Armageddon or Calvary: The Conscientious Objectors of New Zealand and "The Process of Their Conversion"
At the time the miss-called National Register was taken, Mr. Briggs was employed as a flax-worker at Manga-iti, in the Waketo district. In filling in the register form, he stated that he held conscientious objections to military service, and that he was not prepared to serve with the army either in or out of New Zealand; but he further stated that he was prepared to do any work of national importance (other than war work) either in or out of New Zealand, provided it was work for which he was fitted.
The story which follows is Mark Briggs's own narrative:—I was drawn in the Third Ballot, and duly notified by registered letter to parade for medical examination, I ignored the order, and some time later a military officer with the rank of major appeared at my place of business and handed me another notice, at the same time saying: "you will parade at Duke Street, Palmerston North, at half-past nine to-morrow morning." I replied: "I will not" The Major then said: "Will later in the day suit you?" I said: "No," He then asked: You are the Mark Briggs who was drawn in the ballot, are you not?" I replied: "I have had sufficient notifications from the military authorities to lead me to believe I am." The page 55Major then wanted to know when it would suit me to appear for examination. I told him that it would never suit me. He then said: "All right; I'll send you a registered notice in the morning." The Major then walked out, and next morning the third notice (registered) came to hand. I took no notice of this; and I next received a card ordering me to parade at Palmerston North preparatory to proceeding to camp. Of this I also took no notice. Then, after all these interviews and notices, I found my name gazetted as "Missing and cannot be found." When this Gazette notice appeared in the Palmerston North papers it was the source of much amusement.
In the meantime, I lodged an appeal on formal grounds, solely for the purpose of gaining time. I did not appear to support the appeal, which was, of course, dismissed.
On or about the 23rd of March, 1917, at nine in the morning, a police officer put in an appearance with a warrant for my arrest, and I was taken to the Defence Office, where I was asked by the officer it I was now prepared to be medically examined. I replied, "No." I was then put in a room where six or eight red-caps were amusing themselves playing cards. At about two in the afternoon I was taken to the military barracks by two red-caps. I was next taken before the higher officers and was asked all the questions on the attestation paper, answering "No" in practically every instance.
I was then taken to the police station by the red caps, where I remained all night, and next day taken back to the barracks and presented before the same officers, when the procedure of the preceding day was practically gone through again. The officer in charge at last intimated that I would proceed to Trentham at 11.30 that day. "How many police will it take to conduct you there?" he asked me. I replied: "It took one of the civil police to arrest me, two military police to bring me down here in the first place, two to take me to the police station, and four to fetch me from there down here this morning. I leave you to be the judge." He then said he supposed one would do, and immediately ordered one of the military police to take me to Wellington, at the same time handing him a pair of handcuffs. I was brought to Wellington, and at Lambton Station was met by Mr. H. E. Holland, then editor of "The Maoriland Worker."
I was taken out to Trentham, and placed in Details that night. The next morning I was taken before Colonel Potter. Camp Commandant, and was charged with disobeying the order to parade, and the charge was dismissed on technical grounds. I was, however, not permitted to return home; but was taken to the Records Office, where an attestation paper was placed before me and I was requested to sign it, which I refused to do. I was then placed in the "clink." The following morning I was again taken before Colonel Potter, and was once more charged with having disobeyed a lawful command given by page 56my superior officer. After evidence had been tendered, I was asked what I had to say to the charge, and replied that I didn't admit that I had a superior officer. Colonel Potter asked if I would take a sentence from him or be tried by courtmartial. I replied that I would not take his sentence, and was, accordingly, remanded for court-martial.
A day or two later I was taken, along with Mr. Levett, from the "clink" to the medical hut by the military police. At the medical hut I was subjected to an examination which resolved itself into a heart test. This test was made by two doctors, and the papers were duly filled in. We were then taken back to the "clink;" and on the way there the military policeman said: "You have no need to trouble; you'll be out of camp in three days. Have a look at this." He showed both Levett and myself the medical report, which was to the effect that I was not medically fit to undergo a courtmartial trial. A few days later I was taken before another doctor, and by him was passed fit to undergo hard labour, etc. That day I was courtmartialled, the charge being the stereotyped one of disobeying a lawful command. The President of the courtmartial asked me: "Are you a religious objector?" I replied that I did not base my objections on religious grounds. "What, then, do you stand for?" he asked. "For the liberty and freedom of the masses of the people of New Zealand," I replied. "But, my dear fellow," he said, "if you stood for the liberty and freedom of the people of New Zealand, you'd be fighting the Germans. What do you mean when you say you stand for the liberty and freedom of the people?" "I stand absolutely opposed to the Conscription Act, which was placed on the Statute Book by a few irresponsible individuals," I said. He retorted: "You elected these men to Parliament to make the laws, and you should obey them." "If that is your contention," I said, "you must uphold every German in the trenches, because they are only obeying laws made similarly by the irresponsible individuals in their country." He didn't reply to this; and I was sentenced to thirty days' hard labour in the civil prison, which sentence I served in Mount Cook Prison. At the end of the thirty days I was taken from Mount Cook to the Terrace. Jail, and handed over to the military police. I was next taken by the red-caps to Alexandra Barracks, kept there a few hours; then taken by the military police to the police station at Lambton Quay. Late that night I was taken from there to Trentham. Next day I was ordered to take my kit and refused. The following morning I was again charged before Colonel Potter with disobeying a lawful command. I again declined to receive a sentence from the Colonel, and was duly remanded for another courtmartial. I went through the usual medical procedure, and was again passed fit for hard labour. I was once more courtmartialed and found guilty, and after waiting a fortnight for sentence, was told that "it was a washout "-which meant that no sentence would be promulgated.page 57
A few days later I was again taken before a doctor, and, as usual, passed fit to undergo hard labour; and was taken without any notice whatever straight from there before a third courtmartial, and again charged with disobeying a lawful command. When asked if I had anything to say. I raised the objection that the military law required that a man should be given 24 hours' notice of courtmartial proceedings, and that I had been brought there at a moment's notice. The President said. "Oh, that doesn't matter." I replied that if that was so it was not worth my while putting up any defence whatever, and accordingly I took no further part in the proceedings. I again had to wait a fortnight before sentence was pronounced. It proved to be 84 days' hard labour. Of this I served seven weeks at Mount Cook Prison.
