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.
Sentenced to death
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 at a camp known as Cinder City near Boulogne, four alleged ringleaders were singled out and court-martialled. Howard was one of them.
Howard described events at Cinder City, from the first punishment after their arrival to the court martial and the sentence.
One of the first reports of Howard's death sentence. Copyright unknown.
The first punishment in Cinder City camp was stopping three days' pay, but as we refused pay under any circumstances, that amounted to nothing. Then we were given 28 days' Field Punishment.
Now Field Punishment can be a very nasty thing. In its most extreme form, a man can be tied up to a gun carriage, which isn't at all a pleasant thing. But normally he's sent to what is known as a Field Punishment Barracks, and there the prisoners are tied up for three nights out of four. They're tied up maybe on a fence, or to ropes, with their arms extended and their feet tied together, or they may be tied back to back. It varies in form. And that's done for two hours. Not exactly a pleasant experience and it happened to me.
Then we were forever being threatened with the death sentence. Over and over again we'd be marched out and read a notice: some man being sentenced to death through disobedience at the front. Whether they were true cases or not I don't know. It was all done with the idea of intimidating us.
What must have galled them was that while we were reasonably civil, we were never prepared to do things in a military way. We never saluted anybody. We never stood to attention. Well, of course, that was a frightful crime in the eyes of the military authorities.
The military authorities didn't know quite how to react. It was something quite outside their experience. And it became clear that we weren't people that could be bullied into it.
Finally, after our second court martial, we were taken out to the parade ground, where a big concourse of men was lined up in an immense square. We were taken to the side of it, and then under escort taken out one by one to the middle of the square.
I was the first. I wouldn't say I marched. I never did march. I just walked ordinarily. I did keep in step but it wasn't intentional.
I had a feeling of a sinking in the stomach, wondering what was going to turn up.
Then an officer in charge of the proceedings read out the various crimes and misdemeanours - refusing to obey a lawful command, disobedience at Boulogne and so forth.
And then, “The sentence of the court is to suffer death by being shot.”
It was very curious. On that parade ground I felt that I was a different personality. I was part of something much bigger outside myself. I was part of something that I couldn't explain. There was something mystical about it. It was very strange.
There was a pause and one thought, “Well, that's that.” And then, “Confirmed by the Commander-in-Chief”. That's double-sealed it now.
Then another long pause and, “But subsequently commuted to penal servitude for ten years”.
Howard was shipped back to England to begin his sentence in Winchester Prison. His sentence – like those of the others – had been commuted due to political pressure in Britain.
Howard was released in December 1917 after the authorities agreed to let him work with the Friends War Victims Relief Committee in France. After the war he returned to work at the bank, but “they made things as difficult as they could” for him. In his fifties, during the Second World War, he resisted attempts to force him to join the City of London Fire Guard. Howard died in 1981. He was 96.
Copyright: 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.
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.
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.
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.
Shortly before receiving his sentence, Howard managed to send a letter back home to Quakers, describing his feelings and his faith. It was published in The Friend.
Social movements start with the individual – but to achieve positive, lasting change we need to work collectively. Steve Whiting, Turning the Tide Programme Manager for Quakers in Britain, reflects on how an individual act of conscience can become a movement for change.