Title: We Will Not Cease

Author: Archibald Baxter

Second (popular) Edition

Publication details: The Caxton Press, 1968, Christchurch

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Cape Catley Limited

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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We Will Not Cease


page 9


Many years before the war of 1914–18, I had reached the point of view that war—all war—was wrong, futile, and destructive alike to victor and vanquished. My first step on that path was taken in my early manhood, when I happened to listen to an address on and against war by a Dunedin lawyer, a brave and upright man, whose voice was as of one crying in the wilderness, so unlikely did it seem that his point of view would ever be accepted by more than the very few. However, the newspapers thought it worthwhile to attack him, and as proof that anti-militarist views were not, even then, altogether unpopular with the common people, he was returned to Parliament at the next election with a greatly increased majority.

For many a day I was without a single supporter, either in my pacifism or in the socialism which I looked on as a necessary part of it. There was no Labour Party. Only isolated radicals in and out of Parliament upheld what would now be the Labour point of view. We were geographically so far removed from Britain that we only had meagre accounts of the rise of the Labour Party there. It was not until Keir Hardie came out to us in 1912 that the workers' party in Britain really meant very much to me.

I ploughed a lonely furrow and for a long time did not even get the support of my own family. Gradually, however, they came to see there was something in what I said, all the more page 10 as they began to hear the same sort of thing from some of the members of the rising Labour Party.

I was. of course, outside the scope of the Act for the compulsory military training of boys and youths from fourteen upwards, which was introduced in New Zealand in 1911, but the strong and increasing opposition to it on the part of the boys themselves—in 1913 there were over 7000 prosecutions under the Act—encouraged me in thinking that there was an underlying objection to militarism amongst the people.

In 1914 war came. My opposition to this war, and to all wars, was strengthened rather than diminished during the next two years, and I did not hesitate to give expression to it. when I saw a chance of having any effect. I met in the most unexpected places people who were definitely opposed to the war, and people who had doubts, but fear usually prevented that opposition from being at all effective. If everyone who was definitely opposed to the war—all war and every war—would clearly and openly say so and stand to it, we should be a long way on the path of doing away with war.

In 1915 the National Register was taken. All men of military age were required to state whether they were willing to undertake military service. The men registered in this category numbered, roughly 196,000. Of these 33,700 said they would not undertake service at home or abroad, and 44,300 declared their willingness to undertake home service, but refused service abroad. I stated that I would undertake no service in the army, either at home or abroad, and in a brief note gave my reasons. The National Register was, of course, a prelude to conscription, which was introduced the following year and brought into force at the close of 1916. I had seen it coming, as anyone who had thought at all, must have seen it coming, for many a long day. It strengthened and focused my opposition. Men were now to be forced into the mass murder of war. The supreme denial of liberty was to be fastened upon us. I had long ago faced the knowledge that I would now be called upon actively to defend the principles I held.

It was impossible to foretell what would happen. I did not have the experience of the English objectors to guide me—not page 11 that it would have been a guide, as my experience, at least, was fated to be different—for very little about them reached vis through the newspapers, and I was not in touch either with anti-militarist organizations, or with the political Labour Party, both of which were able to obtain more information. I did not even know whether I would have any companions in my stand. I hoped my brothers would be with me, but until the time of testing comes, one can be certain of no one but oneself, and not always even of that.

As for exemption, I knew there was no hope for it. The Appeal Boards were farcical as far as objectors were concerned, their members usually ridiculing the objectors who were rash enough to appeal. Only those who ‘had belonged on the 4th day of August, 1914, and had since continuously belonged to a religious body, the tenets and doctrines of which declare the bearing of arms and the performance of any combatant service to be contrary to divine revelation’ had any right to exemption, and even then that the exemption was only to combatant service. I belonged to no organized Church and did not base my beliefs on the teaching of any sect. To me, Christianity is based on the Commandment:

‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’

I do not profess to be able to live up to this ideal, but one can at least go so far along the road as to try to treat other people as one would wish to be treated by them, and war cuts this position at its very roots.

Even if it had been possible to obtain exemption I would never have gone before an Appeal Board to plead my case, for I did not consider that any Board had the right to be judge of a man's sincerity.