On the morning of July 13, 1917, I was taken from Mount Cook along with seven others to the Terrace Jail. Here we were given our own clothes, shaved, and kept in the yard all day. I saw Mr. Peter Fraser that afternoon, and shook hands with him as he was going in to his cell. We were kept in the yard until after dark, when we were taken inside and handed over to a military escort, which outnumbered us by two to one. Without being told where we were going, we were marched through the streets with the members of the escort all around us, and in this way were taken to the wharf, where a transport was lying. By this time we recognized that the move was to forcibly transport us. When we reached the foot of the gangway, one of the boys in the front rank shouted: "Are we going to walk up the gangway, Mark?" I replied: "Certainly not." We were then seized and forced up the gangway. As they were taking me up I called out to the wharf labourers: "You can tell the citizens of Wellington that there are eight conscientious objectors forcibly deported in civvie clothes from New Zealand." They replied: "You have our sympathy." I answered back: "We want more than that." By this time they had got us on deck. The eight of us were pushed into the "clink" together, and an armed guard of four men with fixed bayonets was placed on the inside of the door of the "clink," and remained there all night.
The eight men thus forcibly placed on board were: Garth Ballantyne, Penwright, Adin, Gray, Patten, Saunderson, Harland, and myself. Next morning we were joined by the three Baxters and Little, and later Maguire and Kirwan were brought from Trentham Camp and placed along with us. That afternoon (July 14) the boat, the Waitemata, pulled out from the wharf and sailed.
The "clink" was about 22 feet by 10 feet, and the first night out the whole fourteen of us were compelled to sleep there. There were no basins, and twelve out of the fourteen were sea-sick. Penwright and myself alone were able to keep right, and we attended to the others. The state of the cabin can be well imagined. Penwright and I cleaned it up in the morning, after getting a drink of tea for page 58the others. We both got ill as a result of the state of the cabin, We were kept in this "clink" all next day, being left to ourselves. The third day out a non-commissioned officer told us we were to do "fatigue."." We said we would not go out. 'Then," he said, "We will drag you out." I said, "Carry on." We were not dragged out.
The fourth day out the same n.c.o. came to the "clink" again, this time with a guard, took out the kits which had been placed there, ordered us out and when we refused to go carried us out separately, stripped us on the hatchway, and forcibly dressed us in khaki. We were stripped and dressed in the presence of hundreds of men. After we had all been dressed, we were pushed back into the "clink." As soon as we were back in the "clink" I started to undress, when some of the guard who had dressed us came over to stop me. Members of the guard asked me to keep my clothes on until they were out of the way. I refused. An officer standing in the "clink" doorway said. "Tie him up." "Yes," I said; "put me in the darkest dungeon on the boat, and I'll take them off there." Eventually they went away, and we all took the khaki off. They had kept our civilian clothes, and we remained dressed in nothing but our underclothing until after tea that evening, when the kits were brought back containing our clothes. We immediately donned our own things and shoved the khaki back in the kits. On this day we were given a short crop.
From this fourth day out until the day before Capetown was reached, we were occasionally allowed on deck for fresh air. Kirwan was in hospital from the third day out until we reached Capetown. Before Capetown was reached, however, measles broke out on the boat. Now, the "clink' was situated under the poop deck, and the other part of the ship under the poop deck was made an isolation place for the measles cases. Barring one porthole in the "clink" and one in the adjoining cell, the only ventilation for the "clink" came through the isolation (hospital) ward. It was not to be wondered at that four of the C.O.'s developed measles, three (Archie Baxter, J. Baxter, and Sanderson) being taken off at Capetown, too ill to proceed further.
The day before our arrival at Capetown we were told by the n.c.o. that we should have to help load the boat there. We intimated that we would not do it, whereupon we were told that if we refused we should be kept below all the time the boat remained at Capetown. Consequently, during the whole fortnight we were at Captown, we were not allowed on deck until we were transshipped to the Norman Castle on the day we were to sail for England.
The first night we spent on the Norman Castle we were placed on the poop deck, and the only shelter overhead was the gun platform, the planks of which were well apart. We suffered intensely from the cold, not averaging two blankets each. Next morning two lieutenants came along, and told us we had to have a bath. I said:page 59
"Very good; we haven't had enough bathing since we left New Zealand; but." I added, "if those men are bringing up the kits for the purpose of getting us into khaki, I am not going to help you by taking these clothes off-you'll have to take them from me forcibly." One of the lieutenants replied: "We will soon do that." Orders were now given, and our clothes were stripped from us and thrown overboard. The ship's hose, used for washing down the decks, was then turned on us, after which they dried us in a sort of way with towels, and forcibly dressed us up in khaki. We were then left alone on the poop deck, and eight of us at once stripped off the khaki, and then went all day in underclothing. The following day they came along again, and this time the underclothing was taken from us by force, again the hose was played on us, and again we were dressed in khaki. As soon as the guard left us we promptly divested ourselves of the military clothing, and now remained clad only in shirt and singlet. During the whole day this was our sole attire. Next morning they stripped us naked, and this time redressed us in just khaki tunic and pants. We immediately removed these and went naked, using towels for loin cloths. It has to be remembered that the Norman Castle carried passengers as well as troops, and apparently the military martinets thought we would not strip the khaki off in view of these. However, we remained in this state during the whole of the remainder of the journey, until within three days' sail of Plymouth, when we managed to get possession of a shirt and underpants. We arrived in Plymouth Harbour clad in these.
It may be mentioned that all through the danger zone we were kept down below under lock and key. When the guard had to take anyone up to the latrines he left the door locked. Had anything happened he could not possibly have got down to release us.
