About John Hoare
Joseph Edward (“Ted”) Hoare was the son of a bishop. He was a prefect at Repton, an elite boarding school in Derbyshire, and belonged to the Officer Training Corps. When Ted turned 18 in 1914, he seemed to be a model of social respectability and destined for a bright future.
On the eve of the war, Ted was injured at a school camp and spent several weeks recovering over the summer. While doing so, he prayed and read about religion, politics and ethics. In the autumn Ted returned to school as a convinced Christian pacifist.
Last week we saw John sentenced to six months’ hard labour. He began the sentence at Wormwood Scrubs. He was in the prison for only three weeks. He wrote a description of life there shortly afterwards. Here's an extract.
No extra allowance is made for vegetarians and poor Hammond had to live on the porridge, bread and potatoes. At Walton prison they sent a petition to the Home Secretary and got a few ounces of cabbage a week, but the cabbage was literally rotten and could hardly be eaten at all! Prison regulations were not made for men who are possessed of out-of-the-way principles and are determined to stick to them.
I still do not know whether the first bell went at 5.30 or 6; I think at 5.30. At six the door flew open - “Slops out”. At about 6.45 there was a rattle at the door and a hand deposited a loaf on the table. A little after 8, the doors were unlocked again and down we clattered to the exercise ground. Exercise lasted an hour and then we went back to our cells. Dinner came a little after 12. At 4.15 supper arrived and the door was shut for the last time. So except on Chapel days, we were alone from 9.15am for the rest of the day except for these brief unlockings.
The only work I did was sewing tabs onto mail bags. It may sound easy but sometimes the needle had to go through nine thicknesses of coarse canvas. In the first few days, the needle's head - if it did not slip off the thimble at the top or bottom and bury itself in the knuckle - would slip off to the side and rend my second finger or the ball of my thumb.
Nine bags was the full day's task but we were sometimes given less and yet always marked with full marks. Fifty-six marks a week procured a remission of one sixth of the sentence and earns the first letter and a visit at the end of eight weeks. Marks are of course forfeited for idleness or misconduct. I usually got done in time for an hour or two reading by my bad electric light before going to bed.
On Saturday and Wednesday we had Chapel before exercise. On Friday we had an afternoon Quaker Meeting.
The chaplain gave us a dull sermon one Sunday and a church history lesson one Wednesday. His assistant nearly “brought the house down” on several occasions. “The nation has compromised,” he cried. “What we want is nothing new, it is simply the will to live now by the Decalogue as interpreted by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, as a practical rule of life. Don't tell one it is impossible. Christ is the judge of what is possible and he has told us what to do.”
I do not know what he thinks of war; he dealt with many other practical problems but not with that. Anyway his words among COs were like a spark in a powder magazine. He spoke on contemplation as the effective background of all effective doing, a very pointed hint to all of us.
Quaker Meeting was very pleasant and helpful. Harris took it the first week, Rowntree Gillett the second week. He was three-quarters of an hour late and one man, thinking it was time to get going, stood up solemnly and said, “Stone walls do not a prison make”. At that point one of the warders emphatically declared that he would soon find out that they did.
Given the situation he was in, it would be understandable if John's friend Hammond had abandoned his vegetarianism. How far can commitments and principles be set aside in extreme circumstances?
Copyright: This is an edited extract from a long letter from John Hoare to his family, written in October 1916, which appears in A Pacifist's Progress: Papers from the First World War (Sessions, 1998), edited by Richard Hoare. Used by kind permission of John's son, Richard Hoare.
Image: Card produced to support imprisoned conscientious objectors, Christmas 1917. Used by kind permission of the Peace Pledge Union.
Conscientious objectors were offered the chance of doing “alternative work of national importance” under the Home Office scheme. John had for a long time been offering to do such work, although others did not agree. Here is John's description of his move from prison to alternative work.
After John's court-martial he had to wait several days for the verdict and the sentence. Here are extracts from his diary at the time.
John was conscripted later the year than Howard or Bert. By this time the Home Office had come up with a scheme to offer some COs the option of doing alternative work of “national importance”. Pacifists were split over whether to accept it.
John was ordered to join the Non-Combatant Corps in 1916. Upon refusal he was imprisoned in Pentonville to await a court martial. John wrote in his diary about his first few days in prison.
As time went on, John became less isolated and more involved with the anti-war movement. Motivations for opposing the war differed; some held religious convictions while others opposed it on political or humanitarian grounds, others made no distinctions.
The ‘absolutists’ were determined not to accept any work ordered by the state; others would consider alternative work – though there were further differences over what sort of work they would accept. John was later asked about divisions in the movement. This was his reply.
For 19-year-old John Hoare, Oxford University was less lonely than boarding school – but only just. He was still struggling to find others who shared his views. The threat of conscription was round the corner and criticism of the war was suppressed. John discovered help in the form of the No-Conscription Fellowship and amongst Quakers (also known as Friends). He later looked back on this discovery.
John Hoare found himself isolated at boarding school after professing his abhorrence of killing at the outbreak of war. As he discovered others who shared his views, among them many Quakers, he began to feel less isolated.
Across the country, however, the political landscape was hardening. Pressure to introduce conscription intensified. During 1915 the ‘Derby Scheme’ began, registering men who said they were willing to fight if the call came. John later recalled the challenges he faced at the time.
As we have seen, John's initial determination to resign from the Officer Training Corps weakened under pressure from the headmaster and public opinion. He was later asked why he had joined the Corps in the first place.
John's last year at boarding school in Repton was a time of “terrible isolation” due to his pacifist convictions. John said that one of the influences that had pushed him towards pacifism was the writings of the former headmaster, the theologian William Temple.
His sister Alice wrote that the headmaster, Geoffrey Fisher, treated him [John] with “ostracism and contempt”.