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.
An argument with a chaplain
John Hoare had surprised his upper class family by turning to pacifism and radical politics. An injury gave him temporary exemption from military service before he was ordered to join the Non-Combatant Corps later in 1916. He was aged 20 when he refused to do so and was arrested and imprisoned in Pentonville to await a court martial. He was jailed alongside his friend Barritt Brown, who had been sentenced to prison for producing illegal anti-war literature.
A few days later, John wrote in his diary about his first few days in the prison. Here's an abridged version.
I was admitted through a little door in the huge great studded prison gate and a receipt was signed for my “body”. After I had delivered up all my property came the bath, tepid and carbolic. I shoved all my clothes under the door at one end and a burly prisoner shoved in the prison clothes at the other from which I eventually emerged, a full-blown criminal in clean but ragged underclothes, woollen socks, a kind of corduroy trousers far too short and a waistcoat and tunic of khaki with arrows painted over everything.
The reception warder was a very nice chap; all the others except Gibson could hardly open their mouths without being snappy or disagreeable. And yet, if they did but know it, a kind word or act from them could make all the difference between cheeriness and sullen misery in their prisoners; I do not believe any man could be so independent or so hardened as not to experience the truth of this. They are prisoners every bit as much as the men in the cells, their hours are shamefully long and all things are against them.
I was then given sheets, a towel, dish-cloth and pillow case and taken to a cell. Our numbers were on a round yellow label buttoned on our breasts. The cell was just broad enough for the board bed to get down across it, and about double as long, white washed at the top and yellow washed at the bottom. Its furniture consisted of the board on which I slept, table fixed in one corner with stool and either electric light over it or gas behind a square of thickly frosted glass. In another corner was a shelf for the china pint pot, spoon and very blunt tin knife. It carried also a slate for applications in the morning to governor, chaplain or anybody else, soap, hair-brush and comb and four books. There was also a tin enamelled basin and plate and powder cloth for cleaning, and scrubbing brushes.
My books were:
- New Testament
- An Old Testament history
- The Narrow Way, a “manual of devotion”
- Prayer book and hymn book
- A Healthy Home and How to Keep It!
The regular chaplain was away and his junior, a Church Army man named Parry, was well-meaning but ignorant. On the first morning he took notes of our cases in an official register.
He then tried to convert me – a tiresome proceeding. He knew about Father, and took the line of saying what great influence I should have for good in the trenches and how wasted it was in prison. I pointed out that it would not be much use extending the sphere of my influence (supposing what he said were true) if I could only do it by a deliberate sacrifice of principle that would make my influence completely non-existent.
He then identified the law of the land with the will of God and when I quoted Peter and the apostles disobeying the magistrates he said that that was only because the magistrates’ order was arbitrary and not backed by actual law. He then shook hands saying, “Well, we must agree to differ.” Barritt Brown told me it was his stock ending.
John records surprisingly little about his emotions at this point, although he is clearly frustrated by the chaplain. The chaplain suggests that John could have influence for good by working in the trenches. What do you make of the chaplain's arguments?
Today people may face similar dilemmas. Do you work within the system to help shape and reform it from within or oppose it completely? Can these approaches be complementary?
Copyright: This is an edited extract from part of John Hoare's diary, 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: 'The CO in prison' is a collection of drawings by G.P. Micklewright, a conscientious objector and friend of John Hoare. © The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends 2016
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.
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.
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.
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”.
While a few COs found chaplains who were sympathetic or at least respectful, others found them positively insulting. Will Chamberlain, a journalist and conscientious objector imprisoned in Winchester gaol, described his first experience of a service in the prison chapel.