The morning we arrived at Plymouth, and on which we were to disembark, we were again forcibly dressed in khaki. Several of us refused to walk ashore. I was dragged along the deck by the n.c.o., and was then seized and frog-marched down the gangway on to the lighter. I was next carried ashore from the lighter, and, refusing to walk to the train, was lifted on to a truck and wheeled lo the carriage, into which I was lifted. Reaching the flag station at which we were to disembark for Sling Camp, I refused to leave the train, and was dragged out, and left lying on the platform in charge of a non-commissioned officer until a military escort came from the camp to take me along. Arrived at Sling Camp, I was put in what was termed the Wellington "clink." There was a "clink" for each district. I found Ballantyne, Maguire, and Adin there. While having tea a sergeant-major came and asked for my name and regimental number. I gave him my name, but told him I recognized no regimental number. He angrily ordered me to stand up when speaking to him. This I refused to do, and another n c.o. unsuccessfully endeavored to drag me to my feet. The sergeant-major then declared page 60that I was to have no tea if I refused to obey orders, and I thereupon walked away, and eventually went to bed without tea.
Adin was taken away to the hospital; and on the morning after our arrival. Ballantyne, Maguire and myself refused to wear the khaki, and were each forcibly dressed, and were now placed in separate cells. Immediately we were in the cells, we removed the khaki again. An escort came in and once more forcibly dressed us and handcuffed us, fastening our hands behind our backs. We were now ordered to be placed on bread and water for two days. We refused to take the bread and water. After tea-time the handcuffs were taken Off, and immediately our hands were free we again stripped off the khaki. In the meantime, we were given our blankets and mattresses.
On the day following our arrival at Sling Camp, I was lying on the floor of the cell, in an Endeavour to rest my shoulders. The effect of the hands being fastened behind for hours was to cause the shoulders to ache distressfully, and the only possible way to relieve the pain was to lie face downward on the floor. While in that position. Brigadier-General Fulton (the officer in charge at Sting Camp) entered the cell. As soon as he saw the position I was in, be exclaimed: "Tut, tut, tut: How long is this going to last?'" "As long as the military oppression lasts," I replied. He then asked me if he had the irons removed from my wrists would I promise to wear the khaki for a couple of days until he could get word from the New Zealand Government as to what he was to do with me. I said: "I will make you a faithful promise that when the handcuffs are removed I will immediately remove the khaki." He said that in that case he should have to leave the irons on me, as "it was his duty to consider the health of the men affected, and, of course, he could not let them go without clothing."
On the day following that on which we had been ordered bread and water, the doctor came into my cell, and noticing the bread and water on the floor of the cell untouched, he asked me if I was not hungry. I replied that was a foolish question seeing that I had had nothing to eat all the previous day. He then asked me why I didn't take the bread and water. I answered that I had never lived on that fare before, and if that was the best they could offer me they had better keep it. He then took my pulse, and casually remarked: "You'll do until to-morrow morning."
A Methodist chaplain also visited me, and having listened to my experiences on the boat, asked me if it was worth while one man knocking his head against a Stone wall. I asked him how he could possibly say a thing like that when. Sunday after Sunday, in his own church, he sang:—
Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone,
Dare to have a purpose firm,
And dare to make it known.
He eventually told me that his own conscience would condemn him if he endeavored to sway me from my determination.
We remained twenty-three days in all in solitary confinement cells, every day of which we were forcibly dressed and handcuffed. The only time during which we were freed from the handcuffs was at meal-times, and while we mopped out the cells immediately after breakfast. We did this latter work because we desired to keep our cells clean.
In the interval we were visited by various officers, one of the most prominent of whom would come into the cell and abuse us. On one occasion this officer came into my cell with a doctor, and ordered the handcuffs to be taken off. As soon as this was done I removed the khaki, and stacked it up on the floor between the officer and myself, While I was doing this he ordered me not to take my uniform oft, but I persisted. He then told me to take the underclothing off as well, but I told him that was not necessary-that I merely took the uniform off to demonstrate that they would never make a soldier of me. The doctor then subjected me to a cursory medical examination, after which I was once again forcibly dressed and handcuffed.
On another occasion the officer referred to came into my cell, and looking at me said: "You b-y ape! I'm giving my life's blood for my country and the like of you." On yet another occasion he came to the cell and said: "I know what's wrong with you. Briggs; you have Labour tendencies." I said: "What if I have?" He asked:
"Do you know what we are going to do with Labour after this war is over?" I said: "No; I don't pretend to know." He said: "We are going to finish them at the point of the bayonet. Do you know what I would do with you if I had my way? I would stand you with your back to the wall and riddle you with bullets." I quietly replied: "Why don't you do it?" Another day he came along with the adjutant and the regimental S.M. The officer ordered the handcuffs to be removed. Immediately this was done he ordered me to get fully dressed and go out on parade. While he was giving the order I was removing the khaki. The adjutant then explained the serious nature of the position I was placing myself in, and said he would give me another chance. Thereupon the order to get into full dress and parade was repeated. I told the officer I absolutely refused to obey the order. I was now re-dressed by force, and left in the cell handcuffed. That evening I was taken to the guard-room in front of the Colonel, and charged with disobeying an order. This Colonel insisted that I must address him as "Sir." I told him that if I had to choose between calling him "Sir" and never speaking again I would choose the latter alternative. He then asked me if I would accept a penalty from him, and I told him I would not. We (Ballntyne, Maguire and myself) were next brought up for "summary of evidence" prior to courtmartial, my two comrades having also refus-page 62ed to obey the order to dress and parade. We refused to make any statement by way of "summary," and heard nothing further.
On September 15 I had been sentenced to twenty-eight days' detention. This sentence expired on October 13. but I was still kept in solitary confinement, notwithstanding that I had no sentence. I remained in solitary until I was taken to France.
On one occasion when the officer ordered me to go out for exercise in charge of a military escort, and I refused, he threatened to put a rope around me and drag me behind a motor waggon. I told him that was the only way he would get me out. One Sunday morning he came and asked me if I would like to go to church. I said, "Yes." He then told me that to go to church I would have to get into full military dress. I told him that if that was all their religion amounted to I would stay away from church.
In front of three of us, and with a number of n.c.o's present, a quartermaster-sergeant once made an unprintable threat as to what he would do with the sister Of a conscientious objector if he had the opportunity.
