#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.

Not easy to laugh

Monday 21 March 2016
Howard Marten

Imprisoned in Harwich Redoubt, Howard and the other COs refused to drill but were expected to work. When they found that the work consisted of carrying stones to build a road through the camp, they refused to carry on, as the work would help the war.

After consultation, they decided to refuse work of a “military character” but to agree 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.

After careful thought and consultation it was felt that we might agree to do purely domestic work in the Redoubt but that we must refuse to do any drill or outside work. Accordingly, we scrubbed and scoured the rooms of the Redoubt incessantly and were not daunted at carting out the refuse or carrying in the coal, but our spirits were well nigh near rebellion when we were asked, with threats and abuse, to go down on our knees and scrub the stone flags surrounding the courtyard, a job for which mop and pail would have been quite adequate. Pieces of sacking or mats on which to kneel were denied us with lurid language and thus, in no cheerful mood, we pegged away at this senseless work.

Perhaps I can best describe our life at Harwich by giving a very brief account of the events of a typical day.

At six, the twenty or thirty men occupying a sleeping room would be roused by the knocking of a sergeant or corporal at the door. We would tumble out, roll up our blankets and turn over the straw mattress, while at six-thirty a shrill blast on a whistle brought all the men into the courtyard. Prisoners were expected to rush out “on the double”, although in our case the rule usually ended in expectation.

The men were then sent off to do a variety of odd jobs. At seven o'clock another blast on the whistle summoned us to breakfast and forming up in single file outside the door, we then passed in one by one, receiving our portion of bread, always very stale and occasionally mouldy, and after all were seated, a canteen of thin tea, without milk or sugar, was served out to each man.

The remainder of the morning, for us, was spent in more “domestic” work while just before midday there would be inspections by the visiting officer and doctor.

At twelve o'clock dinner was served, consisting of a piece of bread, about a pint of thin broth containing a few stray beans and possibly a piece of meat or bone, also one large potato, cooked in its own jacket, floating in the midst of the “stew” like a miniature hippopotamus. The content of this stew was humorously described by one of our number as consisting of a “pea being chased by a haricot bean”.

The afternoon was generally spent in cleaning up the courtyard and other similar work, while the tea which was served between five and six o'clock was a repetition in character of the first meal of the day. It was impossible to grow fat upon the diet and not always easy to laugh over it.

News of us did, however, reach the world outside and the circumstances of our detention were brought to the notice of the House of Commons. An officer of high rank visited and interviewed us regarding our position. One or two of us overheard a sergeant telling the officer that “they are doing their work”, a very strained interpretation of our performance of domestic duties.

On the following day, all the COs were assembled together after the midday meal and told to be ready with their belongings for an immediate return to Felixstowe, in spite of the fact that none of the sentences passed upon us had been completed.

Howard and the others were returned to Felixstowe so that they could be sent from there to France, in the same way as Bert and his comrades at Richmond. As they theoretically belonged to the army, in France they would be regarded as being on “active service” and could be shot if they refused to obey orders.

It was clearly difficult for Howard and his comrades to decide what work they should agree to do at Harwich. How did they determine what work was of a “military character”? Were they right to agree to domestic work but not to carrying stones?

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.

Image: Pro-war cartoons portrayed both Germans and conscientious objectors through negative stereotypes. This is one of several cartoons signed by “A.E.”. There have been many attempts by authors and researchers to trace the copyright-holder of “A.E.”. If you believe you own the copyright for this image, we will be very pleased if you contact us. 

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.

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 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

Mobile phone on old-style newspaper
Monday 21 March 2016

In the month of March people around the world will be Flying Kites Not Drones in solidarity with victims of drone warfare. But why focus on this particular weapon? Ellis Brooks, Peace Education and Engagement Coordinator for Quakers in Britain, reflects on the myth of a ‘good weapon’.

CO and a German
Monday 21 March 2016

The government faced resistance on other fronts. Parliament passed the Munitions Act, restricting industrial action in war-related industries. This did not stop workers in radical areas, such as the Clyde and South Wales, from going on strike illegally. 

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