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.
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.
You found the ranks of the No-Conscription Fellowship were made up of men from every conceivable angle of life. You had all sorts of religious groups, from the Salvation Army to the Seventh Day Adventists, Church of England, Roman Catholicism; there was no limit. It was a sort of cross-section of every type.
Then you had in addition the more politically minded; the Independent Labour Party and different degrees of socialists, and the ordinary political parties.
Then a very curious group of what I used to call artistically minded. There were a lot of men who were not in any way organised or attached, but I should call them the aesthetic group: artists, musicians, all that. There were quite a considerable number of them. They had a terrific repugnance of war which could only express itself individually. You see, artists and musicians and people of that calibre are very personally minded. They're not group-minded. They're individualists to the core; so that naturally they would, almost inevitably, take a very personal attitude to that sort of thing. I'm not artistically minded at all.
I did once come across a man who was suspected of being an agent provocateur. I've no personal knowledge of that, but I was pretty sure that it was correct because he'd tried to stir up trouble, but wasn't successful. And then I learnt from–this was when I was at Dartmoor later on–from one of the ex-warders there, that he was a man who rejoined the army, and there's no doubt in my opinion–of course you can't prove these sort of things–there's no evidence to prove it–but I've no doubt in my own mind that he was there to make trouble if he could. To try and stir up strife so that the men could be accused of sedition.
You see, the great thing was we weren't people who tried to stir up trouble. We were the last people in the world to want to be violent. We shouldn't have been there if we did. Our whole attitude was an attitude of nonviolence.
In recent years there have been many revelations about the extent of British police infiltrating activist groups, including peace campaigns. It's no surprise that this also took place during World War I. The Defence of the Realm Act 1914 imposed restrictions on anti-war campaigning and a number of people were imprisoned under its terms before the war ended.
As Howard says, he and his fellow anti-war activists were committed to nonviolence. But is he right to say they did not “stir up trouble”? Do we need to distinguish between inciting violence and causing trouble for the authorities? Can you think of any nonviolent campaigns which might ‘cause trouble’ for the government today?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Howard was right to be worried about police spies in 1915. Two years later a group of anti-war campaigners were convicted of plotting to kill the Prime Minister in what most historians regard as an unfair trial. Alice Wheeldon and her family were convicted on evidence supplied by Alex Gordon and Herbert Booth, spies employed by the Ministry of Munitions who posed as peace activists.