#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.

Lone wolf

Thursday 21 August 2014
Howard Marten

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.

`Anti-war leaflet produced by the No-Conscription FellowshipI 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?

Your Thoughts

Submitted by LollyO on
So far, I have not had to obey a command I felt was wrong. However, where I live, the gun control advocates are encouraging teachers to carry guns in schools to 'protect' the students from the possibility of a gunman coming into the school (which, alas, has happened way too many times in the US). I am appalled that this could even be considered, and if I were told I would have to keep a gun in my desk, I know that I would not agree to do this.

Submitted by Elise Saxson on
After the 2003 invasion of Iraq the New York City Police Department was arresting people who dared to legally protest war! I was part of a demonstration against war profiteering outside the Carlyle Corp. in midtown. The NYPD surrounded and arrested almost 100 protesters. The NYPD also arrested many hundreds who protested war later that year at the Republican National Convention. Easily tens of thousands of Americans have refused to not protest war and been arrested for it (illegally). It makes me mistrust the entire government and all politicians and feel unsafe around police officers. I feel super unsafe with all the police and scared-looking young white army folks carrying automatic weapons all over the city. Most people in NYC are scared of the police because they are not police to protect people, except maybe the 1%, and then only if they are white.
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.

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 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

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.

Howard combined opposition to war with a rejection of the state's power over him. The two issues went together even more strongly for anti-war activists in British colonies, many of whom were also campaigning for national independence.

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