Remembering the conscientious objectors

Sculpture commemorating conscientious objectors

Sculpture commemorating conscientious objectors

Lest we forget to challenge the glorification of war this ‪#‎AnzacDay2016‬

We remember the conscientious objectors who were persecuted and abused by the army and the government for their belief that war is wrong.

Sculptures of Archie Baxter and other conscientious objectors were found placed around Wellington this Anzac Day in the ‘field punishment number one’ position, which was used to torture them and attempt to pressure them into taking part in warfare during World War One.

On the 1st of October 1917 three New Zealand conscientious objectors to fighting in world war one received Field Punishment No. 1. They were suspended from poles at a punishment camp. Their hands were bound tightly behind their backs for up to four hours per day in all weathers. The poles were tipped forward, and the ropes cut into the flesh, cutting off blood flow.

The New Zealand author and conscientious objector, Archibald Baxter, described this experience in his book “We Shall Not Cease.” Baxter’s punishment lasted twenty eight days. ‘My hands were taken from round the pole, tied together and pulled well up it, straining and cramping the muscles and forcing them into an unnatural position…. he knew how to pull and strain at the ropes till they cut into the flesh and completely stopped the circulation.’ ‘I was strained so tightly against the post that I was unable to move body or limbs a fraction of an inch.’

In addition to this conscientious objectors were subject to imprisonment, starvation, beatings and sometimes forced into German artillery and gun fire.

Conscientious objectors withstood horrific conditions and physical torment to defend peace and protest the unnecessary deaths of millions. With the ongoing militarisation of ANZAC day, its romanticisation of war, and its promotion of the armed forces, it is no surprise that the stories of conscientious objectors are left out of the ANZAC myth.

The first World War was a completely unnecessary conflict. It happened to protect and expand the empires involved, not to defend principles such as freedom or democracy. The millions who died endured tortuous conditions in conflict and were victims of an international power struggle. Many who resisted war, for religious or moral reasons, were subjected to torture and imprisonment.

It’s time to end the romanticisation of war and the militarisation of ANZAC day.

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3 Responses to Remembering the conscientious objectors

  1. Wira Gardiner says:

    Thank you for article. I’m interested in Maori conscientious objectors during WWII and would appreciate any thoughts or leads please. I’m writing a book on B Company 28 Maori Battalion


  2. Couldn’t agree more!


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