Nearing the end of the time we were in Wellington "clink," General Fulton visited us, and told me that it appeared to him there was a leader among the conscientious objectors, and immediately after this Ballantyne and Maguire were removed to other "clinks," and I was taken to Canterbury "clink-." On arrival there I was handed over to a non-commissioned officer. The n.c.o. said; "Oh, this is the b-d, is it? We'll b-y soon tame you here. You can have it either hot or cold, whichever' you like.'" I replied: "If that's so, it might as well be hot from the jump." Up to this time I was handcuffed with my hands in front, but this order was now reversed, and my hands were ironed behind me. I had had breakfast in the Wellington "clink" before leaving. Some time after I had been in the cell a sergeant came and asked me: "Do you want any b-y dinner?" I replied not if I had to look to the like of him for it. No dinner was brought to me. After dinner I was visited by an officer, who asked me how I was feeling. I replied: "As well as can be expected." The officer then asked the n.c.o. if I had had my food all right. The n.c.o. told him that I had only come in that morning and wouldn't have my dinner. The officer then asked me why this was so. I told him I could see through the methods that were being employed against me that I had had twenty-three days' solitary confinement in Wellington "clink," and apparently the military police didn't regard that punishment as severe enough, and I had been shifted up there for the purpose of being bullied into being a soldier. I further told him that to prove to him and the rest of the military authorities that bullying was no good in my case, I would neither eat nor drink as long as I was left in that, "clink," He threatened that if I did that they would forcibly feed me. I at once proceeded to put my promise into operation. For the first two or three days they didn't bring me any food; page 63at meal times they would Just come and ask if I wanted anything to eat, and on every occasion I said "No." I fought against the pangs of hunger in the daytime and at night slept soundly. During the latter part of the time food was placed in my cell regularly, but I never touched it. On every occasion that the dinner was brought in the handcuffs were removed, and also on every occasion that the handcuffs were taken off I removed the khaki, and was always forcibly re-dressed. The doctor came in day by day and took my pulse. After I had been some three days without food, the principal medical officer came in in addition to the ordinary doctor. He was very courteous, and endeavoured to tempt me with suggestions about drinks of hot milk, etc. I maintained the hunger strike from Tuesday morning until Saturday night-practically five days.
On the Saturday morning I was taken to the barber and shaved. About four in the afternoon they came and put putties on me, and also a pack on my shoulders, and took me out of the "clink." There I saw a medical officer, who again, endeavoured to persuade me to have something to eat. I refused, and a Red Cross car was then brought round, and I was placed in this with an escort and a medical officer, and taken to the train, on which I was placed with a draft for France. This was towards the end of October.
We reached Salisbury Station at 7 p.m. and I had something to eat there with the guard. The men I traveled with were very friendly. We remained at Folkstone for a day or so, and then proceeded on to the boat for France. I was not ironed while being taken across to France, although some of the other conscientious objectors were taken across in irons. We landed at Boulogne, and remained there one night at what they called "One Blanket Hill." Next morning we were taken in motor lorries to Etaples, which was then the Base Camp.
When the newly-arrived troops were paraded, I refused to march with them,' and Captain Welford (son of the Honourable T. M. Wilford) peremptorily ordered some half-dozen men to carry me on to the parade ground. When they got me to the parade ground I merely sat down, and the order was then given by Wilford to take me away to the guard-room. At the guard-room I was told that after dinner I would be fully dressed and be taken down to the parade ground for Commanding Officer's inspection. I said in that case there would be someone with me, because I would not walk down there, neither would I carry the equipment. Eventually I was carried down by the military police. They had put the pack on me, and I just sat down, using the pack for a support until the rest of the draft had been inspected by Colonel Mitchell. The Colonel then walked over to where I was with the police, and ordered the removal of the pack, and also instructed that I was to be taken to his office as he wanted to talk to me. In his office he asked me to explain my attitude. I told him I was an anti-militarist deported from New Zealand, and that I would page 64undertake no military service whatever. He endeavoured to persuade me to change my mind, and in doing so was very fair and reasonable. He explained that, for the time being, I was under his charge, and that while I was there I would not be interfered with; but, he said, if he received instructions from the General to send me up the line he would have to obey, and if I refused duty when there I would be liable to be courtmartialed and shot.
I might mention that on one occasion a military officer of high rank, while endeavoring to persuade me to undertake military Service, showed me what purported to be a list of soldiers who had been courtmartialed and some of whom had been shot for refusing to obey orders.
For three weeks I remained in the guard-room. At the end of the first fortnight I was again taken before Colonel Mitchell, who told me he wanted to save me years of imprisonment, and offered me-light work in the garden. I told him I would scorn to take any light job and thus be the means of sending the man already in that job where I was not prepared to go my self. A week later I was taken out of the "clink" and placed in a tent with the mess orderlies, and was told I would not be expected to work, but could knock about the camp. In this way I filled in a month, and then was approached and told I had to "go through gas." I refused to go, and was carried to the gas hut in a hand cart. A gas mask was placed on me, and I was taken into the gas hut by two men with gas masks on. I immediately pulled down the top of my mask. It was placed on me again, and E again tore it down; whereupon I was pulled outside and let go.
That night while in bed I was told I was to proceed "up the line" in the morning with a draft, and was asked if I would walk to the station. I replied: "Yes, conditionally." They asked what were the conditions, and I told them: "The conditions are that there is no rifle or hostile equipment to carry." Next morning when I got up I found outside the hut and pack, rifle and equipment, also a hand cart and fatigue party. They placed the pack on my shoulders and I sat down. I was then forcibly placed on the hand cart and taken to the railway Station, and there put on the train for Popperinghe, where we landed considerably after dark that night. I left the railway truck and walked up to the camp, leaving behind in the train the rifle and other equipment. Next morning when I arose there were orders to proceed to Scottish lines. In the meantime my equipment had been brought from the station in the waggon sent for the officers' luggage and stores, etc. The pack was again put on me, and I refused to walk with it. I was then taken by the feet, and dragged head downwards some fifty yards to a tent, I was sent from here under escort to the Scottish Lines, where I was again placed in the guard-room. The n.c.o. here was a coloured man, and he came and told me I had to go out and parade that afternoon. I told him I was not going. The page 65n.c.o. said: "If I can't take you out any other way. I'll take you on the point of the guards' bayonets." I did not go out on parade, how-ever.
