We Will Not Cease
We arrived at Plymouth the day after Christmas, 1917. So short a time ago we had sailed out of a tropic harbour and here the land was covered with snow, woods and hamlets showing up black against the expanse of white. As we disembarked an English officer, standing on the wharf, asked who the men in civil clothes were. He was told.
‘Conscientious objectors! What on earth does New Zealand mean, sending conscientious objectors here? As if we hadn't enough to do with our own!’
We travelled from Plymouth to the Salisbury Plain by railway. We passed through beautiful hilly country all smoothed to uniformity under its mantle of snow. Finally we came to Sling, lying out on the Plain.
The day after our arrival we were all medically examined and it was found that many of the men who had been in the Castle at Capetown, amongst them Jack and myself, were suffering from scabies. Those who had had measles seemed to have been particularly susceptible to it. We were isolated and underwent several days treatment, which consisted of submersion of everything except the face in sulphur baths almost hotter than one could stand. After the treatment was over, we rejoined Sanderson, whose imprisonment at Wynberg had saved him from lice.
For a day or two we were at liberty about the camp. Someone told me that a mate of mine was over at one of the huts. page 77 I was very anxious to find out something about the rest of the fourteen and hurried over I found Gray stooping over a fire, heating something in an oil drum. He explained his being in uniform. The authorities, he said, had wanted him to wear it while they communicated with New Zealand and found out what to do about him. His case was quite different from the others, they told him. He was regarded as genuine and would probably be sent back to New Zealand. He had taken it on and had been doing a little gardening about the camp, expecting at any time to hear that he was being sent back. But time had passed and he had heard nothing. He was wondering now if it had not all been a scheme to get him to take service in the army. I asked him if he knew what had happened to the others. They had all been sent over to France, he said, about two months ago. What had happened to them there he did not know, but he had heard all sorts of rumours.
‘They say,’ he said, ‘that you and Briggs will be shot.’
They had had a pretty rough time coming over from South Africa in the Norman Castle, he told me. They were forcibly dressed in uniform, their own clothes taken away and not returned to them. When they took the uniform off and went about in underclothes, the underclothes were taken away. They were hosed down and then dressed only in uniform. Though they had been brought out on deck in front of the passengers, they took the uniform off and went naked. After a while they managed to get underclothes again and went about in them. Before landing they were dressed in uniform again and some of them who refused to walk were dragged off. We had certainly missed hardships through having measles.
The following day, Jack, Sanderson and I were taken before the officer in command at Sling. There was none of the usual military formality about the interview. No escort tramping in with shouts of ‘Stand to attention.’ It was like an interview with a businessman or a lawyer. We were given chairs. The absence of formality and restraint made it much easier for us to express ourselves.
He began by saying: ‘I have heard of you men before, but I have never met any of you. I am very much interested and page 78 I want to hear your side of the case, what your standpoint is and how you have acted up till now. I believe you have had a pretty bad time.’
I said I would speak for myself and my brother, who could correct me if he wished. Sanderson could speak for himself. I gave an account of our experiences in New Zealand, on the Waitemata and in South Africa. He listened and asked questions, showing no hostility, and during the whole interview was pleasant and sympathetic. He asked me if I were patriotic, in the sense of caring for my country and wishing its welfare.
I said I did care for my country and that to my mind there was nothing more necessary for the welfare of a country than to keep from going to war. ‘Whatever wars were in the past,’ I said, ‘we have come to the point in civilization now when war can do nothing but harm to every nation that engages in it. But in peace time a nation must so live and act towards other nations as not to provoke war. We must be prepared to make sacrifices but they will be nothing like the sacrifices a nation has to make in war, to gain nothing by them but the prospect of further wars.’ He asked: ‘Do you think a mere handful of men, standing for an ideal, is going to have any effect?’
I said that we did hope to have an effect, that there were men in other countries making the same stand, ‘and as for being only a handful in standing for a cause, someone has to begin, if the cause is ever to be won. I think, too, that there are people who look on war as we do.’
