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