Armageddon or Calvary: The Conscientious Objectors of New Zealand and "The Process of Their Conversion"
I have had sent to me copies of letters—sometimes from mothers, sometimes from fathers almost frantic with grief and suspense—to Lord Liverpool, Mr. Massey, Sir Joseph Ward, and Sir James Allen. Some of these letters were pathetic appeals for human mercy. Some voiced demands for justice, and were full of fierce invective against the men and the class the workers held responsible for their sorrow. One of these was a pathetic appeal to the Minister of Defence from a wife that her husband—"a good father and husband," she says—(who had been removed from the Templeton Prison to Christchurch Hospital, suffering from a relapse consequent on an attack of influenza) might be permitted to be nursed at his home when convalescent.
One letter to myself was from the West Coast. The writer is the wife of a CO.—a farmer. She enclosed a copy of a letter her husband sent to Sir James Allen, He was the only man on his little farm, and when he was dragged off to prison the farm was faced with ruin. He was only given a little more than a week's notice.
Occasionally a father would write to me that his son had been dragged away by force, that he believed he was in Trentham "clink."page 118
Occasionally there would come a heart-breaking appreciation of my own efforts on behalf of the C.O.'s; occasionally a pitiful plea that Labour would endeavour to see that no more C.O.'s were forcibly deported Men wrote to me of their experiences before the attestation officers and the military tribunals.
A Southern Objector (Irish) who was called upon to attest, and refused, wrote: "The officer fairly foamed at me. After a lively exchange of words, however, he took hold of himself and cooled some. Then he invited me into the attesting room, and filled in the usual 24 or 25 lines of questions. He missed out the "present war" lines and asked me to sign. I refused…. He tried all manner of means to get me to sign the blank order. Of course, I refused to sign anything. He said he would make it as hard as he could for at the hearing of my appeal. I told him it would be his duty to do that."
A prominent Churchman wrote that a friend of his—also a Catholic—was drawn in the first ballot and refused to answer the call. He was arrested and taken to the Detention Barracks, and severely cross-examined—put through what was next door to the Third Degree—by a certain officer, by whom he was finally told that "as a member of the Catholic Church he could no longer attend his religious duties or receive communion unless he would take the oath and swear to fight for his king and country." Of course, this was scandalously untrue.
A Socialist Objector was told by a renegade Labour man at a sitting of one of the tribunals that he "ought to be thrashed." The man guilty of that outburst was not removed from his position. A Religious Objector wrote that when he informed the Court that his trust was in God, he was told that he "was trusting in a broken reed."
Mr. Maguire wrote to Mr. P. T. Robinson, of the Flaxworkers' Union, an account of his examination and court-martial. "What is your religion?" the President asked, "Roman Catholic," was the answer. Q.: "Are you aware that military service is not going against the rules of your Church?" A.: "Yes; but I don't object from a religious standpoint, but from a conscientious standpoint." Q.: "What is your definition of a Conscientious Objector?" A.: "A man who refuses to be hounded into an army for the purpose of killing others." Q.: "If a maniac came along and tried to kill your mother or sweetheart, and if a gun or sword were close to you would you use them?" A,: "Under the circumstances, yes." "Then," said the officer, "that's what the Germans are doing. You are quite justified in taking the uniform." "No," the prisoner replied; "I should only be preparing for premeditated murder." The officer returned to the attack. Q.: You are an Irishman?" A.: "Yes." Q.: "Have you any grudge against the English nation as a whole?" A,: "No; but I have against the English aristocracy." Q.: "I see. You prefer to live in luxury and let some one else go and fight for you?" A.: "I never asked anyone to go. In fact, I don't want them to go; and, as for luxury, nobody gets that but our stay-at-home patriots." When asked how he pleaded, page 119Mr. Maguire said, as to refusing the uniform, he must be guilty. "Ah, but you had better plead not guilty," said the officer. "We wish to be your friend as well as your judge." How this worked out subsequent events have shown.
Many letters set forth the viewpoint of the Religious Objectors. It will be sufficient to quote one. From Capetown Military Barracks, on October 10, 1917, Mr. A. Sanderson (who had been landed there from the Waitemata because he was ill) wrote to some friends at Lower Hutt:—"I have always had the comfort of the Word wherever I have gone, and especially have I found peace in the sayings of the Lord Jesus concerning His ever-watchful care of His people and the Father's love of them.…Love and Light and Peace are in the Father and our Lord, and in us too, if we abide in him. … Remember to let it all rest with God in Christ; for He has marked the way for each one of us. So patience. Let us do to-day what is needful and with trust and prayer … casting all our care upon Him," Early in March, 1918, the following came to hand from Mark Briggs:—"Just dropping you a line while I have the chance. I am at Etaples, in France, still in "clink," but Just of the same mind as ever. I have had a very rough time of it, but have got through alive so far. I don't know what they intend to do with me, but I am determined to see it through, no matter what the consequences may be. I have had some great experiences. Tell Dad I am getting on as well as can be expected, that my health is good, and that I have still hopes of getting back to see him and all my friends some day. Best wishes to all. Remember me to all my friends; tell them my message is just the same as ever: 'Workers of the world, unite!'; and to my enemies you can say that the spirit of Mark Briggs is still unbroken." A Christchurch lady—herself the mother of a very talented (and likewise very brave) lad, enduring imprisonment for the sake of his religious principles—wrote to Mrs. Ballantyne (Wellington) on February 3, 1919, of Mr. T. P. Harland, who had just returned from France: "He had a wonderful story to tell. He, like Garth, eventually took medical work, but signed nothing and accepted no pay, though often near starving. They offered him a suit of clothes in Lyttelton, but when he heard he had to sign for it he would have none of it. He is very enthusiastic over Briggs's heroism, and says they all felt that he (Briggs) has the right to be the spokesman for the fourteen; describes him as utterly unbroken intellectually, and able to give every detail of their martyrdom."