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

Conditions of use


Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

We Will Not Cease


page 52


The time came when the sentences of Litlle, my brothers and myself expired, and we were taken over to the Terrace. As we passed the stairway to the upper tier, there was a shout from above and the face of the one-eyed highway robber appeared over the landing rails. ‘Hullo, Baxie,’ he called. ‘You were right, I got ten years.’

‘Nice friends you seem to have made here,’ said the others. When we were in the reception office getting back our clothes, Jack remarked: ‘We're not going out; we've liked it so much here we're going to stay.’

The Chief Warder was there and several others. I hardly think any of the Irish warders could have been there. They believed him.

‘You can't stay here when your time is up,’ boomed the Chief. ‘We'll put you out.’

‘Oh yes, we can,’ I chipped in, ‘We'll make a disturbance when we're put out and we'll be arrested and come straight back in here.’

It must have been with intense relief that they saw us depart with our military escort, making, in spite of our threats, no attempt to get back in again

We were marched to the Barracks at the other end of Wellington. After a few hours there we were marched back again through the town to the railway station. Hard on any army footwear, as well as on our own, but useful in accustoming us page 53 to bear the public eye in circumstances that would once have been humiliating.

At Trentham we found we were regarded in the light of heroes by soldiers, prisoners and guards alike. ‘These men have been to jail,’ was said, almost with bated breath. The time when hundreds of men, passing from camp to jail, had made the thing a commonplace, had not come. We were the pioneers.

The same procedure was gone through as before. Offered our kits; refused them; sentenced to twenty-eight days detention for refusing them. There was one innovation. A paper was brought with a name signed at the end of it. The signature was shown to me.

‘Is that your signature?’

‘Yes, I think it's mine. It looks very like it.’

They opened the paper and showed me my name appended to the attestation paper, with a declaration that I was willing to fight in any part of the Empire. I knew I had never signed any such statement, but there was my signature, exactly as I was accustomed to make it. There was a space for witnesses, left blank.

‘Where are the witnesses' names?’ I asked. ‘If I had signed the witnesses would have signed too.’

They had evidently overlooked the necessity for putting in the witnesses' names, and gave it up. Nevertheless they continued to declare I had signed it.

When we arrived back at the Barracks after another march through Wellington we found the same changed atmosphere.

‘You chaps not taking on anything?’ said the guards, and I am sure they would have been very disappointed if we had said we were. ‘You'd like something to eat? It's late, but we'll manage to get you a cup of tea.’

There were many new faces. Teachers, clerks, farmers, workers, of all shades of opinion, united in their opposition to military service. I met many men that I should have liked to know better, but the opportunity was not given me.

We had written home, but no news had so far reached us of what was happening to the other members of the family. So page 54 that it was a complete surprise to me when one evening I looked down from the top-storey landing and saw my brother Donald far below. He waved and shouted up to me that Hugh was with him. He disappeared then into some region out of my sight. I went back to Jack with the news in some excitement.

‘That means they're both started on our track,’ he said, and we looked forward to hearing all about it in the morning.

But we did not. Early, before the other prisoners were out of their cells, Little, Jack, Sandy and I were taken down to the entrance and handed over to an escort of military police. Once again, and now for the last time, we were marched through the streets of Wellington. I came last of the four and the guard walking behind me kept deliberately treading on my heels. At last I stopped.

‘If you don't leave off doing that,’ I said. ‘I'll refuse to move a step.’

I had rightly concluded that they did not want a disturbance and he gave it up. I had a pretty good idea of our destination. and when we came to the entrance to the wharves I saw I had been right. As we turned down to the gates an individual leaning against the wall of the pub at the corner called out: ‘Why did you wait till you've got to be taken?’