‘I know there are thousands who look on war as you do, but they don't take your stand’
‘We hope by our action to make some of those people, at any rate, to stand to their convictions, and only by bringing people to our point of view and getting them to stand to their convictions shall we ever achieve our ideal.’
He asked: ‘Do you look upon the things that are happening to you and will happen to you, just as a misfortune, or do you feel that in suffering them you are serving your ideal?’
‘Of course in this I can only speak for myself, but I do feel that I am fighting for a warless world where peoples can live page 79 together in peace and friendship, as most of them really want, though they can be roused to hatred and violence.’
‘You realize, of course, that you will not have an easy time. How far are you prepared to go?’
‘To answer honestly, I am prepared to stand to the utmost limit.’
‘Are you open to conviction?’ he asked.
I said I was, but that I had not yet heard any arguments that would have any hope of convincing me.
‘If you knew that your action would have no effect, would you still go on?’
I said that my individual action would be the same, though in that case I would not have the hope I had now. Jack said he was entirely in agreement with what I had said.
Sanderson then stated his case. He said his attitude was based on the tenets of the religious sect to which he belonged. They held that all wars, force and violence were wrong and opposed to the teaching of Christ. His was a religion of love. People, when told about it, often said it was too good to be true, but if everyone followed it, all strife and trouble would vanish from the world. He was standing for what he believed to be right and would continue to stand for it as far as he could. Asked if he were open to conviction, he said he was, but that he was sure that no one would ever convince him.
At the close of the interview, which seemed to have lasted all morning, the officer said: ‘I am very glad to have met you and to have got all this information. I want to tell you that you have convinced me beyond question of your courage and sincerity. Now, I shall probably not see you again, for I shall not be here after tomorrow, and you will be in other hands. I have not entered into argument with you because I feel I don't know enough about the subject, whereas you have gone into it very thoroughly. I don't wish to advise you in any way as to what you should do, but I wish you well.’
We went back to our usual quarters with the men who had come with us from Capetown. Sanderson, however, was separated from us. The next day we were told he had taken it on, I thought it very unlikely after the strong case he had put up page 80 the previous day. But it was true. The next time I saw him he was in uniform. He told me that when he found out what methods they were going to use against him, he realized that he would not be able to hold out.
‘I don't think much of them,’ he said, ‘the nation that can bring itself to use such methods against us has sunk pretty low.’
I didn't think much of them either. They had forced a man—one of the finest characters I had ever met—weakened by ill-health and ill-treatment, to act against his strongly-held convictions, A victory if they liked to call it one.
We were soon removed from our quarters with the other men and put into one of the regimental guardrooms. We were not, however, under close arrest, but had the freedom of the guardroom and the yard belonging to it. Every day we were taken before Colonel Howard. He looked worn and ill to me. but that may only have been his natural appearance. In my mind it excused his manner to us. From the start he was stern and hostile. He said he knew all about us and what sort of time we had had. We were now at the finish and it would be either one thing or the other. However, we were to be given one more chance to think over taking it on. I said there was no need for me to think it over, I was taking on nothing in the army. Jack, however, said he would think it over, and we were returned to the guardroom. The next day, hearing we were still of the same mind, the Colonel said: ‘I want you to understand that this is your only chance of taking on some form of non-combatant service. I don't say it will be offered to you. I don't say that you will get it. But if you don't agree to take on something of the sort, you will be sent straight to the trenches. Now this is not a threat, it's a fact; you may be sent anyway, but what I am telling you is your only hope. Think it over.’
So far, Jack and I had always been together at night, though we had sometimes been separated during the day. The reason given for allowing us to be together at night was that we might discuss the matter.
At my final interview with Howard I was alone. I told him page 81 I could only say again what I had already said many times that I would not take any kind of service in the army.
He said: ‘You have said what you intend to do. Now I will tell you what we intend to do. We'll make your life a hell, Baxter.’
