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 178


We travelled down to Southampton by train. As we walked up the gangway of the boat that was to take us across the Channel, a New Zealander whom I did not know, told me to follow him. He took me to some place where there was a bed, and at that time there was no one else there. I was so tired that I could hardly take in the objects about me, and I was only clear on one thing, that here was a place to lie down in.

‘You're tired,’ he remarked. ‘You can lie down there whenever you like, but wait a bit till I bring you a cup of tea.’

He returned in a minute or two with a mug of tea and a slice of white bread and butter. I took a mouthful of the tea and a bite of the bread. I thought I had never tasted anything like it in my life. The bread seemed to melt in my mouth. I finished it and lay down and in a moment I was asleep. When I opened my eyes it was morning and the boat was still.

‘Haven't we started yet?’ I asked the others in surprise.

‘What are you thinking about?’ they said. ‘We're at Le Havre.’

We were put on board a train and for five days we travelled slowly through France. We passed the outskirts of Paris. For a long time—it seemed for a day or two—we travelled down the valley of the Rhone. For most of the time we lay stretched out on the seats, too tired to care what was passing by outside. When we arrived at Marseilles the Marama was lying at the page 179 wharf and I saw ‘Dunedin’ written across her stern with the same indifference with which I had heard the news of our projected journey. Instead of embarking at once, we went up to a camp close to the town, where tents were pitched for us. There we remained for several days, under the shade of high, spreading trees. The hills beyond the town looked so inviting that I hoped to reach them when I had recovered a little from my weariness, and thought I could do so quite easily. An opportunity presented itself. A mental patient had got away and volunteers had been called to look for him.

‘Say we'll look for him,’ I said to the men with me. ‘We don't need to, really, but it will give us a chance to make for those hills.’

No one seemed to think it surprising that we should hunt for a mental patient. We were only told that we must not be away for more than an hour. We set out cheerfully, but the hills receded as we advanced and we soon realized that we had neither the strength nor the time to get anywhere near them. The missing man was located a few hundred yards from the camp, eating fruit in a peasant's garden.

Our time in camp was up and we went on board the Marama. A man was standing at the top of the gangway, taking our names as we came up. When I gave mine he looked at me sharply.

‘Are you one of the Baxters?’ he enquired. ‘One of the deported men?’

I said I was.

‘I can't talk to you just now,’ he said, ‘but I'll see you later.’

He came to me on the deck afterwards and told me, among other things, that there had been a stir in New Zealand about the deported men. He wanted to know if I knew anything about the others, but I could tell him very little. He turned out to be the barber, and as I was not allowed a razor I had plenty of opportunities for conversation with him.

The first time I went to him for a shave I said: ‘The authorities are looking after me very carefully. I am not allowed a razor for fear I should cut my own or someone's throat, and yet the sea is there and nothing to stop me jumping into it.’

page 180

The barber, smiling nervously, agreed with everything I said. Later, he came to know me better and ceased to be nervous.

We appeared before the doctor in charge of our ward and four of us were ordered stout. Several of the men considered they should have had it too, and when I found that it disagreed with me, one of them suggested that I should go on getting my bottle and let him have it. But the next time I went up for it, a glass was poured out for me and I was told to drink it then and there, to the annoyance of the disappointed candidate. I told the doctor it didn't agree with me. He told me to persevere with it, and I did, for a while, but as it never ceased to disagree, I finally gave it up as I didn't think it would be doing me any good.

We sailed through the Mediterranean under the orders of a Spanish officer who took his directions from the Germans. At night we were brilliantly lit up and had a ring of green lights round the bulwarks. The skies were a stainless blue and a light breeze made the silver sea ripple and dance in the sunlight. We passed between Corsica and the mainland. So I had seen where the great Corsican was born and where he had died.

This was all very pleasant. The Bradmore men were beginning to cheer up considerably and every day were finding more interest in life. Except in the matter of razors we were treated just like the other men and we had begun to make new friends and acquaintances among them. One day one of the men came up to me. He was a friendly, intelligent chap, but he had been very much crushed by the months he had spent in Bradmore.

He said: ‘They've done for us all, absolutely!’

I looked at him. His face was grey. ‘What's happened?’ I asked.

‘Come, and I'll show you.’