The transport Waitemata lay at one of the wharves and we were pushed up her gangway and down into the clink. It already had ten occupants. Seven we knew: they had been with us at Mt. Cook. Sanderson, a religious objector, had been brought from the Terrace, and two Irishmen, Maguire and Kirwan, from Trentham. This made the number up to fourteen. We represented varying viewpoints. A member of the sect ‘Testimony of Jesus’, a pacifist Catholic, a member of the Labour Party and an Irishman who wouldn't fight for the British because of what had lately happened in Ireland. These were a few examples of the different attitudes from which we came to our stand. One thing was noticeable about the experimental fourteen. Almost without exception we were drawn from the ranks of the proletariat, and the exceptions were known to be opponents of the Government. We were chosen page 55 for our obscurity, being thought unlikely ever to make our protests heard either personally or through our relatives.

The clink measured, roughly, twenty feet by ten. It had two tiers of bunks running round it and portholes on the outside. A small cabin opened out of it at one end with a porthole and a ventilator shaft leading into it from the deck above. The only entrance to the clink was through the isolation ward.

No communication had been allowed with relatives or friends, but some of the earlier arrivals had thrown letters out on to the wharf in the hope that they would be picked up by the waterside workers, who had expressed sympathy when they saw us being forcibly taken on board, and forwarded to their destinations. By this means word did reach some of the families of the deported men, but not, of course, until after all hope of seeing them was past.

The Waitemata sailed early in the afternoon. We were hardly out of the harbour before we ran into dirty weather. A tall old Highlander, big-boned and grizzled, with a nose like a blue carrot, came in to close the ports.

‘Pfat you boys been up to?’ he asked, ‘desertin’ or pfat?’

We told him. The sympathy dropped from his voice.

‘No good at all,’ he said. ‘They'll mek you when you get to the other side.’

The weather grew worse. The Waitemata gave us, and no doubt everyone else, but particularly us because we were right over the screw, a very rough time. She pitched and rolled and writhed and groaned. The rudder chains, which ran open along the deck, thumped and rattled and banged just over our heads, and ultimately broke, being replaced by rope. She shipped seas continually and the water spurted through her deck planks. She was aged, decrepit and hardly seaworthy, but she carried her full complement of troops, including a detachment of measles convalescents, not yet out of quarantine, dumped on board from camp ‘to make up the quota’.

Most of us were sick for the first few days, and though, after that, we were no longer actively sick. I, for one, felt squeamish throughout the voyage. There were no utensils of any kind in the cabin, and we had to ask permission every time we wished page 56 to go to the latrines, and be taken up on deck by a guard, the latrines consisting of a rail running along the side of the ship. On one of my first expeditions up there I put my hand on the bulwark, wishing to have a look at the sea. The guard seized me from behind: ‘No, don't you try going over there,’ and he did not seem satisfied with my explanation.

We could not help being sick, and as a result the place, stuffy and ill-ventilated as it was with the portholes shut and fourteen men constantly in it, stank. It was enough to upset the stoutest stomach. Briggs and one other man alone stuck it out, but in the end I believe even they succumbed, for a short time at least. By the third day we were equal to argument again. Only Kirwan still lay, silent in his bunk. He was soon afterwards removed to hospital, suffering from some form of kidney trouble, and on the voyage we saw him no more. We were told, however, that he had taken it on. Quite untrue, but it was a method that was often tried.

We had steamed east when we left Wellington, making for South America. When we had been out a few days we saw land, and it was not long before we recognized Wellington Heads. This puzzled us until we realized that we were passing through Cook Strait, making for the Tasman. This change of course must have been due to news of a raider somewhere in the vicinity.

Uniform kits, to the full number of men in the cabin, were pushed in. Some of the men opened them and investigated. remarking that they meant to use the underclothing, they badly needed a change.

‘Don't touch them,’ said Briggs.

I said: ‘Chuck them all through the porthole.’

The majority disapproved of destroying all that good clothing. ‘I would not think of property in a fight like this,’ I said. ‘If we heave it overboard it will show the military where we stand, better than anything else’

I had no scruples about the destruction of military equipment when it was being forced on to me against my will. Why should we care about the value of this stuff when we were resisting a power that was destroying life and property every day and even page 57 now sending us all to the trenches? But I was hardly taken seriously.