I told him that it was not in the power of the military to do that; that they could make me suffer, but they couldn't make my life a hell; that lay with me.
‘Well, you'll find,’ he said, ‘that from now on you'll be compelled to obey.’
I was not long back in the guardroom when an escort marched in and removed me to another clink. I did not see Jack again. On the way over the guards remarked: ‘The game's up for you. You're being taken to Sergeant Falk.’
‘Oh, and what's he like?’
‘Wait till you see him and you'll soon know.’
I was brought intc the passage that ran in front of the cells. A uniform lay in readiness. The sergeant in charge of the clink came in. a tall, heavily-built man.
‘Strip him and put the uniform on him.’ he ordered. When this had been done he seized me by the shoulders and swung me round against the wall.
‘Now you see this,’ he said, clenching his fist and drawing his arm back, ready to strike. ‘If you attempt to take the uniform off you'll get this straight in the head and you'll get it again and again, till I've knocked bloody daylight through you.’
I ripped the buttons of the tunic open and pulled it down over my arms, expecting the blow every moment. To my astonishment he swung round suddenly and went out, calling out as he went: ‘Don't let him take it off.’
They put the tunic on me again and shut me in one of the cells. Dinner was brought in to me, but in spite of the fact that I had by this time removed the tunic they made no attempt to put it on me. It seemed to me that I had won on this. Perhaps it was all threats and they did not intend to go any distance in forcing me.page 82
The Adjutant came in. He began the interview with an assumption of breezy confidence.
‘So you're Baxter. I've often wanted to meet an objector, but I never have till now. (This was not strictly true, but did as an opening.) You're in my Company and I think we'll get on very well. I hear you have scruples about taking life. Is that it?’
‘Yes, I have scruples about taking life, if you put it that way. I am against war. I think it is wrong and I refuse to have anything to do with it, either in combatant service or in any way that would help in carrying it on.’
‘You object to taking life? Now I can tell you something about that. What did you have for dinner?’
‘I really couldn't put a name to it. Some kind of hash or other.’
‘Do you mean to say you don't know what you had for dinner? Sergeant, what did this man have for dinner?’
‘Well, sir, I couldn't exactly say. It was what was going here, some kind of mixture of biscuits and stuff.’
‘Did it have meat in it?’
‘Why, yes, sir, it had some bits of meat in it.’
‘That's what I wanted to know. Now,’ he said, turning to me, ‘you eat meat. To provide that meat an animal had to die. Now, I have been over in France and I know what's going on there and I can tell you that those Boches who come down on our men in the trenches are no better than animals. In fact, they're a great deal worse than lions and tigahs. So you need have no scruples whatever about killing them.’
Ill-suppressed laughter came from the guardroom, where they were all listening.
‘Do you mean to say,’ I exclaimed, ‘that you expect to influence me by such absolutely ridiculous arguments! All this absurd talk about lions and tigers. You can't tell me that the Germans, a civilized nation like others, are simply wild beasts, while the nations opposed to them remain civilized. I know that when men fight, animal instincts are roused on both sides, but that's war and that's what I am out against.’page 83
He dropped his appearance of amiability and became frankly angry.
‘Put this man in handcuffs,’ he ordered, ‘and keep them on until he promises to obey. And you'll have this off,’ he said, seizing me by the hair. ‘I daresay you're very proud of it. See that he gets a haircut, Sergeant.’
I did not see that he strengthened his case by being personally offensive. I did still try to keep my hair combed and myself otherwise in order, but that was no reason for attacking me.
The uniform was put on me again. Falk brought a pair of handcuffs and fastened my hands behind my back. A hat was jammed roughly down on my head and I was taken out to get a haircut. I was given a close crop, my hair being cut to the skin. Back in the guardroom, the handcuffs were taken off and I was allowed out in the passage in front of the cells.
I was walking up and down there when the Adjutant appeared the following day, not at all pleased at what he looked on as contravention of his orders.
