Not in our name: remembering our World War I peacemakers this Anzac Day

Often the two World Wars are given as the final winning argument as to why non-violent resistance and pacifism is not a practical solution to conflict and stopping aggressors. The argument is simply that only violence could have stopped the Kaiser in World War I and Hitler and the Third Reich in World War II. One of the disturbing undercurrents to Anzac Day is that the State encourages people to see the various memorial events as a sanctification of our war effort, past and present.

But the conflicts that exploded in the World Wars, and particularly World War I were avoidable at that time in Europe, and even more so here in Aotearoa New Zealand. World War I was not our conflict, it was a European conflict that we involved ourselves in due to a commitment to empire. The argument for involving ourselves and our country in the war were tenuous even then, and look slightly bizarre now.

Some people were able to stand back and make this judgement at the time and so rejected the call to join the war effort. Those peacemakers are the reason I wear a white poppy alongside my red poppy for Anzac Day. Tomorrow, if you go to an Anzac Day service (and I hope you do), take time to think of these courageous few.

Te Puea Herangi (nzhistory.net.nz)
Te Puea Herangi (nzhistory.net.nz)

Te Puea Hearangi

Te Puea was the granddaughter of King Tawhiao, the second Māori king and was a compassionate, articulate and intelligent leader in the Kingitanga. Her response to World War I was inspired by her grandfather’s words as he lay down arms in 1881:

Listen, listen, the sky above, the earth below, and all the people assembled here. The killing of men must stop; the destruction of land must stop. I shall bury my patu in the earth and it shall not rise again … Waikato, lie down. Do not allow blood to flow from this time on.

Te Puea argued strongly that Waikato-Tainui people in the central North Island could not take up arms again having made this commitment in 1881. She also stated that Waikato-Tainui had the own king and did not need to fight for the British king. Finally, she also linked this with the injustices of land loss. Great pressure was brought to bear on Waikato-Tainui by such Māori leaders as Maui Pomare to pay the price of citizenship, to no avail. Consequently in 1917, conscription was extended to Māori, but only to Māori in Waikato-Tainui. Te Puea had those of her people who resisted conscription rebuild and occupy Te Pania, the pā at Mangatāwhiri, as an act of non-violent resistance. Te Puea was abused by politicians and the media as a German sympathiser. Men were arrested from there and forced into basic training in Auckland at the Narrow Neck. Any who refused to wear the army uniform were subjected to severe military punishments, including ‘dietary punishments’ (being fed only bread and water) and being supplied with minimal bedding. By the end of World War I, only 74 of the 552 conscripted had been forced into service, and none traveled overseas.

Archibald, William & Donald Baxter, all conscientious objectors (Otago Daily Times)
Archibald, William & Donald Baxter, all conscientious objectors (Otago Daily Times)

Mark Briggs and Archibald Baxter

These men were two of many who refused conscription as conscientious objectors. Whilst there was some allowance to refuse on the basis of religious objection, refusal on the basis of your conscience was unacceptable to the state (interestingly, Baxter did object on religious grounds but was not a communicant in a church, so his appeal was refused). All men had their objections denied, were subjected to forced medical examinations and escorted to barracks at Trentham Military Camp near Wellington by armed military policemen. Mark Briggs, Archibald Baxter, and others all refused military orders to drill and were subject to court-martial for failing to obey a lawful command. After his court-martial Mark Briggs was sentenced to 84 days’ hard labour and served seven weeks in prison.

The Minister of Defence Jame Allen believed that conscientious objectors should be forced to go to war. So on 13 July 1917, 14 of those considered the most “recalcitrant” prisoners were forced to board the troopship Waitemata and sent to the front line. Briggs refused to walk up the gangplank and had to be dragged. He was imprisoned in a small cabin with no open portholes and was later stripped and forced to wear military uniform. When they could, all 14 divested themselves of their khaki, wearing only underclothes or towels. When they arrived at the frontline, they were confined, given field punishment and sent with their units into the trenches even if they had to be carried on stretchers.

Archibald Baxter, Lawrence Kirwin, Henry Patton and Mark Briggs suffered Field Punishment No 1: they were tied to posts in the open with their hands bound behind their backs.. Still rebellious in February 1918, Briggs, Baxter and Kirwin were sent into the trenches. Their camp was within the enemy’s shelling range, and every morning they were required to walk the one kilometre to the front line. Of the four, Mark Briggs refused. The first day he was carried by sympathetic soldiers. On the second day military policemen tied wire around his chest, and he was dragged across rough ground and duckboards. This tore off his clothing, lacerated his body and gouged a huge flesh wound in his right thigh. At the line he was yanked through puddles of freezing water, pushed back into one and told to “Drown yourself, now, you bastard”. Finally he was dragged back to camp where he was denied medical treatment.

By April Briggs and Baxter were considered likely to remain objectors ‘to the end.’ Consequently, Briggs was classified as unfit for active service because he suffered from muscular rheumatism and he was invalided back to Aotearoa New Zealand. Baxter was found to have a mental weakness and confusional insanity in his determination not to fight, and was confined to a hospital for mentally disturbed soldiers. At the end of the war, both refused the soldier’s wage that were offered to them.