I was next interviewed by Colonel Blair, who asked me if I had a trade, and offered to give me any work about the camp for which I was fitted. I told him I was not taking on any military work whatever. I was then sent up in charge of a non-commissioned officer to the travelling cookers and ordered to peel potatoes. I again refused, and was duly charged with having disobeyed a lawful command. For this I was sentenced by Colonel Blair to twenty-eight: days' Field Punishment No. 1. I was ordered to be taken from the Scottish Lines to the compound at Oudredoum to serve the sentence. The equipment was again placed on me, and, of course, I again refused to carry it and was dragged out of the "clink." Finally, when they recognised the hopelessness of getting me to carry the pack, they asked me if I would go without it, and I said I would. Then the pack was taken off, and we proceeded to the compound—about three or four miles away. Arriving there, the police in charge were told I was a conscientious objector, and wouldn't perform either military service or work. One of the military said: "We'll b——y well soon make you work." I said: "I don't think you will." He immediately ordered me to "grab a banjo" and go over and help fill sand bags. These sand bags were used to put around the bivouac to protect it from German bombs and shells. Refusing to obey, I was dragged over to one of the posts erected for the purpose, and was fastened to the post. I was, in fact, handcuffed to the post with my hands dragged round behind me, and my feet were also lashed to it with a rope. This was early in December, which is practically mid-winter in France. Needless to say, the cold was intense, and I suffered agonies during the hours I was left in this position. I remained tied up until dinner time, when I was released for the meal. After dinner I was tied up to the post again in the same way and left for at least two hours. This treatment was repeated for three days; then I was ordered to go to the compound cook-house and help the cook. Again I refused to obey and was taken up before the A.P.M. (chief officer of the military police), and was charged with refusing to work in the compound. He said: "I don't know what to do with you, but I think a long spell in a military jail would be a good remedy for you." I replied: "I don't think much of your remedy. No matter where you put me I will be just the same." He sentenced me to three days' confinement in the punishment cell. After I had served this sentence, I was ordered to do pack drill and refused. They then charged me with disobeying a lawful command, and got ready for a courtmartial.
That afternoon or the following day General Russell came to the compound, and ordered me to be taken out to see him. When I met him he took me aside, and, with Colonel Blair only present, he told 3 page 66me that they had come to the conclusion that I was honest and sincere in my attitude. "If you were in Germany," he said, "they would shoot you. But we are not going to do that here. What's more, we are not going to use German methods on you. I am going to release you unconditionally, and send you up to the stores at Cafe Belles for a month. You will go up there, and no one whatever will interfere with you. At the end of the month I will see you again and ascertain if you have changed your mind. You know, Briggs," he concluded, "you are fighting for freedom; so am I. But I use different methods from you. Your methods may be right, or they may be wrong. Mine may be right, or they may be wrong. I didn't hold the same ideas when I was your age as I hold to-day." I went to Cafe Belles and was there for a month, receiving very fair treatment. Then the stores were shifted to another district. The morning after I landed there I was taken over to see Brigadier-General Hart, and he asked me what General Russell had said when he released me from the compound. I told him, and he said: "And you haven't changed your mind yet?" I said: "No, and not likely to." He said he wasn't going to try to make me, and sent me back to the stores, where I remained until some weeks later, when colonel Stuart came to succeed General Hart. Stuart sent for me, and said: "Well, Briggs, I have never met you before, but I have heard a good deal about you. Colonel Mitchell was up here yesterday, and we were talking your case over. You won't work, and I don't know what they sent you from New Zealand for. You are costing the New Zealand Government over £1 for every day you are in France." I remarked that I wasn't getting much of it anyhow. He asked me about my position in New Zealand and my relatives, and also wanted to know if I was prepared to subscribe towards a hospital in New Zealand when I got back. I refused to make any promise, and he told me to return to the stores for a few days, when I should hear from him.
Not long after this time General Godley visited the place, and his coming was followed by a remarkable change in my treatment. I could not help associating the change with Godley's influence, for, a few days after his appearance. I was sent for by Colonel Stuart, who, with a military brusqueness that may have been real or assumed, told me that I was to be sent 1500 yards behind the lines to work, and that if I didn't work I'd take the consequences. I was accordingly sent—along with Archie Baxter and Kirwan, accompanied by military police—to a camp called Belgian Chateau.
A military police sergeant was in charge of us. The first night Baxter, Kirwan and myself were left together in a hut. Next morning I was taken away, and a captain tried to induce the other two to go to work. Then he came and told me they had consented to work—which was not true. He said he really wanted me to work and would give me a written statement to the effect that I wasn't doing military work. I refused to entertain the suggestion. He then said:page 67
"You're a b——y rotter, and I'll make it hot for you, You've had a pretty rough time, but you're at the last jump. The military policy now is either to make or break you." I retorted: "You might break me, but you'll never make me."
I was kept at this place for three days and handed bully beef and biscuits and water, after which I was despatched to Otago Camp (which lay about a mile to the right of all that was left or Ypres township). On my arrival there I was first put in a hut, and was next sent for by a captain, who said: "You're sent up here to work, Briggs and work you will To-morrow morning you'll put on equipment, take a rifle, go out on parade, and up on the working party the same as any other man." The captain put plenty of military bluff into his demeanour. "If the Hun comes over," he said, "you'll use the rifle the same as any other man." I replied: "Never as long as you live will I carry a rifle and equipment up there." He said: "Well, you'll go up without it for a few days; then you'll go up with it afterwards." T replied: "I won't go up in any case." He said. "You'll go up all right." I said: "I may, but if I do it will be in an extraordinary position."
Next morning I was sitting on the floor of the hut when the captain came in, and asked if I was going up. I said: "No." He kicked me twice, and then called in four soldiers and told them to take me up. "Get him there," he said, "no matter how, so long as you get him there." The soldiers seized me and carried me part of the way, and I was taken the rest of the way on a limber. I explained my attitude to the men who took me, and they were-friendly enough. That afternoon I went back to Otago Camp.