‘What's this man doing out here and not in irons?’ he asked, and then to me, ‘You're having far too easy a time, but you're not going to have it any longer. You won't be allowed out here and you'll be handcuffed the whole time.’
Falk protested. ‘It's so cold in the cells, sir. It don't like putting him in there with the handcuffs on in this weather.’
‘If he doesn't choose to obey,’ said the Adjutant, ‘he can stay in handcuffs till he freezes.’
The orders were carried out. From that time until the day before I left Sling, three weeks later, the handcuffs were never off except at night, while I was in bed, and while I took my meals, the guard standing over me ready to put them on again the moment I had taken the last mouthful.
At first I was taken out for exercise every day, along the road through the camp on which we were certain to meet the largest number of men both coming and going. The object was, not that I should have the requisite amount of exercise to keep me in health, but that the shame and humiliation of being thus exposed, manacled, to the eyes of the troops, should force me page 84 into giving in. I can't say I didn't feel it. I did, intensely, and never ceased to, but it did not have the desired effect.
The military police did not like it at all, and did their best, by walking as close to me as they could, to hide the handcuffs. After a few days of this, they said on coming out of the guardroom: ‘Let's go round here; it's quiet,’ and instead of going through the camp, we turned down a road that led immediately into the bare open Plain, where we seldom met anyone.
Another day, this time in company with two prisoners from the guardroom, we took a track leading through open fields and along a ridge sparsely covered with a scrubby kind of box, to a wood set high on a hill. On its outer edge was a grove of hazel brush, the bushes as high and strong as trees, with many nuts still on them. My two companions climbed the trees and knocked down the nuts.
One of the guards standing watching said to me: ‘Now, Baxter, wouldn't you like to do that too? Give us your word you won't remove the uniform and we'll take the handcuffs off.’
But that I would not do, and so I had to remain an onlooker. As we came by the guard who had wanted me to climb the trees, remarked: ‘Well, we've had a pleasant outing, haven't we?’
He spoke, I am sure, only in friendliness, and I replied that I had enjoyed it, but his words were a mockery to me. There was beauty all around us up there on the hill—beauty of bare, leafless trees, of wild blue distance and open plain. Instead of pleasing me it saddened and hurt me, giving an edge to the contrast between the freedom of nature and my condition of which the iron shackles were a constant reminder. In the cell I could bear it better, for there was no contrast to cut me. But on the free and open hills the bitterness of the struggle was brought home to me in its fullness.
Very soon afterwards these outings ceased, and I got no exercise at all except when I was taken before officers, which meant a walk of only a hundred yards or so. On these occasions I was always marched with a great deal of military show page 85 on the part of the escort. Shouts of ‘Halt! Stand to attention!’ and my hat would be snatched from my head with a tug that nearly dislocated my jaws, to be jammed on again later, when I would be marched out to the accompaniment of further shouts. The Colonel would ask: ‘Any charge against this man, Sergeant?’
As a rule he obviously didn't know what to do with me, asked a few tentative questions and dismissed me without having arrived anywhere.
It was, as Falk had said, very cold in the cell. When the weather was rough, rain, sleet and snow came in through the hole high up in the outer wall that ventilated it, and the frost came in when the weather was clear. My blankets were removed during the day and the cell was left absolutely bare. If I wanted to read—and literature was sometimes handed in to the guardroom for me—I had to sit on the floor with the paper beside me and turn my back to it when I had to turn a page. I was often so stiff with the cold and the cramped position of my arms, held always behind me by the handcuffs, that I could hardly move a limb. I developed a violent faceache. No doubt a decayed tooth was the original cause of it, but the cold played its part in intensifying it. The doctor examined my mouth and sent me to the dentist. He looked at my mouth.
‘You'd better write his name on the card,’ he said to one of the orderlies.
‘It seems a shame to let his name go in amongst the other men's,’ said the orderly.
‘That's so, but there has to be some record kept.’
To me he said: ‘There's a good deal to do. If we fix up your mouth for you, you'll promise to take on service in the army?’