I began to work my farm with a view to having to leave it in the near future, and in the summer of 1916–17, I took as much shearing as I possibly could, in order to leave a large cheque behind me. The people I was shearing for all knew my views and intentions, and were many of them, very sympathetic. They were, some of them said, troubled at the thought of what lay before me. One man said: ‘What I am afraid of is page 12 that they'll get you away in cells, where no one will know anything about it, and batter the life out of you.’

The opposition to war was stronger now than it had been in the first years, but it was, unfortunately, no more openly expressed than before. People expressed themselves to me because they knew already what my views were. But each man's fear of what his neighbour might think, prevented any organized opposition, apart from a certain amount of political protest put up by the Labour Party. They opposed the passing of the Act, and opposed it even after it was put in force, and several of the leaders were serving sentences in prison for sedition in consequence.

Shearing over, I returned home towards the end of February. Under the sub-clause in the Conscription Act, popularly known as the Family Shirkers Clause, men belonging to families, no member of which had gone to the war, could be called up without first having appeared in the ballot, and I knew, of course, that this applied to us, and that any one of us was liable to get a calling-up notice at any time. As far as I could ascertain, judging by the experience of others. I would have three weeks respite after the arrival of the notice before I would be arrested, and that three weeks I intended to put in getting all my affairs in order. The longer I delayed in selling my lambs and my crops the better price I would get for them, and the more money I would be able to leave behind me. That arranged for, I should be ready for whatever lay before me.

A few days after my return. I was coming over the rise behind the house, carrying my rifle, which I had been using to frighten the birds from the crop. Just below me appeared the local policeman, holding a paper in his hands above his head.

‘It's all right, Archie, it's all right,’ he called. ‘I just want to see you about these statistics.’

I filled in the paper for him, puzzled at his obvious agitation and alarm, the reason for which appeared later. The following morning I was getting ready to go into the saleyards. My horse was feeding in the yard outside, and I was in my shirtsleeves, washing my face, when the policeman appeared at the page 13 door. ‘Just something more to do with these statistics, Archie! Come down here out of the wind.’

As we came near the hedge, another policeman sprang out from behind it and they seized me. ‘You're under arrest!’

‘All right. Let me go and get my things’.

‘No fear, you're not going back to the house, you're coming with us.’

‘Well, one of you go to the door and ask for them.’

But they refused and pulled me down to the road where their cart was waiting. My father, who had come out, said to them: ‘What do you mean, telling me these lies?’

‘You mind what you're about, or you'll be arrested too.’

He fell silent, rather to my surprise, for he was the last man on earth to be silenced by threats. Long afterwards, he told me that it was not fear for himself, but fear that they would take it out on me, if he said any more, that silenced him, and I could well understand it. My mother and sister came out with my coat and hat. There was no time for farewells. I took my place between the two policemen in the cart and we drove off. My mother came running down to the gate with something in her hand. After one glance the two men bent double in the cart and whipped up the horse to a gallop. I looked round and laughed; they were so ridiculous in their terror. ‘Don't be frightened. It's only a book she wants to give me.’

After they had gone some distance, one of them looked round and said: ‘It's all right, stop,’ and they pulled up. ‘We thought it was a revolver.’

I did not know then, and I do not know now, where the idea of violent resistance on our part, and particularly on my part, originated. The idea was persistent. Four months later, when two of my brothers were arrested—they were away working at the time of my arrest—two car-loads containing twelve policemen, military and civil, were thought necessary for the carrying out of the operation. As they crept nervously up the garden, in the darkness, the local policeman fell into one of the enormously deep trenches my father always made when he dug the garden, and was. poor man, convinced, I am sure, that this was a specially set trap and only the beginning of the general page 14 massacre of all of them. His state of excitement and agitation when he arrived at the house, covered in clay, was a proof of this. All this, I only heard long afterwards.

As we drove along the two men tried to excuse their panic. ‘We heard you were going to resist arrest,’ they said.

‘If I had been meaning to resist, you wouldn't have got me so easily. I could have cleared out months ago if I'd wanted to. You've treated me very unfairly, arresting me like this. I counted on three weeks warning.’

They laughed at the idea of giving me warning. They had been hearing about me, they said, for months past, and had been told that I had said openly that I was going to defy the military and would never serve in the army. I asked them if they thought it was likely that I would have talked so openly if I had been meaning to slip away and get out of it. We argued all the way in. The local policeman, who, I afterwards heard, was a Theosophist, assured me that taking part in war would not jeopardize my chances in the next life.