On the following morning the captain came in again, this time bringing the military police sergeant with him. The captain again asked if I was going up, and I replied, "No." The police sergeant then grabbed me by the wrists and dragged me out on my back to the parade ground, where three soldiers were waiting. The military policeman asked: "Is there any rope about?" and immediately went to look for it himself, He found a long piece of cable wire, and, coming forward, fastened it around my chest immediately under my arms. The m.p. and the soldiers then harnessed themselves to the wire, and went off up the "duck-walk" (a footpath constructed of planks with battens nailed across at short intervals, to obviate the difficulty of the soldiers traversing the mud). Along this track—as far as I could judge, a distance of about a mile—I was dragged on my back. In the process the buttons were torn off my clothes, which were dragged away, and consequently my back was next to the "duck walk." The result was that I sustained a huge flesh wound about a foot long and nine inches wide on the right back hip and thigh. The track crossed the edge of an old shell crater, which was full of water, and when the soldiers reached it they stopped. The m.p. asked: "Are you going to walk now? Because if you're not, page 68you're going into this shell hole." I replied I didn't know where I was going, but I wasn't going to walk up there, anyway. He immediately threw me into the shell hole, and dragged me through the water, and along the ground to the next shell crater, and by means Of the long wire again pulled me through the water. When they got me out on to the bank at the other side, they just picked me up by the shoulders and tipped me head over heels back into the water. When I came upright with my feet at the bottom, the water was over my shoulders, The m.p. said: "Drown yourself now, you b——d, if you want to die for your cause, You haven't got your Paddy Webbs and your Bob Semples to look after you now." They pulled me out, and dragged me along the ground to yet another shell hole, and they pulled me through this in the same way. After which I was dragged another hundred yards or so, when they stopped, and the m.p. asked me if they took me back to camp and gave me a change of clothes over a fire would I walk up afterwards.
By this time I was absolutely exhausted, and was shaking all over as the result of shock to the system. I replied: "I'll never walk up there as long as I draw breath." The sergeant then asked if I would walk back to the camp, and I replied that I would. I made an attempt to get up, but the task was impossible. Two of the soldiers, seeing that I was incapable of walking, lifted me with my arms over their shoulders, and in this way they carried me along with my feet dragging. Half way along I had to ask to be put down, because I was suffering unendurably from the effects of my treatment, and also from the manner in which I was being got along. The m.p. replied: "Keep the b——d going." Eventually they got me to the camp, and put me back in the hut from which I had been taken in the morning. They divested me of my clothing—which was all wet and muddy, and which I was not permitted to see again—and gave me a rough rub over with a dry towel, and then put a fresh shirt and pants on me, after which they covered me with blankets, placing a couple of mat-tresses on top of the blankets. This apparently was to get warmth into my body. There was only one thickness of blanket under me, however. They left me for about an hour and a half, when a noncommissioned officer brought me a drink of tea, and asked me if I intended to put my name down for sick parade. I replied: "No, I will not parade before any military doctor." He said he would bring a doctor to see me, as I was not fit to be left there. The m.p. visited me after the corporal had gone, and asked: "Will you be ready for a repetition of that treatment after dinner?" I replied: "If necessary "
The soldiers arrived back about 2.30 in the afternoon, and when they saw me on the floor covered with mattresses and blankets, they asked: "What's wrong, digger?" I replied: "They knocked me about a bit this morning." One of the men who had taken part in dragging me (and who belonged to the hut) told the others just what had happened. They asked him why he had done it. He replied; "I had page 69taken the oath as a soldier, and was threatened with courtmartial if I refused to do it, and I had also been told that the extreme penalty was death for refusing duty on the battlefield, and I wasn't the bit of stuff to refuse." The soldiers expressed intense indignation about the action of the m.p., and threatened that they would take his life. The m.p. kept out of the way that evening. Next morning when he was crossing the parade ground the camp cooks (nine or ten in number) came out and counted him out. I could hear the, "One, two," etc., and the medical orderly told me what was happening.
The doctor came about four in the afternoon of the day on which I was injured. He came into the hut with a medical orderly, removed the mattresses and blankets, and also removed my clothing sufficiently to permit him to see my back. When he saw the extent of my injuries he uttered an exclamation of surprise and anger, and told two men in the hut to get a stretcher and take me to the R.A.P. hut. They removed me there, and the doctor at once examined me, and ordered my back to be bathed with warm water. He told them: "Get as much of the dirt out of his back as you can. You won't get it all out because it it ground right into the flesh. You will have to dress his back and send him right away to the hospital."
The doctor then went away, leaving the orderly to carry out his instructions. He returned about half an hour later, and a bed was made up on a stretcher for me that evening. I was not, however, taken to the hospital. Next day a bunk was brought in, and I was placed in this, and so remained for two weeks. During the first week I suffered indescribable agony; on certain nights I did not sleep at all because of the burning sensation of the flesh wound. The only time I left my bed was to get out to the latrines; it was with the utmost pain and difficulty that I could move about, and whenever I left the bed I returned exhausted. By the end of the fortnight I could get out for half-an-hour at a time, when I would saunter slowly up and down the "duck walk" and then return to bed.
The hut I was in was right in the line of fire. Shells flew over the camp and lodged a mile away.
In due time orders came to move camp from Ypres sector to the Somme. This meant the transfer of all the soldiers. Two miles from the Otago Camp was a light railway used to convey the troops, and the doctor asked me if I could walk this distance. I agreed to make the attempt, and succeeded with great difficulty. I was taken by rail to near Abele. When I reached this rest camp, the sergeant-major asked me what was the matter with me. I replied that I didn't feel too good. He said: "You look b——y near dead."
Here I met Archie Baxter, who had come down on the same train. The medical hut equipment failed to arrive, and I found myself without blankets that night. Archie Baxter offered me one of his.
I was along with Archie Baxter next morning when a captain came in and ordered Baxter out on parade with his full pack up.page 70
Baxter refused to obey, whereupon the captain used unprintable language and attacked Baxter, striking him with his fists and knocking him down, and then kicked him while on the ground. The officer next lifted him from the floor and again struck him, knocking him down again. Following on this incident, Baxter was takes away to the Somme. This attack by the officer happened after Baxter's letter to his parents was written, and before he was placed in the mental hospital. That was the last I saw of Archie Baxter,
After that I was sent to Abele for medical treatment, and, on my arrival, the doctor was sent for, and saw me at the medical hut. He ordered me to report there next morning—which I did. Every morning thereafter I had my back dressed at the medical hut. I was kept here for about a month, and during that time was twice sent before Medical Boards. At Abele I found Captain Mitchell in charge. At this time I was bent double, and couldn't straighten myself. Colonel Mitchell had me brought before him, and said: "They knocked you about at Ypres? "I replied: "Yes, a bit." He answered: "Yes, I think a good bit by the look of you," He remarked that I would not be well for a good while yet, and then asked me what I intended to do when I got right again. I answered: "Carry on the same as usual." He suggested that I was foolish, and asked if I didn't think I would be better doing some light job instead of "getting up against it." I replied that I couldn't help that.