‘What's that got to do with you?’ I asked. ‘I never asked to be brought here.’
‘No, but you said you had toothache.’
‘You're trying to make a bargain with me over my teeth. I won't promise to do anything at all.’page 86
‘In that case we can do nothing for you,’ he said.
I was irritated by the feeling that I had been made a fool of, and by the pain in my jaws, for which I had now no hope of relief, and was in no amiable mood.
As I went back to my escort the orderly tackled me: ‘You're a farmer, aren't you? Don't you think your farm is worth fighting for?’
‘No, I don't. There's nothing I think worth killing men for.’
‘No, but other men are fighting for you.’
‘Are you fighting for me? Am I asking anyone to fight for me?’
‘I don't reckon a man like you is worth his salt.’
‘And I don't reckon you're worth much, attacking a man before you know anything about him. If I were free and we were back in New Zealand you wouldn't dare to speak to me like this.’
I suppose I looked pretty savage. I know I felt it. He paled and retreated before me, his bluff simply fading out. This episode, retailed in the guardroom with much enjoyment by the escort, strengthened the belief generally held in the camp, that I was too violent to be allowed out of irons this belief originating in the fact that I was never seen except in handcuffs. The military police enjoyed these stories and I don't believe made any attempt to contradict them.
I had visitors, many of them, and in one respect I gained by it, as the cell was too cold for them and I had to be brought out into the passage to talk to them. On the other hand, I found it very hard always to have to be ready to answer questions, state my case and stand up against argument, no matter how I felt, no matter how little inclination I had for the task. My opponents were many; they relieved one another and came fresh to the fray. I was only one and often far from fresh. Moreover, they were physically comfortable, while I was the reverse, and often so cold, stiff and weary that I could hardly drag my tired brain to the encounter.
Several chaplains came. The first was of the confident type. He said he had been asked to come and see me. He thought it a great pity that I should take such a stand and refuse noncombatant page 87 service, which, he said, he was sure the authorities would agree to if I offered something of the kind. In that case there would be no need for me to take life, which he understood I objected to doing. ‘And as for not wanting to do anything in the army, when the State is at war, you can't avoid taking part in some way.’
‘That may be true,’ I said, ‘but at the same time, leading the life one has always led and taking part in the military machine are two very different things. I object to Governments forcing the people of a country under conscription to murder the people of another country I am making my protest against it in the best way I can. War is an evil thing, should be done away with, and I believe can be done away with. It seems right to me to stand out against it and I intend to stand out against it, no matter what I suffer, even if they kill me.’
He said there were plenty of people who did things they didn't like and went through with things when they were doubtful about them.
I replied that I knew there were plenty of people who didn't, stand to their convictions, but that was no reason why I shouldn't, and for some people to stand by their convictions might help others to do the same.
‘And what influence do you think you are going to have on others, shut up in prison, where no one will ever hear about you?’
I said that I hoped some people would, and that I spread my ideas amongst the people I came in contact with, no matter where.
He concluded by saying that he hoped, for my sake, that I'd see reason.
Most of the chaplains argued on these lines. One man, however, was obviously not easy in his mind, though he had been sent to convince me of the advisability of taking on some form of service. He began by saying he was sorry to see me in this condition. I told him that he did not need to be sorry for me. I was standing to my convictions and trying to practise what he preached from the New Testament.page 88
‘Do you, then, base your objection on religious grounds?’ he asked.
‘I base it on the fact that war is evil. It is murder and I object to murder and to people being forced into doing it. Feeling as I do, it is right for me to fight it as I am doing.’
‘But,’ he said, ‘you have made your protest. Why not cease before anything more is done to you? Some of your companions have done so. and those who have not, who knows what will happen to them?’
I said I was not concerned with consequences, but with making my stand against what I believed to be wrong. What I had suffered and probably would suffer had nothing to do with it.
Was I so certain I was right in the matter, he wanted to know. ‘The question of war is a very difficult one for many people. It is a matter for very careful consideration. You should go into it and look at it from all sides.’