Rua Kenana (nzhistory.net.nz)
Rua Kenana (nzhistory.net.nz)

Rua Kenana

Rua Kenana claimed to be the successor of Te Kooti Arikirangi and therefore asserted his leadership of Ringatū, a indigenous Christian movement established in the nineteenth century. After fulfilling a series of prophecies, he established a community, the City of God at Maungapohatu in the Urewera forest, a highly significant location for his Tuhoe tribe. His activities were of deep concern to the Crown and his relationship with officials often fraught. In Maungapohatu he flew two flags: the Union Jack with a message stitched onto it, ‘Kōtahi te ture mō ngā iwi e rua Maungapohatu’ (One law for both peoples, Maungapohatu); and alongside it his own ancestral flag, Te Tahi-o-te-rangi, taking his identity from this Tuhoe hero who had urged, ‘Let us acquire fame by means of mercy’ (instead of by revenge). This leadership based on the principles of equality under the law and pacifism came to be seen as seditious during the World War I.

During the war, rumours were circulated that Rua was actively working for a German victory; his opponent in Tuhoe, Kereru, passed these on to the government. In 1915, Rua was arrested on charges of illicitly selling alcohol at Maungapohatu, charges that were brought to harass Rua, because he counselled against Māori volunteering for the war effort. A series of events led to Rua being arrested at Maungapohatu. On 2 April 1916, an armed force of 57 constables sent secretly from Auckland and two smaller contingents from Gisborne and Whakatane traveled Maungapohatu where Rua was seized. He was standing unarmed, accompanied by two men, waiting to greet the police. At the same moment, a shot was fired and in the ensuing mêlée two Māori were killed. The police went on to fabricate evidence that the Maungapohatu people were responsible for the first shots.

Rua was then subject to what was the longest Supreme Court trial in New Zealand’s legal history, a record not broken until 1977. Rua’s arrest was illegal, so the judge dismissed the charges of resisting arrest at Maungapohatu. However Rua was tried for using seditious language, counselling others to murder or disable the police, and resisting arrest on an earlier occasion. The jury threw out the charge of sedition and were unable to come to a decision on the counselling charges, but found Rua guilty of ‘morally’ resisting arrest on the first occasion. For morally resisting arrest, Rua was sentenced to one year’s hard labour followed by 18 months’ imprisonment. The judge considered that Rua had a long history of defiance of the law and that, as a member of a race “still in tutelage”, he needed to learn that the arm of the law reached “every corner”. Rua was released from prison in April 1918.

Peter Fraser (teara.govt.nz)
Peter Fraser (teara.govt.nz)

Peter Fraser

During World War I, many socialists and labour activists objected to fighting an “imperialist war” and argued that “New Zealand workers had no quarrel with German workers”. The New Zealand Labour Party was founded in 1916 and insisted that conscription of men should not be introduced unless it was accompanied by the conscription of wealth.

Shortly after the first conscription ballot had taken place, the government issued regulations to control dissent that included a very broad definition of what constituted sedition:

No person shall print, publish, sell, distribute, have in his possession for sale or distribution, or bring or cause to be brought or sent into New Zealand, any document which incites, encourages, advises, or advocates violence, lawlessness, or disorder, or expresses any seditious intention.

Peter Fraser (who would go on to become Prime Minister in 1940) was arrested four days after these regulations were issued and charged with having ‘published seditious words’ when speaking at a meeting on the 10 days earlier. His utterances were said to have been “likely to incite disaffection against the Government of New Zealand and to interfere with the recruiting of His Majesty’s forces.” Fraser’s lawyer stormed out of the the court when a request for bail was declined and Fraser defended himself. He argued that calling for the repeal of the law, rather than for disobedience or resistance to it, was perfectly legal. The judge disagreed and sentenced our future prime minister to 12 months’ imprisonment. In prison, Fraser shared a cell with Mark Briggs during his period of imprisonment after his court-martial.

Tomorrow, may you wear both white and red poppies. I encourage you as you remember the sacrifices made in World War I, to remember all the sacrifices made, including those of our conscientious objectors and peacemakers. If there is a lesson to learn from these brave men and women it is that paths for peace are open even in the midst of seemingly unavoidable conflict; that we take the broad path merely reflects our failure to imagine a different way to the same destination.

I heartily recommend lestweforget.org.nz if you want to read more about our NZ peacemakers.

[Thank you to teara.govt.nz and nzhistory.net.nz for the substantial resources I could call on to write this post]

[header image is Flowerlands – red and white poppies from motaen.com]

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8 thoughts on “Not in our name: remembering our World War I peacemakers this Anzac Day

    1. No I didn’t. However Te Ara and NZHistory were, of course, incredibly useful with very full and interesting biographies of these people.

  1. hey graham , thanks for this mate , really appreciate your thoughts. I didnt celebrate this weekend , felt too ambivalent about it all, yes those offered as cannon fodder deserve to be remembered but I cant see how the state-managed celebrations really allowed us to do that with integrity, and also struggle to know why we then dont also remember all others who have been offered unceremoniously in acts of war, the many innocent victims of war etc. be keen to hear any further thoughts, but thanks , got me thinking, love the recognition of peacemakers

    1. Kia ora Paul, thanks for taking the time to read the blog. My view has transformed the longer I live at home here with our wider whānau and the more I delve into my own whakapapa; the red poppy for me now represents not just those men who went and died, but the change, mostly tragic, in my whānau circumstance. Our whānau were lesser for it, so the red poppy is for that grief. I personally feel like that sits alongside my white poppy, for the prophets who refused to go to war because they knew this would be the outcome. I have a foot in both camps and I find the red and white poppy sit comfortably for me.

  2. This quote sent tingles down my spine: Listen, listen, the sky above, the earth below, and all the people assembled here. The killing of men must stop; the destruction of land must stop. I shall bury my patu in the earth and it shall not rise again … Waikato, lie down. Do not allow blood to flow from this time on.

    If only more people were brave enough to make a stand for peace, I bet we could avoid most, if not all wars.

    Great article. Thanks.

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