Here I learned for the first time that Ballantyne, Little and Baxter had each been sentenced to five years' imprisonment with hard labour, and that their sentences had been commuted to two years. I also learned that Archie Baxter was taken to the Somme without Colonel Mitchell's knowledge. Had the Colonel known what was being done I am certain he would have tried to prevent it.
I was next returned to Etaples with a few others for the Final Medical Board. On the paper sent down with me my complaint was set down as a form of rheumatism. I went before the Board, and Dr. Marks said they would treat me for my complaint and patch me up for a Base job, I told him: "I wouldn't do a Base job when I was fit and well, and I am sure I am not going to do it now." He then said they would give me treatment and see what they could do for me. After this I was taken before Major Bowerbank, who asked me what I had been doing while I was up the line. I told him "Nothing." He then asked me how I got into the condition I was in, and I told him of the treatment I had received at Ypres six weeks earlier, and showed him the scar of the flesh wound on my back.
I was under medical treatment at Etaples for three weeks, at the end of which time they told me that they could do nothing more for me—that rest was the only thing that would do me any good. By the Medical Board I was classed C2, P.B. 3—which meant the lowest category in which they could place me to keep me in either France or England. I remained practically crawling around the camp for a page 71fortnight; and then, when coming out of the cookhouse with Harland one night, a non-commissioned officer said to me: "Be here at half-post four; they have you on a P.B. draft for up the line again." I insisted on being taken before a doctor, and was taken to the medical hut, where I saw Major Bowerbank. He asked me what was wrong, and I told him that I had just been told that I was to proceed up the line with a draft. I asked him to say whether I was fit to even walk to the station without a pack. The pack and rifle were already done up waiting for me. The Major told me to go back to my tent; and I heard no more about being sent up the line.
I was next sent along to Chaplain-Captain Green (Salvation Army), who wanted to put me on washing down the inside of the Salvation Army hut. I told him that if there was any work attached to it "it was a wash-out," as I would refuse to do any military work. Green argued that it would not be military work I pointed out that men paid five shillings a day by the military were already doing it. In the end, the Salvation Army officer called me into his room, and said: "I can't understand you fellows." I said: "I am very well aware of that; otherwise you wouldn't be in the position you're in now." He began to show signs of anger, and declared that 75 percent of the Conscientious Objectors were shirkers and wasters, but added that he believed there were a few who were genuine, and further conceded that he thought I was one of the genuine Conscientious Objectors, because of what I had gone through for the sake of my principles. When he found I wouldn't work he told me to report back to the orderly room and tell them I wouldn't do it. I didn't bother reporting back—I was aware that when the order was given it was known that I would not obey it.
I was next sent for by Major Bowerbank, who, as soon as I entered the medical hut, asked what work I could do. I replied I could do no military work whatever, and very little of any other, even if I wished to. He said he knew that. "I would send you home tomorrow, if I had my way," he told me; "but I haven't the power to do it." This notwithstanding that he was President of the Final Medical Board. "You have either to do a Base job or go up the line again," he added, I replied: "There is one thing certain. I won't do a Base job; and if the other is the only alternative it will be up the line." He replied: "All right, then," and I returned to the hut. He then sent Harland to ask me if I would do certain work at the Y.M.C.A. hut. I replied, "No," and Harland went back and told him I wouldn't do the job, Harland told me later that the Major said he might have known from what I had said previously that I wouldn't do the work. Harland also told me that Bowerbank added: "I didn't wait for you to come back, but went over to see the Commanding Officer (Major Dovey), and we have decided to leave Briggs's case until we can see General Richardson. He is practically a C2 man, but, so far, he has done no military work. If he took on a job in page 72camp and broke down on it I could send him back." A few days later Harland told me that Major Bowerbank had seen General Richardson, and that I was to be sent to England in a fortnight or three weeks' time.
While I was waiting for the order to proceed to England, Mr. Massey and Sir Joseph Ward visited Etaples, and I heard no more about the trip in England; but, a little later, a non-commissioned officer came to me while I was lying in bed, and told me: "They have you down on a gas stunt to-day, Briggs; I don't know how you will get on." This meant walking about six miles in all, and undergoing a gas test. I replied: "I know how I will get on. In the first place, I'm not fit to go. In the second place, I'm not going; and if the military authorities insist on me going they'll have to drag me every inch of the way, because I will not try to walk. By what I can see of them, they want the last drop of blood out of a man before they will be satisfied, and if they do, let them take it." I heard no more about the "gas stunt."
I was next sent for by Colonel McKenzie (who had now succeeded Major Dovey). He asked me: "What are you doing in camp?" I replied: "Nothing." He said: "You've been here five months, haven't you?" I replied: "yes, roughly speaking." He said: "What do you think of yourself drawing Government pay and eating Government food and doing nothing for it?" I said: "Government pay? I never drew a sixpence from the Army in my life." He said: "Well, you eat the food. Will you be prepared to pay for that when you get back to New Zealand?" I replied: "No: I want you to understand I was dragged from New Zealand and deported. I consider the least' they can do is to feed me while I am away—and they've done that very poorly at times." The Colonel then said: "Oh, well, I am not going to discuss your ideas. I am here to decide whether you are fit to go up the ditches or not." He added that he was satisfied that I was not fit to go up the line, and urged that if I would take a light job in camp it would not be so bad. "But," he said, "you won't work." I replied: "No." He said: "If I were to send you to Blightly it would be the same?" I said: "Exactly." He then asked me if he sent me back to New Zealand, what was the first thing I'd do on arrival there. I told him that I'd first have a rest. He then wanted, to know what was the first thing I'd do after I had had a rest. I said; "Supervise my own business."