‘I went into it very thoroughly years ago and when war came I had made up my mind very definitely about it. You say that some of my mates have given in? If they have it was because of the force used against them. Do you justify that? And having heard what I have said, and knowing that I should be acting against my conscience, do you still advise me to cease to stand by my convictions?’
In the end he said he could not advise me to. I think they all felt at a disadvantage in urging me to give up my stand and that hampered them in argument; for they never seemed, for some reason, to put up anything really strong against me.
This was not the case with the non-spiritual officers, who were hampered by no scruples of that kind. They were entirely concerned with trying to force, persuade or entrap me into offering to undertake some form of service in the army. It was useless for me to say that I had already stated my case, that I was still of the same mind and did not intend to take on any form of service whatever. I had to go into it over and over again with variations according to the arguments put up.
One day I had a new type of visitor. The guards brought in a man to see me.
‘Here's a man just back from France,’ they said. ‘He's one page 89 of the best men we have. He's been through the whole thing, and can tell you all about it.’
He came in, a good type, intelligent and clear-headed. We talked on very friendly terms together. He wanted to hear my point of view, he said. He had been at the Front for three years, mostly in the front lines.
‘And all the time I've been passing through stages, till now I've come to about the same position as you. I believe war is a bad thing and if there is any possible way of getting rid of it, we ought to take it. I don't say I've quite the same attitude as you have, but I don't find anything to disagree with in what you say. What surprises me is that it's taken this experience to bring me to this point of view, but you're reached it from the start. I think the stand you're taking is perfectly right.’
As he came out they asked him: ‘How did you get on?’
‘All right,’ he said. ‘He's a very sensible chap and I'd like to have another talk with him. The only difference between us is that he's known from the start what it's taken me three years to learn.’
The guardroom was only a small building and when the door of the partition between the guardroom proper and the passage in front of the cells was open, as it usually was, everything that was said could be heard through the whole place. After my visitor had gone I heard an officer ask the Sergeant in the guardroom: ‘How did that man get on with Baxter?’
‘All right, sir. He came out saying he agreed with every word that Baxter said.’
The officer made a sound of annoyance. ‘That'll never do,’ he said.
The guardroom listened to the arguments, and as a general rule it was considered, as far as I could gather, that I had the best of it. My official title used at times to cause confusion. I overheard one man in the guardroom say to another: ‘Did you hear what the C.O. said? “It would be better if neither side wins the war”.’
‘Go on, did he say that?’
And there was much amusement when it was realized that page 90 it was I and not the Colonel who had expressed such sentiments.
When I first came into the clink I was told that since I had left New Zealand, two more of my brothers had been sent over and were now in France. I also heard that all objectors were being sent from New Zealand. I thought it might quite possibly be true, at least about my brothers, but I couldn't find out that anyone had seen them, though many had heard about it. In the end I found out that it was not true, that no more objectors had been sent out of New Zealand after us, the experiment having given far too much trouble to be repeated.
I was taken down to the Stores and web gear was offered to me. An officer, who was present for that express purpose, ordered me to pick it up. I refused. The next day I was brought before the Commanding Officer for summary of evidence, preparatory to a court-martial, on the charge of refusing to obey an order. I was asked if I had any comment to make. Yes, I had. Though no communication had been allowed by the authorities between New Zealand objectors and sympathetic organizations in England. Quaker publications had somehow found their way into the camp and had been given to me. These leaflets gave technical points that might be of use to an objector at his court-martial, and they now proved useful to me.
‘I want to make it clear that I would not have taken the gear in any case…’
‘Yes, yes, that's all right, go on with what you have to say.’
‘… but the officer, in telling me to pick up the gear, did not say: “I order you”.’
It worked. The charge was a washout, and for the present at least, we were no nearer a court-martial than we had been before. The officer taking the evidence leaned over to Falk, who was in charge of the escort, and asked in a low voice; ‘Why is this man always in irons?’
