#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.

Refusing any orders

Monday 7 March 2016
Howard Marten

In last week's entry, we saw Howard arrested. He had refused to report to the army after being ordered to join the Non-Combatant Corps (NCC). He was now deemed to be in the army and thus could be forcibly taken to an army barracks, where prisoners – including conscientious objectors, deserters and others – were generally held in the guard room.

Howard's description of events continues from where we left it last week.

Coat of arms for conscientious objectors with description

A tongue-in-cheek ‘Coat of arms for conscientious objectors’, designed by imprisoned COs. Used by kind permission of the Peace Pledge Union. 

Eventually our escort arrived and in the charge of a corporal and six privates we were marched off to the railway station from whence we were taken to Mill Hill Barracks, arriving too late in the afternoon to be brought before the Commanding Officer.

We were lodged in the guard room, where having been served with some tea and bread and margarine, we endeavoured to obtain some sort of rest, which the boisterous conversation of the other prisoners, coupled with the hardness of bed boards, rendered rather difficult. Dawn came at last after a long and disturbed night and at an early hour we were permitted to wash in the adjacent yard where we met another CO named Adam Priestley.

After breakfast, consisting of bread, sausage (the basis of which it was difficult to determine) and tea, we awaited the summons to appear before the Commanding Officer. Taken to a large office, we became the objects of the disdainful scrutiny of the clerks present. We were asked to sign various army documents, which we refused to do, and on being brought before the Commanding Officer, each expressed his determination to refuse to obey any military orders or to recognise any claim of the military authorities upon us.

Each of us was ordered to undergo seven days' detention. We were also informed that the five who had, by the tribunals, been awarded non-combatant service would be sent to join the NCC at Landguard Camp, Felixstowe. 

We were conducted to the Quartermaster's Store and handed military clothing and kit, which we were told to take back to the respective cells. On arrival at the cells each of us was ordered by a non-commissioned officer to take off our own clothing and don khaki. I protested to the NCO and after changing the underclothing allowed him, without resistance, to dress me in the tunic and putties.

The remainder of that day and following night were spent in the cells, in solitary confinement, but early in the afternoon of the next day we were told that an escort was in readiness to take us to Felixstowe. We were ordered to pick up our kit bags but some of us denied any obligation to do this, repudiating the idea of ownership.

After much exposition and angry protests from a group of some twenty to thirty NCOs (venerable warriors who, I suspect, were brought upon the scene to inspire us with a sufficient measure of awe) the kit bags were tied round our necks and we were hustled along to Mill Hill station.

From apparent hostility, the attitude of our escort, consisting of three elderly NCOs, gradually changed to one of open friendliness. A quiet demeanour and regard for courtesy had not failed to make an impression.

During the journey I received an admission from one of the escort that if he had previously realised the sincerity of our views he would have shown us more consideration, confidentially informing me that he had a good pot of tea brewing that morning and expressing his regret that he had not shared it with us. One could not but be touched by these simple words and acts of kindness. 

Was Howard right to take the stand that he did? There were others who did not object to wearing uniform or signing papers, seeing these as different from agreeing to fight. But some went further than Howard: Norman Gaudie from Newcastle actively resisted the soldiers trying to put the uniform on him, while Harry Stanton from Luton refused to undergo the medical test and had to be measured while being forcibly held standing up.

How do you choose when to co-operate and when to resist on matters of principle?

Copyright: 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. 

Your Thoughts

Submitted by Janet Lees on
Thanks for publishing these words, as relevant to day as one hundred years ago. We too are following the stories of our COs @silcoateschapel, who were Congregationalists, like Howard's mother.

Submitted by Karma Sherab Gyamtso on
My hat is of to these men. I am a former Royal Navy man that changed to being a buddhist in 1981 whilst serving. There experiences still linger in modern times, at least in the 80's with attitudes to "free men" with a heart and mind of their own. Brave men indeed of their day.
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

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

A cartoon of a Quaker avoiding a recruiting sergeant by sneaking into a meeting house
Monday 7 March 2016

Quaker opposition to war had led to the Religious Society of Friends being attacked in the press ever since the war began. The attacks intensified once conscription was introduced.

Mobile phone on old-style newspaper
Monday 7 March 2016

Marjorie Gaudie reflects on the experiences of her father-in-law, Norman Gaudie, during WWI and of her husband, Martin Gaudie, during National Service.

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