Briggs said he was certain we had no need to worry. They might take us to England, but, when they found we were still sticking out they wouldn't dare to touch a hair of our heads and in the end they would have to send us back to New Zealand.

The following day an officer came to the clink and ordered us to put on the uniforms. We all refused. Thereupon we were taken one by one up the stairs to the poop deck. Some resisted and were carried up. I was one of those who walked. We were taken out on the hatchway, and, in front of the crowds of men assembled to watch, stripped naked one by one and forcibly dressed in uniform. The first man to be stripped, called out as he stood naked on the deck: ‘Is there no one man enough to shoot me!’

I was almost the last and had the opportunity to observe the proceedings as a spectator until near the end. The feeling of the watching crowd appeared to be mixed. There was some laughter, some jeering and a gramophone somewhere played ‘Onward, Christian Soldier’, but there were also shouts of ‘Stick it out! Stick to your principles!’ The hands of the man who put the uniform on me were trembling so violently that he could hardly carry out his job.

‘Don't blame us,’ he murmured. ‘Don't blame us. We don't want to do it. We have to.’

Back in the clink we started to take the uniform off. An officer standing in the doorway called out: ‘Bring ropes and tie them up!’

Briggs, nearest the door, called back: ‘Yes, tie me up! Put me in the darkest dungeon on the boat and I'll be just the same!’

We waited for a while for the threat to be carried out, but nothing happened, and after a time, our own clothes were returned to us and we put them on. On the same day each one of us was taken up on deck to have his hair cropped to the skin. We all went without resistance except Briggs who was dragged up the stairs and dragged down again after the operation.

page 58

We could hear his heels rattling and bumping on the stairs first going up, then coming down. The door was opened and he was fired head first in amongst us. He picked himself up, and after he had cooled down a little, he gave us an account of what had happened. He had been held down by six men, but in spite of that he had managed to jerk his head about while the hair-cutting was in progress, with the result that his cropped head was covered with red marks.

We were all somewhat shaken by our ordeal. It was not possible to go through such an experience unscathed. We had to collect our forces again and face an altered situation. They were evidently prepared to go to greater lengths against us than most of us had thought, in those early days before we fully realized what we were up against. Briggs refused to be daunted. Knowing what had been done with the English objectors, he still believed that the worst that awaited us was imprisonment in England. We had only to continue to stand firm and they would realize the hopelessness of trying to compel us to wear uniform. They had already admitted it by giving us back our own clothes. I did not agree with him. It was my belief that if we were got back to New Zealand it would be in uniform. Did I think they were all going to give in? Briggs asked.

‘No, but I think we'll all land back in uniform. Are you prepared to go naked all the time? Because that's what it will mean. Our own clothes won't last for ever; even if they do return them to us every time, which is not likely. I mean to stand out as long as I can on the uniform, but I do see I may not be able to. That doesn't mean giving in.’

Briggs' more optimistic outlook had the support of the majority. I think Briggs wanted to keep their spirits up. He told me as much afterwards. Perhaps he was right, though I was inclined to think it was better to be prepared beforehand.

We remained shut up in the clink except for short periods of exercise on deck. We called at Albany but saw little of it as we were shut up below must of the time. Magazines—amongst them to my surprise a Ploughshare—were sent in to us by some padre who took pity on our lack of occupation. We came to know one another and to find out things held in common page 59 apart from the bond that united us all—resistance to military service. I found in Sanderson, one of the religious objectors, an interest in literature, particularly in poetry, and many an hour did we spend in the little end cabin, talking over questions far removed from war or our fight against it. His was a gentle, kindly nature, too fine and sensitive to become hardened to the harsh and cruel experience through which he was being made to pass. His religion as he expounded it—he was a Russellite—was a religion of love, and war and violence being negations of love, were impossible to him and against the tenets of his religion. It was also against its tenets to plead in court, and he had refused to speak at his court-martial, being for this reason adjudged defiant and sentenced to six months hard labour. He had served a few weeks of this at the Terrace jail, being probably considered not strong enough for the work at Mt. Cook, for his health was not of the best. Those few weeks had been very hard on him. The atmosphere of repression, the mental degradation and the physical hardships had depressed him and greatly lowered his vitality.