I followed him to where a list of patients' names had been posted up, with the man's complaint appended to each name. The Bradmore patients and several others who had come from hospitals of the same kind had ‘mental’ written against their names.

page 181

‘Look at that,’ said the man with me. ‘I've made lots of friends since I've been on board and now what'll they think of me? Mental!’

It is this total disregard of their feelings which makes it difficult for men to recover. There was one exception on the list. My name appeared without anything whatever opposite it. Simply the name and nothing more.

There were other patients on board from mental hospitals, beside the Bradmore men. One of these men had had frightful experiences in a military prison. One day on deck he was talking of the cruelty and brutality he had seen and experienced there, and quite a crowd had gathered up to listen to him. He was a quiet and gentle sort of man, but at the same time one could see that he was determined. He told us that he had been put into a cell with human excrement in a corner. He had asked to have it removed or to be allowed to remove it himself. For answer the warders rubbed his face in it. They kept him in that cell for days without letting him out at all, or allowing him any means of attending to his needs. The previous occupant had evidently been treated in the same way. He told his story quietly and without excitement. Only when he came to the part about himself, his face showed that it was difficult for him to tell it.

While he was talking an officer had come up and overheard part of this. ‘That's a lot of nonsense that you're telling,’ he said. ‘There isn't a word of truth in it.’

Almost immediately afterwards the man was put in the padded cell. This was out on the deck in full sight of everyone, and whenever it had an occupant, he could be plainly seen through the open observation hole, so that everyone knew who had been put in there.

I went up to it and spoke to him, amid warnings from the other men of: ‘Don't you go, or they'll put you in there, too.’

‘I understand,’ he said to me. ‘Not another word do I say. They've got me all right.’

And they had. Putting him in the padded cell had the effect, as it was intended to, of making the other men doubt everything he had said. Only those who were listed as coming from page 182 mental hospitals would be put there, and during the voyage several of them were. I saw Fred Parsons there once. I asked him what was the matter, but he either didn't know or didn't care to say. It was a wonderful institution, that padded cell. It could work miracles. I never heard of the men who were put in there being violent, but after they had been in there a day or two they could be given perfect liberty on board and were meek for the rest of the voyage. We were like the habitual criminal under the Dog Act. Other men might argue and quarrel and fight, but we had to be very careful. I was talking on deck to a group of men on war and conscription. An officer, not satisfied with the good hearing I was getting, came up and challenged what I was saying. I had said that a large proportion of soldiers on all fronts were fighting because they were compelled to, and would be glad to cease firing any time they had the chance. I asked him what would happen if in all the armies on the Western Front the death penalty and all other punishments were taken off.

‘You must have these things,’ he said. ‘You can't have discipline without them.’

‘You can't have war without discipline, and discipline means “kill or be killed”. Isn't that forcine men to fight?’

I felt at a disadvantage having to be so controlled and careful in order to give them no excuse for putting me in the padded cell.

There was a man on board who had been with us at Bradmore. His one trouble was that when summoned before an officer, or placed in any position that made him nervous, he would give a hop on one leg, just one hop. We told him that he must not do it, that he must control himself, especially before officers, or it would bring him into trouble. He said he would be careful, but when he was again before an officer the same thing happened. He listened respectfully and answered in the right place. Then, just as he turned away, he gave that little skip. It was his downfall. When we disembarked, he was detained and sent to hospital.

The voyage passed quickly. Having neither cargo nor passengers to take on at ports, we didn't take the usual time that page 183 passenger steamers do to make the voyage. We reached Colombo, the first port at which we were allowed to land. At Port Said no shore leave had been given, though we were there the whole day. One of the padres gave me a pound note and arranged for me to have a trip ashore. I went under escort, but once on shore the escort didn't bother about me any more and I went round with them as one of them. At Albany I also went on shore and returned with a large bunch of the wild flowers that are at their best in Western Australia in September. They were much appreciated by the nurses.

We arrived at Auckland. A military doctor came on board and interviewed me. I have never met such bitter hostility as he showed towards me. He told me I was not to imagine I had beaten the military authorities because I had been brought back to New Zealand. It was solely on account of my health that I had been sent back. I would not be able to say that I had won in the stand I had taken against military service.

‘If you attempt to you'll find that you won't be allowed. You're not going to get away with it.’

I had to listen to him and was not permitted to say a single word in reply. I don't think I showed any sign that his words had had any effect on me, but inwardly I was not so calm. I had gloomy forebodings, realizing, even then, that circumstances had given the authorities a hold over me which they would probably know how to use.

