#whitefeather diaries
Howard Marten

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.

Behaving myself

Monday 29 February 2016
Howard Marten

At the beginning of 1916, Parliament passed the Military Service Act, introducing conscription for men aged 18–40. The Act provided four grounds for exemption: illness or infirmity, financial hardship, employment in work of national importance, and conscientious objection. Those who sought exemption on any grounds had to go before a local tribunal to argue their case.

Howard Marten, a 31-year-old bank clerk from London, travelled to his local tribunal in March, accompanied by his friend and fellow Quaker Cornelius Barritt. They were both pacifists with a conscientious objection to joining the armed forces. Howard later described his experience.

We were kept waiting until late in the afternoon, when all the other cases had been disposed of, and then Barritt's case was heard, my own following immediately. The tribunal then considered both cases together and gave their decision “exemption from combatant service only” in spite of our earlier protestations that we were not prepared to undertake any form of work under military control.

The dialogue during the hearing of both applications was mainly sustained by the chairman, a local Anglican clergyman, and our two selves. The chairman expressed his opinion that “war was due to the evil tendency in man”, but we differed in opinion as to whether this “evil tendency” was surmountable.

Both Barritt and I exercised our right to appeal to the Appeal Tribunal. After a brief and unsympathetic hearing, the decision of the Local Tribunal was upheld and the appeal dismissed. Further appeal to the Central Tribunal was denied to us and I was thus rendered liable to be called up for service in the Non-Combatant Corps at an early date.

I received a notice to report at the Harrow Recruiting Office on 14th April; but I had already informed the Officer in Command that I was not prepared to undertake any military duties and must ignore the notice.

I was daily expecting a visit from the police and on Saturday April 15th when I arrived home in the evening, after spending the day with three friends, also awaiting arrest (we had been engaged in endeavouring to cut the grass and tidy up the burial ground of the Friends' Meeting House at Uxbridge) I found that the local police had been making enquiries for me and also for Corney Barritt.

On the following morning we were each interviewed by a constable; but were permitted to remain at liberty until the Tuesday morning when we were to be formally arrested. Sunday I spent quietly in the home circle, after a helpful and inspiring Meeting at Harrow with local Friends in the morning.

On the Tuesday morning, with Corney Barritt, I was arrested at Pinner and, accompanied by a few near relatives, taken to the picturesque police station, which in summer time nestles amid a profusion of roses.

We were driven to the court house at Wealdstone and there told to wait in a small anteroom pending the hearing of our cases. We were soon joined by three other COs. The proceedings in each case were little more than formal and I merely made a short statement pointing out the maladministration of the act by the tribunals and reaffirming my belief in the wrongness of war.

In each case a fine of two pounds was imposed and an order made out for us to be handed over to a military escort. Naturally the fine remained unpaid and we were taken into the police station, there to await the escort. A non-commissioned officer who was present remarked that “all would be well if I behaved myself properly and obeyed orders”!

An unpalatable dinner of steak and kidney pudding, for which I must confess I had little inclination, was sent in for us and then we sat and waited as minutes became merged into hours.

Howard objected not only to fighting but also to joining the army and accepting military discipline. The tribunals often ordered conscientious objectors to join the Non-Combatant Corps, an army unit designed to help the war effort without using weapons. Howard was one of thousands who refused.

There were those who respected conscientious objectors' refusal to fight but could not understand why they would object to helping the war effort at all, or to obeying military orders. What would you have done?

This is an edited extract from Howard Marten's unpublished memoirs White Feather: The Experiences of a Pacifist in France and Elsewhere, 1916–1918, stored at Leeds University Library. Used by kind permission of Howard's cousin, Charlotte Marten. 

newspaper headline of sentenced to be shot
Monday 28 March 2016

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.

An effeminate CO batting away a tough, scary looking German
Monday 21 March 2016

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.

A prison cell
Monday 14 March 2016

Howard recounts his time at Felixstowe

Coat of arms for conscientious objectors
Monday 7 March 2016

Howard was now deemed to be in the army. He was taken to an army barracks where he was held in the guard room.

Crater in no man's land
Friday 13 November 2015

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.

Letter from the Society of Friends to members of Parliament
Friday 6 November 2015

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.

Members of the No-Conscription fellowship on their way to prison
Friday 30 October 2015

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.

Thursday 28 August 2014

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.

Thursday 21 August 2014

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.

Thursday 14 August 2014

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.

Thursday 7 August 2014

Howard Marten was living above his father's shop in Wigmore Street, central London, when war broke out. A 30-year-old bank clerk, he opposed the war from the beginning.

Related Materials

Mobile phone on old-style newspaper
Monday 29 February 2016

The BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day on the centenary of the Act that brought in conscription and recognised the right to conscientious objection.

Shall Britons be conscripts? advert
Monday 29 February 2016

Peace activists made a last-ditch attempt to resist the introduction of conscription as it was being debated by Parliament. A strongly worded leaflet produced by the No-Conscription Fellowship was attacked in the press at the beginning of 1916. Here it is.


Fellow Citizens,—

The time has come to appeal to all those who value our traditional British freedom.

Latest Tweets

12th May
Taken out to the parade ground then, “The sentence of the court is to suffer death by being shot” https://t.co/mtwQVuCvB7 #WW1 #whitefeather
28th Mar
On that parade ground I felt that I was a different personality, part of something much bigger outside myself https://t.co/mtwQVuCvB7 #WW1
28th Mar
Taken out to the parade ground then, “The sentence of the court is to suffer death by being shot” https://t.co/mtwQVuCvB7 #WW1 #whitefeather
28th Mar
We were forever being threatened with the death sentence https://t.co/mtwQVuCvB7 #WW1 #whitefeather
28th Mar
Field Punishment can be a very nasty thing...tied up three nights out of four https://t.co/mtwQVuCvB7 #WW1 #whitefeather