#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.

How far will we go?

Friday 6 November 2015
Howard Marten

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.

I did an immense amount of walking. With a cousin of mine. We tramped London because pocket-money wasn't readily available in those days, and we'd start say on the Saturday afternoon, because when we first went to business, there was no Saturday leave. We closed at one o'clock on a Saturday and you didn't get away from business until two in the afternoon.

But when it was available, in summer, I'd start tramping out about three o'clock, on a Saturday, and we'd start right out, either in the direction of Uxbridge, along the Uxbridge Road, or in the other direction along the Edgware Road.

I'd always had it at the back of my mind, without any real knowledge, that the continental system of conscription might quite readily, at some time or other, arise here. So that one's mind then was attuned to the idea, if it did happen, you didn't quite know when, where or how or why, but if it did it would affect you personally.

It was a long time before personal involvement was indicated. That was only as the First World War developed.

The shortage of manpower rather indicated that there would be, at some time or other, a measure of conscription, and though I never had two minds about my personal position in the event of conscription, we did have a limited number of friends and contacts of mine who were of similar views and we had to face, even at that stage, how far our views were consistent with an extreme attitude, that is, were we prepared to adopt a pacifist position even to the point of being shot?

We little realised at the time that it was going to actually come to that. And I think that was the point at which we had to be quite definite in our own minds that we were prepared to go to that extreme length in upholding our own personal views.

Strangely enough, the question of winning or losing the war didn't enter into it as far as I was concerned. You got so obsessed with the first question of personal responsibility that the question of winning or losing the war was neither here nor there. It's a strange thing. It probably was that we were so wrapped up in the main issue. You couldn't have carried on with a sort of dual purpose.

Of the five people featured in the White feather diaries, Howard seems to be the most certain. It is one thing to believe in the principle that it is better to die than to go against your conscience; it is quite another to continue to hold to this view when your life may be forfeited for it.  

Is this level of certainty helpful or dangerous? Or both?

This is an edited extract of an interview given by Howard Marten in 1974 and stored at the Imperial War Museum. Used by kind permission of the Imperial War Museum.

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.

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.

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

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

Howard was willing to die rather than to fight. Some anti-war activists, like Howard, opposed war in all circumstances. Others believed that some wars could be justified, or that it was acceptable to use violence in revolution.

One whose feelings changed over time was George Lansbury, who edited an anti-war newspaper called The Herald throughout the war. On 15 May 1915 George explained his position in an article in The Herald.

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