#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.

Bread and water

Monday 14 March 2016
Howard Marten

After his imprisonment at Mill Hill Barracks, Howard had been taken to Felixstowe to join the Non-Combatant Corps to which he was deemed to belong. The tribunal had ordered him to join the NCC in recognition of his conscientious objection, but Howard objected to joining any army unit at all. This is an abridged version of his memories of Felixstowe.

We arrived at Felixstowe late in the evening and after bidding adieu to our escort, were immediately placed in the guard room, where we found two other occupants, one a CO from Luton and the other a youthful member of His Majesty's Forces, charged with desertion. Among soldiers and COs alike he was known by the nickname of “King Cole”. Poor King Cole, what fate ultimately befell you? I wonder whether the blood-stained trenches claimed you as another victim.

At this time we were still serving the seven days' detention imposed upon us at Mill Hill. On the Wednesday, April 26th, our sentence of seven days' detention having terminated, Barritt and I were ordered to parade.

After explaining to the officer in charge that we were not prepared to drill, we were returned once more to the guard room. On the following morning several of us were charged with various “misdemeanours” and each sentenced to 28 days' detention which would be served at the Harwich Circular Redoubt.

At the Harwich Redoubt, there were upwards of a dozen COs. On the evening of our arrival we refused to drill and five of us then had our hands secured in irons behind our backs, being made to stand with our faces to the wall of the circular building which enclosed a medium-sized courtyard used for drilling purposes.

We were standing at distances of between four and five yards apart and, as a friendly cat came along and persistently rubbed itself against our legs in turn I overheard the companion on my right remark in a low tone, “Why, pussy, you're the only Christian in this place”.

A sergeant of enormous girth with a voice to match warned us that a refusal to drill on the following morning would entail dire consequences to ourselves.

Next day, the same thing happened and we were ordered three days’ cells with bread and water.

The cell in which I found myself was a long triangular room. The walls were of stone, while the concrete floor, without bed boards, made the place cold at night and even during the daytime. There was no stool or chair, while except at night, my overcoat and blankets were taken outside. The best device I could adopt was to take off my tunic and sit on it. I was permitted to have my Bible and read and re-read the Gospel of John and several of the epistles.

The unusual length of the cell adapted it for imaginary walks and often I paced up and down with my eyes closed, picturing a rural landscape or a busy highway. Three times daily the cook-house orderly visited me with my allowance of biscuit and water, which amounted to about eight biscuits a day and three changes of water. I drank but sparingly, only moistening my lips from time to time. I got no exercise, only being allowed outside for a few minutes each morning to wash.

During our first Sunday at Harwich, three of us were released before the midday meal and in the afternoon we were given permission to hold a Friends' Meeting in one of the dormitories. We must have presented a quaint spectacle, arrayed in our khaki uniforms, and seated in a circle on kit bags, mattresses and overcoats. Such times of worship and fellowship were occasions of deep spiritual experience. 

What stands out for you in this passage? Howard's tactics for coping with the solitary confinement are particularly striking – rereading John's Gospel and going on imaginary walks. What might you do in such circumstances?

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.

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.

Front page of newspaper 1916 Fellowship of fainthearts
Monday 29 February 2016

On the introduction of conscription Howard Marten sought exemption as a conscientious objector. He went before a local tribunal to argue his case.

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

CO in prison going mad
Monday 14 March 2016

A conscientious objector describes how he was treated by a medical officer as a lunatic after participating in protests in Wandsworth Prison.

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