We went down the east coast to Wellington. Those who were destined for other ports were not, of course, allowed to land. We were not long in when the M.O. in charge of our ward came to me and informed me that the Minister of Defence had come on board and wished to see me. He looked very amused, and when he took me down to the cabin to my visitor—or rather visitors, for there was another man with the Minister—he could hardly keep his face straight long enough to make his introduction. Then he left us. The second man attempted to keep the interview on an ordinary level of politeness by making some enquiries about my health. But his colleague had come on board with one object in view, and he page 184 plunged into his questionings without any preliminaries. Was I still of the same mind with regard to military service?

I said I was.

He told me that they had been charged with treating objectors cruelly. Had I been badly treated in the army?

I said I had received treatment that I would call cruel.

He asked me what I was doing while I was at the Front?

Anything I had done, I said, was done voluntarily as an individual and not under military orders.

‘Are you a conscientious objector?’

‘I was—’ I was beginning, when he broke in: ‘You were: are you not one now?’

But I had to dash his hopes. ‘I was called one in the army,’ I went on, ‘but I don't call myself by any name.’

‘Then why do you object to military service?’

‘Because I am opposed to war.’

‘Do you know anything about No. 1 Field Punishment?’ he asked next.

‘Not much,’ I answered, hoping he would be satisfied with that and not ask me any more about it.

But he continued. I had written a letter from France, which had been published and in it I had said that I had been subjected to this punishment. Was it true?

I said I didn't know the letter had been published; I hadn't written it for publication; but what I had said in it was quite true.

‘Show me how it's done,’ he demanded.

I stood against the cabin wall and described No. 1 Field Punishment to him to the best of my ability. He afterwards described me in a statement about me which he published shortly afterwards in the newspapers, as ‘surly and morose.’ I answered all his questions politely. I demonstrated my torture to him without a word of protest. What more could he ask? I was not effusive, or subservient. That I never was, or could be, no matter how crushed I might be. At the conclusion of the interview, he asked me what I intended to do, and I replied that I could not say until I knew what was going to be done with me.

page 185

Two women friends came on board to see me. They had visted me in the Barracks and in prison before I left New Zealand. They wanted to have an account of my experiences from me. In my anxiety to prove that I was all right mentally, and in the reaction from the interview immediately before, I am sure I gave them an entirely false impression.

We passed on down to Otago, calling at Lyttelton on the way. When the time came for disembarking I went up to the office with the rest to get my landing pass. I was given a card with a date at which I was to report at Dunedin Hospital.

‘And understand that you are to be there at that time,’ said the officer to me, ‘or there will be trouble.’

‘Yes, I understand,’ I said. He was not doing this to the other men. ‘But if I'm feeling quite well, or if I find it difficult to come in?’ I asked.

‘You'll obey orders and report in uniform or you'll be arrested,’ was the harsh answer, and I felt it bitterly, for I had had some hopes of getting free of it all.

Guards with fixed bayonets lined the wharf. Such a show of force seemed ridiculous to men who had not met that sort of thing, even in France. To show their anger and contempt they leapt the rails and swarmed into the wharf, disregarding bayonets, guards and gangways.

My people were waiting for me. I think they had expected to find me completely changed and were relieved to find I hadn't altered. As soon as I got home I got out of uniform, anxious to make the adjustment to ordinary life as quickly as possible. I so longed to be free of everything to do with the past two years. People were friendly, though often nervous and not knowing what to say, and what they did say often irritated me intensely. We went out to tea a night or two after I came home.

One of the women present, a relative, asked me: ‘And you were in France?’

‘Yes, I was in France.’

‘How lovely for you to get a chance to see all those places. I believe France is a very beautiful country.’

‘Yes, it was lovely for me,’ I said savagely.

page 186

I don't suppose she meant much more than to make polite conversation, but it was not a successful choice of subject, and I longed to do something to make them realize that war wasn't just a pleasant picnic. There seemed to be a wide gulf between me and all the people I knew. It was not because they were unfriendly, but because they all seemed to be just exactly what they had always been. Everything seemed to touch me on the raw. The policeman who had arrested me came to see me about some business. Angry thoughts rose in me at the sight of him. I found that I thought violently, spoke violently, and had difficulty in refraining from acting violently.

