Memorial represents thousands of objectors

Archibald Baxter
Archibald Baxter
Gerald Cunningham (ODT, 10.7.18) expresses doubt about the proposed Dunedin memorial to those who opposed conscription in World War 1, but his doubts do not seem to be based on historical fact.

The facts are that in August 1915, a new political entity, the National Government, later to rename itself the National Party, took power. Among its first acts was the compilation of a register of all New Zealand men between the ages of 17 and 60. Refusal to register incurred a fine of 100, an astronomical sum to a working man. The government denied the register was a prelude to conscription but, in 1916, that's exactly what it became. Conscription was introduced, in the face of massive opposition.

Of 187,593 men registered eligible for conscription, 77,811 stated they did not wish to fight overseas.

Not just Archibald Baxter and a few religious objectors, but over a third of this country's male population.

They objected for various reasons. Some were religious, obeying the Biblical injunction, ``Thou shalt not kill'', but the majority were socialists who saw no reason to go to war against their fellow workers in Germany.There were also Irish objectors, like the five Cody brothers who refused to fight while Ireland was under British rule, and Maori, principally Tainui, who saw no reason to fight for an imperial power that had confiscated their lands.

Anti-war objection was widespread. MPs representing another new political entity, the Labour Party, objected and were jailed for sedition, with hard labour, planting trees on the Kaingaroa Plateau.

In April 1918, hundreds of women rioted at the call up of reservists in the King Edward Barracks in Christchurch, fighting with the police and military. Of 143 men, only a couple of dozen could be marched to the railway station for dispatch to France, while the women pursued the mayor and the military brass down Hereford St.

I'm not sure if similar rioting took place in Dunedin. Certainly, peace rallies attended by thousands were held across the country and John A Lee, who had lost an arm at Messines, helped organise a scheme transporting objectors from the West Coast to Australia where there was no conscription.

So if there is a memorial to Baxter here in Dunedin, it is indeed honouring the past: honouring all those thousands of men who were forced against their will by a jingoistic, anti-socialist government to participate in a vile and pointless war, and honouring all those thousands of women who voiced their opposition. That's the true, historical meaning of Anzac and it deserves a memorial.

Fiona Farrell is a writer who lives in Dunedin.

 

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