Howard Cruttenden Marten was a conscientious objector who refused conscription during the First World War.  Special Collections holds an extensive collection of his archives and has just acquired the original manuscript of his work ‘White Feather: (The experiences of a Pacifist in France and Elsewhere 1916-1918)’.  The title refers to the practice of presenting a white feather to men viewed as cowards for not enlisting.

Marten was born in London, in 1896.  Brought up in the Quaker faith, around 1915 he joined the Society of Friends.  Like many Quakers Howard Marten was a pacifist and member of the No-Conscription Fellowship.  Set up in 1914 the Fellowship was a British pacifist organisation and Marten became the chairman of one of their branches.

When Marten was conscripted under the Military Service Act 1916 he refused to sign up or undertake any work related to war.  In notes for his Field General Court Martial in Rouen in June 1916 Marten wrote ‘I feel that so called non-combatant service involves direct participation in War’.  Under the terms of the Act, Marten believed he should have been granted total exemption from service because of his beliefs.

Put on trial in France, Marten was condemned to death by firing squad.  This was immediately commuted to ten years’ imprisonment.  He was held in HM Prisons Winchester and Wormwood Scrubs.  During Prime Minister’s Questions Marten’s case was raised in the House of Commons, where he was supported by politicians including Ramsay MacDonald.

Dyce workers
Photograph of conscientious objectors at Dyce near Aberdeen. Marten is second from the right in the second row. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Conscientious objectors were released from prison if they agreed to carry out ‘work of national importance’.  Marten worked on the Home Office Scheme at various camps including that at Dyce near Aberdeen.   Workers at Dyce quarried granite for road construction and Marten’s archive includes a photograph of camp members.  In 1918 Marten wrote ‘White Feather’ which describes his experiences as a conscientious objector from his appearance before the Hendon Rural Tribunal in March 1916 to the end of the war.  In his account he clearly describes his treatment and that of fellow conscientious objectors.

A. Ruth Fry letter
Second page of a letter from A. Ruth Fry to Marten. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Following the war Marten worked for the Friends’ War Victim Relief Committee in London which provided aid to refugees and victims of the war.  His collection includes letters from A. Ruth Fry, the British Quaker author and pacifist, welcoming him to the organisation.   Fry appears as a character in Tony Harrison’s play ‘Fram’ which includes themes of refugees and famine.

In 1919 Marten married Grace Vizetelly, who had supported his stance throughout the war.  He later became an accountant with Lever Brothers.  One of the leaders of the Conscientious Objection movement of the 1930s and 1940s, Marten died in Buckinghamshire in 1981.