‘We don't dare to take them off him, sir,’ he replied.
‘Is that so?’ said the officer and looked again at me. I daresay I did look rather rough. Hair just beginning to grow after a short crop and a stubble about an inch long—for they didn't give me a shave very often—do produce an uncivilized page 91 appearance, enhanced, moreover, by wearing irons. I remonstrated with Falk after we came out. ‘What made you say that?’
He laughed. ‘It's the truth, isn't it? You heard the Adjutant's orders. We're not allowed to take them off.’
‘But he took it that I was violent.’
‘Of course he did, and so does everyone that sees you.’
He told the story afterwards in the guardroom amid much laughter.
I was taken to the Stores for the second time and the same procedure was gone through again. This same officer, with furious emphasis, shouted: ‘I order you to pick up your gear.’ I refused as before. I was brought before the Commanding Officer and heard the evidence read. Had I any comment to make?
Yes, I had. ‘I would not have picked it up in any case, but when I was ordered to pick up the web gear I was in irons and therefore unable to pick it up.’
This was final. They made no further attempt to proceed with the court-martial. I have never been able to understand the matter. Did they want to court-martial me or did they not? It seems an extraordinary thing that they should have overlooked so obvious a fact as my inability to pick the thing up.
It was a very cold night and I was making my tea last as long as I possibly could, for I dreaded the hours between tea and bed-time. The guard, standing waiting with the handcuffs, grew impatient.
‘Come on, hurry up! I can't wait here all night. If you've not finished you'll have to go without.’
It was as if he had touched a spring. All the pent-up irritation of those days and weeks of cold and cramp and ceaseless strain, with toothache to add an edge to it, broke over me like a wave, irrepressible, uncontrollable. I turned on him. ‘You're treating me worse than a dog! Keeping me shut up in this cold without a chance to stretch my limbs! And as for putting those things on, you only do it because I allow you to. You couldn't if I didn't.’page 92
‘Couldn't I?’ he said. ‘We'll see about that,’ and made for me.
We scuffled round the cell and he soon found it was not the easy job he had thought it. He shouted for help. Two more guards came in and then a third. The cell was far too small for so many men. They got in one another's way, banged into the walls and knocked one another down instead of me, and for quite a while had no success. In the end they would inevitably, have got the better of me. They got me down on the floor winded, and sat on me, trying to get a handcuff onto one wrist. At that moment Falk came in. He stood looking at us for a moment.
‘A bright lot you are,’ he said. ‘Four of you and you can't put one man in handcuffs. Leave the man alone,’ and to me: ‘Come out and have a warm at the fire.’
‘You're not fair to us, Sergeant,’ the men said, ‘another minute and we'd have got them on him. You were just a minute too soon.’
I came out panting and warm for once. The remains of the guardroom tea still lay on the table. As I had not been able to finish my own I cut myself a slice of bread and took it over to the stove to toast. They all laughed.
‘Isn't he a hard case!’
The excitement of the struggle died down. I began to feel rather ashamed of the undignified and inconsistent position my irritation had led me into.
‘I'm sorry this happened, Sergeant,’ I said, ‘but he caught me on the hop.’
‘You don't need to be sorry. Anyone can understand a man feeling like that. No one thinks any the worse of you for it.’
It was true. Even the guards I had struggled with disclaimed any feeling of resentment against me for it.
I was much in favour that evening. Falk became most friendly. ‘Don't call me Sergeant, call me George,’ he said. ‘and I'll call you Archie. I hope they don't beat you,’ he went on. ‘I don't believe they will. I knew from the moment I set eyes on you that the game was no good, and I could have told page 93 them that all this business of trying to force you to give in was a waste of time.’
He became even more pressing in his offers of friendship. ‘I hate to see a man shut up like without one bit of pleasure. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll take you down one of these nights, to a girl I know.’
I did not grasp his meaning at first and thought he was suggesting a social call. He soon enlightened me.