The day came on which I was supposed to report at the hospital. Very unwillingly, I got back into uniform. I thought it best to go in. It was, I hoped, only a preliminary to discharging me, and as, above all else, I wanted to be free of them. I did not wish to give them any excuse for delaying it. I had to report in the morning. I went in with the morning bus, was told to wait, and hung about the hospital till the afternoon. At last I was allowed to come up and report to the sergeant who was dealing with these cases. He asked me a perfunctory question or two, and gave me a card, telling me to report again on a given date two or three days later.

‘What do I report for?’ I asked. ‘Is it for treatment? And what treatment do I get?’

‘You've got to report,’ he said.

‘And supposing I don't come in?’

‘You'll be brought in. You just remember your position and don't try any nonsense. You can't afford to.’

I asked to be allowed to see the doctor and, after waiting a long time, was accorded an interview with him. From this interview I realized beyond any doubt that I was placed in a position in which I could fight no further. When I said I wanted nothing but a chance to earn my living, I was laughed at. I was a patient and my only chance of liberty lay in doing all the authorities wanted. This meant report in uniform, accept the pay they sent me, and be discharged like any other soldier. What the consequences would be if I refused I knew, both from the way they regarded me and from my own condition. page 187 The authorities knew well that they had a mighty lever in their hands, and, no matter which way I turned, they had me in their power. A few days after my arrival in New Zealand, the Minister of Defence had published a statement concerning me, declaring that I was well and did not need to be sent to a hospital of any kind, and could proceed to my home. That gave the impression that I was free, but the fact was that the authorities still held me hard and fast. They could publish what they pleased about me, but in my position I was unable to state my case or make any reply. While it stated I was suffering from no disability, I was compelled to report in uniform at the hospital every few days for many weeks, not for any treatment, for I received none. The object was, as far as I could see, to grind me down and make me realize how completely I was in their power. Seeing no way out, I agreed to do what they required. Even then, the drilling process still went on. I would go in in the morning to report, and would be told to wait. I had to wait there for many hours, sometimes till late afternoon, seeing others who came in long after me attended to before me. This was done deliberately. If I protested, I was treated by the sergeant as a creature without sense or human feeling. People wondered, seeing me going in day after day, always in uniform. I could not explain.

At last, one day, when I reported, I was shown into a room with a group of military men at one end of it, some sitting and some standing. The doctor whom I had seen before, introduced me. He said they wanted to ask me a few questions if I didn't mind.

I said: ‘Yes, certainly.’

Then I turned and looked at them and every face seemed hostile. I was asked a question or two which I could not answer. They were the usual test questions, and, as I told them with some irritation, proved nothing whatever.

‘What are you?’ thundered the man who seemed to be the chief among them, probably the Chairman.

‘A man! What do you take me for?’ I replied.

Then a torrent of angry words was let loose on me.

page 188

‘I didn't come here to be insulted by you!’ I shouted, and made for the door.

‘Catch him! Catch him!’ they roared.

I was seized by the orderlies and dragged back into the room and the door was shut and guarded.

For a time there was nothing but pandemonium. The doctor tried to calm things down and reasoned with me. I said I would not answer a single question unless I was treated with civility. This caused a fresh outbreak. Finally the doctor managed to arrange that all questions addressed to me should be asked through him. This was agreed to by the Board, but it appeared that by that time they were too angry to ask any questions.

The doctor then made a few remarks to me, told me that no one had any right to say anything against my character, and let me go, with the information that I did not need to report any more. And so that scene ended.

It was not until years afterwards that I realized that I had appeared before a Medical Board. It never entered my head that doctors would behave in such a manner. Soon after. I received my discharge. So determined were the authorities to make me out a soldier that it was declared in the discharge that I had served every day that I had been in the army, from the time I was arrested until the time I was discharged, without any ineffective periods. In order to substantiate this, my character had to be given as ‘good’, a note being added to the effect that this was the highest that could be obtained by anyone who had served less than two and a half years. I could now consider myself free.

Not long after, however, I received a notice telling me to report to the police. When I went in I asked the policeman to whom I reported what this was for. He told me it was just a formality, that every returned soldier had to report. I made enquiries afterwards and found this to be incorrect. Whether it was always done in cases like mine, or whether it was done in my case alone, in order to intimidate me, I don't know. The policeman was very decent about it. He went on to say that page 189 though he had to send in a report about me at regular intervals, he had other means of finding out and would not require me to come in any more as he saw it worried me.

And so my experiences in the army ended.