The little end cabin was considered the special preserve of the seniors. Jack had taken it for himself, but during the day he had to share it with any of us who wished to talk there. I often had long talks with Briggs in there, sitting beside the ventilator shaft. Down it often hurtled packets of cigarettes, chocolate and fruit, which proved to us that we were not entirely without sympathizers amongst the troops. For food we had what the rest of the men got, passable, nothing wonderful, but certainly no punishment diet. One day, steak of the very best, beautifully cooked, was sent in to us. We afterwards heard the cook getting into trouble over it.

‘They're men after my own heart,’ he shouted, ‘and they should have the best!’

The younger men amused themselves in their own way, played about and wrestled, held mock trials and made up ridiculous limericks, in which I joined, to the scandal of Briggs, who thought us all very undignified and who constantly recalled us to the fact that we had a standard to keep up.

Cases of measles began to appear in the isolation ward, the page 60 infection having been spread by the convalescents put on board at Wellington. As the only access to the clink was through the ward, it was almost inevitable that those of us who had not had measles should contract them. Sandy was the first. A few days later I followed, and then Jack and Sanderson. Sandy was only a mild case and was up by the time we were at our worst. Most of the cases were pretty bad. Measles, from a camp infection, can be bad. I had been in the ward a day or two when it was evidently discovered that the sentence of twenty-eight days detention given me in Trentham had run out. An officer came to my bedside. A uniform was brought and, nervously and awkwardly, he asked me if I would accept it if I were well enough to put it on. My temperature was high and I was feeling light-headed, but I realized what was going on. I said: ‘No.’ It was then formally offered to me; I refused it, and was forthwith sentenced to twenty-eight days detention. The orderlies were anxious to do their best, but they were untrained and there was only one doctor on the ship. Some of the orderlies saw nothing amiss in a temperature of 112 deg, caused by washing the thermometer in hot water. When my temperature was at its highest and I was feeling like nothing on earth, one of them came up to my bed with a heaped plateful of fried fish and potatoes.

‘This will do you good,’ he said, smiling hopefully.

He was very disappointed when he found I couldn't touch it. Sandy thought he would do better. He brought me some tinned fruit he had somehow obtained. It looked very inviting, but when I came to try it. I couldn't touch it, either. The uneasy motion of the Waitemata, keeping us continually moving, made things much worse, and the finishing touch was the unfitness of the ward to house sickness at any time. The Waitemata shipped seas continually, even in comparatively calm weather, and the water pushed aside the tarpaulin over the hatchway, and found its way into the ward, pouring water over the beds directly beneath. One unfortunate man received the full force of the water on his bed. He died shortly afterwards, whether in consequence or not. I don't know.

One night there was great excitement. Lights could be seen.

page 61

By morning we were at the wharf at Capetown. A strange doctor, evidently the Port Health Officer, came into the ward. He went round the beds, looking stern and angry and giving sharp orders. Behind him came the troopship's one doctor and some of the other officers. He pointed to beds.

‘I'll have that one, and that one,’ till he had nearly all the cases in the ward. ‘Have them on the wharf in half-an-hour.’

Two orderlies came round to my bedside with a stretcher.

‘No,’ I said, not liking the thought of being carried, ‘I think I'll manage.’

I dressed, and though feeling pretty shaky, got up on deck and down the gangway to the wharf. No chance of saying goodbye to the others. Jack had come off the boat with me and Sanderson. We afterwards heard that the Waitemata was condemned by the South African Authorities as unfit for the transport of troops, and all the men on her were transferred to boats of the Union Castle Line.