‘Mind you,’ he said, ‘she's not one of the kind that takes every Tom, Dick and Harry. She's very particular and only takes officers.’
‘You're not an officer.’ I said. He smiled complacently. ‘I'm specially favoured.’
‘And if she takes only officers and the specially favoured, what makes you think she'd take me?’
‘I'd fix that up all right.’
‘You're not really serious?’
‘Too right I am. I'm in charge here and can do what I like with you. It'll be quite easy to get you out.’
I said: ‘I'm sorry to have to turn down your kind offer, but, seriously speaking, I don't believe in that sort of thing. I think it's wrong to use women like that.’
He was hurt. ‘I only meant to do you a good turn. I hadn't any idea of trying to work anything.’
‘I know that. All the same I can't accept it.’
Falk did not altogether give up hope.
‘He says he won't go,’ he remarked to the guardroom at large, ‘but we're going some night all the same, even if I have to take him by force. I'll bet he wouldn't resist once he saw her.’
I had uncomfortable visions of the figure I should cut, being taken by force on this adventure. Whether Falk's well-meant designs would actually have been carried out, it is hard to say, for at that moment the Adjutant walked in. Hitherto, when he had made surprise visits during the preceding three weeks, he had always found me handcuffed in my cell. Here I was at large in the guardroom. He was far from pleased.
‘What is the meaning of this? Why isn't he in handcuffs?’page 94
Falk, taken unawares, lost his usual readiness.
‘The guards don't find it easy to put them on him, sir.’
‘Don't they! I'll soon put men here who will.’
This was putting me in a rather unfair position, but I could say nothing. He turned on me.
‘As for you, Baxter, I can see it's the limelight you're after. It's glorification you want.’
‘Glorification!’ I said. ‘There's not much of it about this.’
‘You know perfectly well you're being made a lion of here. It's high time you were shifted.’
The next day he came in with the Colonel and they told me I was being sent to France that day with a draft. Would I promise to go quietly?
‘You'll go anyway, but if you won't give your word to go quietly and not take the uniform off, you'll go in handcuffs.’
I had already thought out the question of wearing the uniform pretty thoroughly. For three weeks I had worn it, had never been seen without it. Few—only the guards and the officers who had dealings with me—knew that I wore it only because the handcuffs prevented me from removing it. I had therefore not got very far with it as a protest. If I continued to refuse to wear uniform I should continue to be kept in handcuffs. I had only had three weeks of it and had found it inexpressibly trying to both body and mind. My strength had been very much worn down by it. Was I prepared to go on with it indefinitely, wearing myself out on that one point? I should be compelled to wear it, whether I refused or not. I had always admitted the possibility of not being able to hold out on that point, if the authorities chose to use certain means. They had so chosen. Would it not be better to use all my strength in concentrating on the main point, the refusal to perform any military service? They could not compel me to do that without my consent. They could regard it as a victory if they liked. It was not going to prevent me from refusing to take part in the military machine. I do not doubt that there are many who will think I was wrong in not continuing to fight on the matter of the uniform. I am not excusing my action, only trying to give my reasons for it. I said I would go quietly and would page 95 not take the uniform off, as I realized I was in their power. As for doing anything, that was a different matter. I would keep my freedom of action and my right to refuse to obey orders. They were sending me to France. Well, my mates were there and I felt I should be with them.
I wanted to see Jack before I left, but this was not allowed. I had never been able to obtain any information about him since I had been separated from him. but I felt sure he had not been sent to France or they would have certainly told me.
The draft was drawn up before the door of the guardroom. The officer in charge called out: ‘Bring him out.’
‘Just a minute, sir,’ said Falk, ‘the chaps want to say goodbye to him.’
All the men in the clink, guards and prisoners alike, came up to shake hands with me and to wish me luck. They asked me if I was going to stand out in France. I said, yes, that I would stand to my convictions, no matter what the consequences, in France or anywhere else. They all crowded round the door to see me go and a great cheer rose as I went out and joined the draft. They stood waving to me from the door until I passed out of sight.