We drove to the Kensington Drill Hall in Dunedin, a distance of about twelve miles, and I was handed over to the military authorities. A guard of four men with bayonets fixed took me to the St. Kilda Battery. We marched down the middle of the principal street, arousing plenty of interest and comment in the passers-by. The future held many worse experiences in store for me, worse from every point of view, but nothing ever cut me again like that first, deliberately inflicted, public humiliation. We reached the Battery and I was shut in a cell. They brought me something to eat, but I couldn't touch it, though I was very thirsty and thankfully drank the tea. That first night has remained a bitter memory. The first adjustment to entirely different conditions is always hard, and these were so utterly different from those of the normal life I had left behind me that morning. No amount of preparing oneself beforehand can remove the sting of the first realization that freedom is lost, that one's body has passed from one's control, that others possess it and can do their will with it; the consciousness of the locked door and all that it implies. Gradually one becomes hardened and a protective tissue grows over one's first extreme sensitiveness. page 15 At the same time a price has to be paid for that hardening process.

Late that evening my brother Jack arrived at the Battery from Central Otago. The rumours of the violence with which we were supposed to be going to resist arrest had evidently not reached there. Jack had been arrested by a single apologetic policeman, whose only desire had been to make himself and his prisoner as little conspicuous as possible. The old Irish sergeant in charge at the Battery had said to him when he came in: ‘There's a man here I'm sorry for: he's taking it very hard.’

The next day we were taken by lorry to the station, pausing at the Drill Hall to collect two returned soldiers who were being sent into camp under arrest.

As the train ran down beside the harbour I looked out at the familiar landmarks and wondered if I would ever see them again. The motion had a soothing effect. My mind relaxed from its tension and I watched the landscape passing the window as though in a dream. Not that we were without incident to enliven the journey. At Waikouaiti a man in dungarees with a badly crushed ankle was delivered over to our escort who, rightly or wrongly, regarded the injury as deliberate and laughed at his angry complaints.

‘What do they mean,’ he cried, ‘sending a man to camp with a foot like this?’

‘Don't you worry,’ they said. ‘Plenty of doctors in camp. They'll soon fix your foot for you, and you'll be as right as you were before.’

The sergeant in charge of the escort proffered me well-meant consolation. ‘I've been making calculations,’ he said, ‘about the proportion of men killed in the war. It's not very high, not nearly as high as you'd think, no higher, in fact, than in lots of ordinary occupations. You only run one chance in five hundred of being killed. Now that's not much, is it?’

The military police, who had not been to the war themselves, were plainly in awe of their returned soldier charges, and allowed them to do pretty much as they liked, even to the extent of obtaining drink on the journey: with the result that page 16 one of them, already a little drunk, became much more so in the course of the day. He turned to me: ‘You waited till you were arrested, did you?’


‘Well, you haven't got much time left. I can tell you exactly what will happen in your case; as soon as you get up there you'll be shot.’

‘Is that so?’ I said. ‘I wouldn't have thought they'd go as far as that. I hope there'll be a good report in the papers.’

He was annoyed at being taken lightly.

‘I tell you, you'll find what I say is right: you'll be shot.’

He then held forth against the war, the military, and the police, with a strange reckless excitement, by no means entirely due to drink. He and his quieter mate both bore unmistakable signs of unnatural strain in their faces.

In those days, instead of dashing out at stations and bolting a hasty meal with an eye on the clock, to be summoned back to the train by the ringing of the bell, as we do now, one ate one's meal in comfort and leisure in the dining-car, watching the scenery glide by outside. That pre-war luxury, along with many another, is now only a distant memory. The dinner in the dining-car that day, I can remember very well, even to the vegetable marrow, which I found delicious, this being the first food I had been able to touch since I had left home.

We spent the night on the deck of the ferry and arrived at Trentham the following morning, being at once put in the guardroom. Shortly afterwards I was brought before the Camp Commandant, charged with being absent without leave. I explained I had been arrested without any previous calling-up notice and had not had the time I had counted on to set my affairs in order. ‘Let me go down for three weeks,’ I said, ‘and I give you my word that I'll come back up here at the end of that time.’

‘And when you come back, will you agree to take on service in the army?’ he asked.