The following week I saw Colonel Mitchell, who said it was time I was sent back to England, and that he would see that I was sent back. A week later I was sent with a draft from France to Torquay. I arrived at Torquay on Sunday, and on Monday morning I was taken to headquarters, when an officer asked me for my name and number. I gave him my name, and told him I hadn't got a number. He demanded to see my pay-book, and I told him I had none. He then asked me how long it was since I had left New Zealand, and I told page 73him twelve months last July. He then asked how I had got on for money, and I replied I had never had any money from the military.
He said: "I think you are telling a pack of b——y lies." He then instructed the n.c.o. to write to the Records Office in London, and inform them that they had a man there who told them he had left New Zealand twelve months last July and had never had any money, off them or a pay-book. Addressing me he said: "This is no place for you. We'll d——n soon have you out of this."
I was then sent back to Wellington District Camp, at Granville Mansions, and remained there ten days in the house and garden, and never went outside While in the garden there I was ordered by a Lieutenant Tipping to go on parade, and refusing, was sent by Tipping's orders to the guard-room. Two days after I was taken before a Major and charged with refusing to go on parade. I was asked if I still refused to go on parade, and replied: "Yes." I was then remanded, and afterwards told by the m.p. that I had been remanded for a "summary of evidence." I was held in the guard-room for another ten days or so, when General Richardson came in with Major Kaye one evening about seven'. The General asked me what I was doing in there, and I replied that I was a Conscientious Objector. He asked me what I was there for, and I told him for refusing to go on parade. He questioned me about my experiences in France, and I gave him in detail the account of what I had undergone. "Join the medical corps," he said, "and I'll wash your crimes out." I replied: "No; I'll join nothing in this outfit." It is needless for me to add that I didn't concede that I had any "crimes" that needed washing out. It was rather the other way about as between the military and myself.
The next day the m.p. had instructions to take me to Major Kaye (Commanding Officer of Torquay), who said he wished to talk to me as man to man, not as officer to man. He questioned me about my religious beliefs, and I assured him that although I had been brought up a Wesleyan Methodist, I did not base my objection to military service on religious grounds. I explained that I was an anti-militarist, He asked me what would have happened if everybody had been like me and German Militarism had been allowed to run over us. I replied that if everybody had been like me there would have been no war. I added that I reckoned that I personally had had German Militarism over me from the first day the red-caps put a hand on me in New Zealand. I pointed out to him that one of the strongest arguments used in securing volunteers from New Zealand was that their mission was to end German Militarism, but, unfortunately (I told him), the thing they asked the New Zealand soldiers to end in Germany was the very thing they were establishing behind the soldiers' backs in New Zealand. He finished up by saying that my ideals were all right, but that they were impracticable.
Eventually I was sent to a farm at Mortonhamstead, and remained page 74there for a month. I wag then sent back to Torquay for further medical treatment, and, after a week there, was recommended to be returned to New Zealand at the first opportunity.
About three weeks after my return to Torquay I was placed on board the Ruapeha, and made the return trip to New Zealand without incident of any moment.
On my arrival in Wellington Harbour, I refused to take either money or discharge when we were lined up prior to disembarkation. I "fell out," and was called back by a non-commissioned officer, and taken before the Commanding Officer of the boat and a shore officer, and these made an effort to persuade me to take the discharge papers. I refused, basing my refusal on the fact that I had never been a soldier, and, therefore, needed neither money nor discharge. The officer from ashore then asked the boat Commanding Officer if he had a guard. The Commanding Officer said: "No; but I can soon get one." The shore officer then said to me: "We'll have to put you under open arrest. I said: "If that' s the penalty for refusing military pay and papers, you'd better do it, because I have no intention of taking them." I was then told to consider myself under open arrest, and as I walked away one officer said to the other: "We can put him under close arrest before he gets to the wharf."
About two hours later I was told that the Commanding Officer of the boat wanted to see me, and when I got down the Commanding Officer took me to Brigadier-General Andrews, who had come on board. When I went into the room General Andrews said: "Well, Briggs, there seems to be some difficulty in disposing of you." I said: "None as far as I am concerned." Andrews then asked me: "Well, what was the trouble this morning?" "Merely," I replied, "that they offered me military papers and money and a discharge, and I wouldn't take them." "Well," he said, "yours is a peculiar case. What do you think we should do with you when we land you on the wharf?" I said: "I don't consider you should do anything with me." He then wanted to know how I would get on for money and my return ticket to Palmerston North. I told him that I should have friends to meet me on the wharf. "If we put you on the wharf without your military papers," he said, "you will be liable to be asked for them and arrested if you haven't got them. Can you suggest a way out of the difficulty?" I suggested that he could furnish me with a formal discharge which wouldn't require my signature. I told him I would sign nothing. He then said to the Commanding Officer of the ship: "This man is not under arrest, is he?" and the Commanding Officer said, "No." General Andrews then said to me: "All right, Briggs; I'll depend on your word of honor that you won't go ashore until you've seen me. Come down here after the soldiers have gone ashore and I'll fix you up."
After the soldiers had gone ashore, I went below, but the General wasn't there. I saw another officer, and he advised me to go ashore page 75and return in the morning. I left the ship in a disreputable old khaki suit, and was met by my brother, Mr. and Mrs. Ballantyne, Mr. Peter Fraser, M.P., Mrs. Aitken, Mr. Jack Hughes, and others. I put the evening in with my friends after getting into decent civilian clothes, and returned to the boat next morning. I went to the office and saw a shore officer, who exclaimed: "It didn't take you long to get into civvy clothes!" I failed to see General Andrews, but one of the officers answered my inquiries: "Oh, well, you're as much a civilian now as ever you were. Your discharge is being made out and will be posted to you." Thereupon I left the boat, and in due time returned to my friends and business at Palmerston North.
In a few days a registered letter from the military, addressed to me, arrived at the Palmerston North Post Office. A girl clerk clears the P.O. box daily for my firm, but for this letter the girl's signature was refused. She was told that I would have to take delivery of the letter personally. When I called at the Post Office, I was asked for my regimental number, and told the postmaster I had no number. "Then," he said, "this letter cannot be for you." I had made up my mind not to give the military authorities my signature, and, of course, the postal people's view of things suited me. So I came away, and the letter is still at the Post Office—if it has not been returned to the Defence Department.
(Signed) Mark Briggs.