#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.

Something of a rebel

Thursday 7 August 2014
Howard Marten

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. Unlike Bert and John, he had long been vocal about his pacifism, having campaigned against the Boer War in his early teens.

Looking back on his early life, he reflected on his motivations.

Haward Marten towards the beginning of the warAt that time my father was a member of the Society of Friends. My father had been a Friend all his lifetime - until he married, but his wife came of a French Huguenot family, and they were Congregationalists, so that I was brought up in a Nonconformist atmosphere but not actually Quaker. Although many of my father's family were Quakers, and I went to a lot of Meetings that were held under the auspices of the Society.

I was as a boy always inclined to pacifist views. I could never side with the idea of martial violence. It didn't appeal to me at all; even as far back as the Boer War, I felt that was inconsistent with our Christian beliefs. I was in school and enjoyed a certain amount of unpopularity even at the time, because of my pacifist views, and there was a good deal of violence in London towards what they called pro-Boers - that was the epithet which was flung at pacifists.

That I think was my first experience of being involved in peace work, although my grandfather was the secretary and treasurer of a Kentish Peace Society, so that there was an aura of pacifism rather hanging over our family; and he did a lot of active work towards peace.

Between the Boer War and the war of 1914 was a more or less quiescent period, although I think many people with hindsight realised that there was a certain inevitability about the way things were going: the building up of the fleets of all the European countries and so on; the attitude of both ourselves and the Germans was becoming increasingly difficult to meet with.

I suppose I've got something of the rebel in my nature. I'm not a believer in doing a thing just because somebody else tells you to do it. You have to reason it out for yourself; and that I think is the test of these things. You've got to decide what your personal responsibility is. Of course that's a doctrine that doesn't go down with a lot of people. Yours not to reason why.

I remember telling somebody that if I was the only person in the world I would take this attitude. That's how I felt about it. It was a very personal thing.

Howard's opposition to the Boer War had already given him experience of taking a principled stand. Does repeated experience of unpopular views help to make someone more principled? Or does it tend to make them defensive and narrow-minded? Or would it be fair to say that it more often wears them down and weakens their enthusiasm?

Your Thoughts

Submitted by LollyO on
Howard's comments that "You have to reason it out for yourself" and "You've got to decide what your personal responsibility is" reveal a certain confidence as well as his process. Given that Howard had a Quaker father and a grandfather (presumably also Quaker) who was active in the Kentish Peace Society were certainly important influences.The questions asked here are complex--I would say that certainly one experience informs the next decision (and gives strength to a set of beliefs). At the same time, every experience is different. While Howard writes of his decisions, it is very clear that behind those decisions were deeply rooted influences from the Quaker side of his family. He does not indicate that he discussed his decisions, or shared them with anyone, but I would be very surprised had he not sought guidance from someone, even if he were just getting a response from someone who knew something about pacifism. There does seem to be a sense that he went it alone (which is often viewed as a male trait), but choosing pacifism is not an easy road without some kind of support. This would have been even more difficult in 1914 than it is today. What's really heartbreaking is that 100 years on, we are surrounded by wars here, battles there, children dying, and entire communities wiped out or removed to camps. When will we ever learn?

Submitted by Stanley Glentrammon on
Actually, I think we have learned from WWI. Parliament voted against intervening in Syria because of the experience of Iraq, and a world war on the scale of WWI is unlikely now - but not impossible, I'd grant - because public opinion will not accept the one million military causalities that Britain and its Empire sustained. The likes of Howard Marten made a difference.
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 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.

Related Materials

Quakers still use active nonviolence to challenge injustice.

In 1914 news and information was less readily available than it is now. It was difficult for people such as Howard to know whether many others shared their views...

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