I said, no, that I couldn't do that. In that case, he told me, nothing could be done about it, but as I should have had a calling-up notice the charge against me would be wiped out.

page 17

The guardroom housed a heterogeneous collection. Drunks, fierce men loudly denouncing the war and the army, but ready in the end to take it on, and others, equally fierce, who said we ought to be shot. We were almost the first of the men who had thought the matter out and definitely made up their minds to resist military service; but before we had been there long they were beginning to come in. In a few days time my youngest brother Sandy was brought into camp. Warned by my fate and determined not to be taken unawares, he had kept a sharp lookout, had noticed the arrival of two policemen and, by the time he saw them crawling up the garden on their hands and knees, had almost finished his preparations for the journey. The three of us, together with Little, a young fellow from the far north, who for some reason was always included in our company, were taken down to the Stores and offered our kits. We all refused them and were taken back to the guardroom. Up till then we had had the freedom of the guardroom and the yard, could walk about and sit down where we pleased. Now, however, we were each ordered into a cell and the door locked.

A bucket of water had just been thrown into my cell, with the object of making it unpleasant for me, and the floor was soaking. There was nothing whatever to sit down on and, as I could not sit on the wet floor, I had to spend my whole time pacing up and down in the small space or leaning against the wall.

We were again offered our kits and again refused them and were returned, as before, to our cells. This time I asked for my overcoat, which was hanging up in the guardroom, and used it to sit down on.

We were now brought before the Colonel, formally charged with disobeying an order. I explained that my refusal was part of my general refusal to take on any service whatever in the army. The other three said their attitude was the same as mine.

‘If you were in Germany, you'd be shot,’ said the Colonel. ‘Twenty-eight days detention.’

We were taken down to Wellington and marched through page 18 the streets to the Alexandra Barracks. On arrival we were ordered by the Corporal in charge to change into denims.

‘What do we want denims for?’ I asked. ‘Our own clothes are good enough.’

‘You want them to work in.’

‘But I don't intend to do any work under military orders.’

The others said the same. We were taken before the Major in command, charged with disobeying an order, and sentenced to three days bread and water and to be deprived of our mattresses. We were then locked in our cells which were in the top storey of the high building. The windows were large and admitted plenty of light and air and we could get a good view of the town through them. There were no bars, escape not being considered possible from that height.

There we spent the next three days, seeing no one but the guard who brought us bread and water. At night, not being allowed mattresses, we slept on the floor in our blankets. I did not eat the bread, as I refused to submit to the humiliation of this sort of punishment. This was not noticed until the evening of the third day, when the guard, bringing me in my final bread ration, saw the pile of it in the corner. ‘Where on earth did you get all this bread?’

‘It's what you've brought me every day.’

‘And you haven't eaten any of it?’

‘No, and I don't intend to. It's not the sort of fare I am accustomed to.’

That night I was given a cup of tea and a chop. The next day, our sentences being up, we were allowed out on the landing. I asked the others if they had had any chops. They had not, and they had eaten the bread. If they had known I was hunger-striking, they would have struck, too.

Though we now mixed with the other prisoners on exercise and at meals, which we ate in common, we were still locked up while they were at work. The N.C.O. in charge argued with me on the subject of obeying military orders. ‘If the military authorities chose to,’ he said, ‘they could compel you to obey.’

‘If I thought so, I would put myself out of their power.’

I don't know what I meant by it. It was said on the spur page 19 of the moment to hold my end up in argument, and I had no intention of committing suicide. It was, however, taken as a threat of suicide. I was removed to a cell without a window, and when, a day or two afterwards, I was returned to my former one, I found that heavy iron bars had been cemented into the brickwork at the sides of the window. For some reason I was evidently suspected of meditating violence, for one of the guards when he unlocked my cell door, used to throw it open and spring back into the passage as if he expected me to be standing just inside ready to knock him down.

One attempt at escape was made from a cell in the same storey while I was serving my sentence in the civil prison. The Irish objector who attempted the escape, told me about it when I was back in the Barracks for the second time and he was back from the hospital. He was warm-hearted and full of kindly impulses. He once pushed a cold potato through the spyhole in my door when I was on bread and water. He told me that the effect on him of being shut up in a small place was to drive him to the verge of frenzy. It was madness, he knew, to attempt to jump from that height, but he was desperate. He made a rope of his blankets and tied it to a broom handle fixed against the window. When he was six feet below the window the knots gave way. By good luck he fell on to the telegraph lines, at that part fortunately not taut, rebounded from them and fell on the pavement. If that had not happened he could not have escaped being killed. As it was, it was four days before he recovered consciousness.

