The Spike or Victoria University College Review June 1917
Captain Arnold Atkinson
The death in action of Captain S. A. Atkinson gives us another reminder that the war is taking toll of our very best—the best not merely as soldiers, but in general character and citizenship. The manner of his death was in perfect keeping with his faithful, strenuous and self-sacrificing life. He volunteered for service after he had passed the age limit originally fixed for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and under conditions which hundreds of equally brave and patriotic men have regarded as entitling them or even as requiring them to stay at home. And having so volunteered he has fallen while rushing forward to help a fallen comrade under conditions which other brave men might have considered to justify them in declining the risk. The same entire forgetfulness of self which distinguished Arnold Atkinson throughout his life has won for him a glorious death.page 28
No long chronicle is needed to record the chief events of a career which, except in its crowning sacrifice, was distinguished by quiet and unostentatious service rather than by things that catch the public eye. Born in Nelson in 1875, the fourth son and fifth child of Major (afterwards Sir Harry) Atkinson, Samuel Arnold Atkinson was educated at Nelson College. After taking his degree in 1896 he began the study of law at Victoria College, and in he office of Messrs Bell, Gully, Bell and Myers, and on being admitted as a barrister and solicitor he entered upon the practice of his professor in partnership with Mr. T. F. Martin. The partnership was dissolved in July 1915 in order that he might taken up the position of Law Reporter in Willington for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal—a position which was being kept open for him at the time of his death. He married in 1903 a daughter of the late Richard Hursthouse who represented Motueka for the many years in Parlimanent, and she survives him with a family of six young children.
In public affairs, Captain Atkinson always took a keen interest, but he was too broad-minded and too much of an idealist to take kindly to party politics. He preferred to throw in his lot with the great movements outside of party politics which prepare the ground for the politicians and shape their ends in a manner often unknown to themselves. His passion for justice and freedom made him for a year or two the highly efficient secretary of a State Schools Defence League organized to maintain the secularity of the public school curriculum against what he believed to be a denominational danger. But the causes which imposed the severest and most prolonged tax upon his energies were those of compulsory military training and Imperial Unity.
At all times an enthusiastic volunteer, he had formed a high opinion of the value of military training. He was also strongly impressed with the duty of the Dominions to become active partners in Imperial Defence. Thus it was that the movement for universal military training found no more enthusiastic champion than him; and without the services which as secretary and organizer of the Citizens' Defence League he rendered to the movement the success which it so speedily attained might have been long deferred. There are very few men to whom New page 29 Zealand is more indebted for the Military Training scheme of which she is so proud than Captain Atkinson, though his self-suppression, which was at least as remarkable as his energy and enthusiasm, may have concealed the fact. No public manhad ever more completely realized than he, or with a slighter expenditure of effort, the aspiration of Huxley against worrying about who gets the credit for good work as long as the work is done.
The passing of the Defence Acts 1909 and 1910 left Captain Atkinson free for other public work, and he found a new mission in the Imperial propaganda which was institute by Mr. Lionel Curtis on his visit to New Zealand in 1910. As the Dominion Secretary and agent of the "Round Table," Captain Atkinson became the life and soul of the movement in New Zealand. The fact that the magazine secured a larger circulation here in proportion to population than in any other part of the Empire was chiefly due to his personal exertions; and the success of the Round Table groups for Imperial study sprang in large measure from the same source. The last phase of his public activity before enlisting was as secretary of the War League—an organization which did valuable work during the first year of the war in impressing upon the Government the need for sending more men to the front, and for making more liberal provision for the disabled and the dependents of the fallen. Even at the front he was troubled by the thought that New Zealand was not doing all that she ought towards winning the war; and his mind was busy with schemes for bringing our contributions in men and money up to the scale established in each case by Great Britain. How keenly he was exercised by these problems to the very last is proved by the touching appeal to his fellow-countrymen which was apparently written in the expectation of death and appeared in the "Dominion's" obituary notice on the 14th June. Here are two of the most striking sentences :
"Until New Zealand does as France has done, putting into the field every fit man, except the minimum required for the essential industries, and putting into the Allies' common pot here wealth and the united work of her people, for so long will New Zealand continue to play with her freedom and sponge on others for her defence . . . . . . .You don't realize that putting men and guns here is the sole privilege and duty of mankind at present."
Faith, hope, courage, enthusiasm, humility, single-minded devotion to duty and an entire subordination of self to the claims of others were the leading characteristics of Arnold Atkinson's career; and those who remember the "fighting Major" will recognize in each case the power of heredity. Without his father's genius for aggressive leadership, he was distinguished by a womanly tenderness which was less disguised from the world by his fighting qualities than in his father's case and gave him a rare power of attracting friendship and inspiring confidence. None of his friends ever doubted that under any conditions the course of duty was the only one that he could follow. The balancing, not of duty against interest, but of duty against, was his only serious trouble, and it was this problem alone that perplexed the decision of his personal attitude towards the war. When the period of indecision was over, when he had decided to go and the commission which made possible for him to go was assured, the serene and happy spirit with which he became inspired was beautiful to see. It seemed to have renewed his youth, to have restored elasticity to his step, to have banished any sign of the physical weakness which even then some of his friends feared—and others hoped—might keep him from the firing line. From that time onwards they can think of him only as the happiest of happy warriors, as one—
Who comprehends his trust and to the same
keeps faithful with a singleness of aim;
* * * * *
Whose powers shed round him in the common strife,
Or mild concern of ordinary life,
A constant influence, a peculiar grace;
But who, if he be called upon to face
Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined
Great issues, good or bad for human kind,
Is happy as a lover; and attired
With sudden brightness like a man inspired;
And, through the heat of conflict, keeps the law
In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw;
Of if an unexpected call succeed,
Come when it will, is equal to the need.
We know that when the last call came, Aronold Atkinson was equal to the need, and we do not require the verdict of the trenches to assure us that his military career was marked throughout by the same loyalty, courage and self-sacrifice which brought it to a glorious close. One of the traits that endeared him to his company was that he "never expected a man to do what he would not do himself"; but that last act showed that he was prepared to do things himself which he would never ask of anybody eles.
We wish to take this opportunity of expressing to Mr. Siegfried Eichelbaum the College's sincerest sympathy in the great loss he has sustained by the death of his father, Mr. Max Eichelbaum, in May, after a long and painful illness, patiently and bravely borne.
We also wish to convey to Mr. D. S. Smith our sincere sympathy in the great loss he has sustained in the death of his wife in January last.