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.
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.
I think it was more than just an objection to fighting. It was an objection to having one's labour directed by an authority. We didn't feel that anyone had the right to direct one's personal life in that way; and I think that was as behind it as an objection to fighting.
I think people got the impression that it was only that people wouldn't fight. It was something more than that: it was an objection to having one's life directed by an outside authority. Although we have to in a minor sense: in the very paying of taxes we've got to, but there's a limit to the amount of direction that we can - you get it in its most extreme form in totalitarian countries who direct every avenue of life almost.
I went first of all into very small jobs when I left school. I was hoping ultimately to get into a bank, but I was too young at the time; between fifteen and sixteen, and none of the banks would take you under sixteen; and so I had one or two mark-time jobs. One was with a naval architect, which I don't think I'd thought out the possible implications of it. He was quite a character, old Sir Edward Reed, but I only worked there for a few weeks.
Well, I was a boy of fifteen. I just took any job that came along. I don't think I'd ever thought this thing out - what he was doing. It was just a matter of filling in time after I left school. I didn't realise any of the implications of a job of that sort at that time. Very few boys know, unless they've had a pretty lengthy public-school education, they haven't the faintest idea of their likes and dislikes. You've got to have a very outstanding character to draw your own conclusions as to the work you want to do.
Then I took another job. I joined a firm of submarine cable engineers. It was a very interesting job, because at that time the submarine cable played a very great part in telecommunications. And then I had an offer of a job in a bank - it was the old Capital and Counties Bank, which was later merged with Lloyd's Bank and I remained there in their Piccadilly Branch until well into the war.
I only had one brother, who died in infancy before I was born. So I had no close relatives other than cousins, and I had no further brothers, so that I was always the only one in the family.
I used to like pretty heavy stuff: I don't think you'd call it science fiction, that phrase wasn't known, but anything in the nature of exploratory science or what we now call extra-sensory perception. Anything of that sort always appealled to me, and I think my favourite subjects were history and geography. Sports generally never appealled to me. I was much more of a lone wolf than that.
Howard's objection to being told what to do clearly affects his attitude not only to war but to the whole of life. It seems to be an emotional response as well as an ethical one. How do you feel, and what do you do, when you are ordered to obey a command you believe to be wrong?
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.
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.
For Howard, objecting to war went alongside standing up for individual liberty. During World War I, the National Council for Civil Liberties was set up to defend freedoms that the government was curtailing during wartime.