We were allowed to have books brought in by visitors from outside. A guard came into my cell and found me reading Carlyle's French Revolution, which had come in this way. ‘Revolution!’ he said. ‘You're not allowed that kind of book here,’ and seized it.

‘Take it to the Major and ask him if I can have it.’

He went off with it, confident of victory. The book was returned soon afterward, without comment.

For meals we were locked in the mess room without a guard, and the food was distributed by two prisoners acting as orderlies. These two were religious objectors, for some reason page 20 not segregated like most of their religious comrades, but fallen amongst the goats, and as goats in the Biblical sense they certainly regarded us. I don't say they were typical of the narrowly religious objectors; I don't think they were. I daresay I was intolerant, but they irriated me by an attitude of smugness and complacency.

To return to the mess room—orders had been given at tea time that the Baxters were to have no rice or currants. The two orderlies kept back the amount that should have been given to us and ate it themselves. They always obeyed orders so implicitly that it was a puzzle to me how they ever came to be in detention barracks.

Newcomers were arriving all the time, bringing word from Trentham of the increasing number of objectors there. I heard much of one, Briggs by name, whom the authorities had sent straight to the civil prison with a month's sentence. No preliminary twenty-eight days detention. It was possible to pick him out quite easily from the yard of the Barracks, working at the Mt. Cook prison nearby. Would we go there next, was one of the principal subjects of discussion amongst the prisoners. The idea of jail was rather a bugbear to some and mothers were alarmed at the thought of their young sons doing prison sentences. But whatever we thought of it, it seemed very likely that that would be the next step.

To us it came sooner than to the others owing to our refusal to work in detention.

Before we had served half of our twenty-eight days, the Major, a quiet, delicate-looking man, came along to our cells and, obviously nervous and flustered, formally ordered me to scrub the corridor in front of the cells. I refused. So did the other three. We were taken before the doctor to be examined as to our fitness to undergo a court-martial sentence—a necessary formality according to military law.

He asked me: ‘Do you suffer from anything?’

‘Not as a rule,’ I said. ‘I am pretty fit. Now and again I have a little rheumatism.’

‘Have you got it now?’

page 21

‘Yes, a bit, in the hip. Probably the result of lying on the bare floor without a mattress.’

‘Yes, probably it is, and who is to blame for your not having a mattress but yourself? Fools you are getting up against the authorities and refusing to serve your country. You deserve all you get.’

I tried to put my side, but only made him more angry. The next day we were brought down again before the doctor and the Commandant to have the charge read over to us. The doctor's report stated: ‘This man has complained of rheumatism. He has no acute rheumatism, and in my opinion, no rheumatism at all.’

I was very angry and rushed in to the attack without realizing, in fact at that time without knowing, what harm one can do oneself by antagonizing the one official who, above all others, holds the fate of the prisoner in the hollow of his hand.

‘I did not complain,’ I cried. ‘I only mentioned it because you asked me. You know perfectly well you are not telling the truth in that report.’

I knew very well I had made a bitter enemy, but i was only thinking of rectifying myself, and, in my ignorance, did not care.

Several days after this, we were marched down to the Buckle Street Barracks for court-martial. We were left for a time in the drill shed. There were several men about, and they started talking, obviously intending us to overhear.

‘Well, I didn't think I'd ever have to make one of a firing party.’

‘No, it seems a pity, doesn't it, and two of them so young.’

Here, knowing very well that this bluff was intended for us, I laughed, and, finding we were not taking them seriously, they joined in.

The members of the court were new to the job of trying objectors and doubtful of their ground. They gave me plenty of opportunity to state my case I argued that, not having taken the oath, or agreed to take or service in the army, I was not a soldier and could not, therefore, be charged with disobeying the lawful command of a superior officer. I also pointed out page 22 that we had not finished our sentences at the Barracks, that the offence we had committed was an offence against the discipline of the Barracks and that, legally, we should be punished according to the regulations in force there and not tried by an outside court. They held me up at intervals and held long discussions in whispers. Plainly they were nonplussed by my arguments. However, there was only one possible outcome, no matter what defence we put up. We were all found guilty and sentenced to eighty-four days hard labour in the civil prison