 1916. Upon refusal he was imprisoned in Pentonville to await a court martial. John wrote in his diary about his first few days in prison.

Front cover of The Tribunal
Tuesday 10 November 2015

As time went on, John became less isolated and more involved with the anti-war movement. Motivations for opposing the war differed; some held religious convictions while others opposed it on political or humanitarian grounds, others made no distinctions.

The ‘absolutists’ were determined not to accept any work ordered by the state; others would consider alternative work – though there were further differences over what sort of work they would accept. John was later asked about divisions in the movement. This was his reply.

Women's peace conference
Tuesday 3 November 2015

For 19-year-old John Hoare, Oxford University was less lonely than boarding school – but only just. He was still struggling to find others who shared his views. The threat of conscription was round the corner and criticism of the war was suppressed. John discovered help in the form of the No-Conscription Fellowship and amongst Quakers (also known as Friends). He later looked back on this discovery. 

Cartoon of a Quaker avoiding enlistment
Tuesday 27 October 2015

John Hoare found himself isolated at boarding school after professing his abhorrence of killing at the outbreak of war. As he discovered others who shared his views, among them many Quakers, he began to feel less isolated.

Across the country, however, the political landscape was hardening. Pressure to introduce conscription intensified. During 1915 the ‘Derby Scheme’ began, registering men who said they were willing to fight if the call came. John later recalled the challenges he faced at the time.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

As we have seen, John's initial determination to resign from the Officer Training Corps weakened under pressure from the headmaster and public opinion. He was later asked why he had joined the Corps in the first place.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

John's last year at boarding school in Repton was a time of “terrible isolation” due to his pacifist convictions. John said that one of the influences that had pushed him towards pacifism was the writings of the former headmaster, the theologian William Temple.

Tuesday 5 August

John Hoare was 18 years old and still at school when the war came. Nine years younger than Bert Brocklesby, he was from a very different background...

Related Materials

The youngest person known to have died fighting in the British army in World War I was 14.

John's headmaster was keen to talk of Quakers who had abandoned their pacifism. In reality, most Quakers opposed the war, although they differed in what this meant in practice.

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