Great Kiwi Classic Nomination: We Will Not Cease, by Archibald Baxter

This is available in selected bookstores.

Tcv_we_will_not_ceasehis is the sombre and disturbing memoir of Archibald Baxter, a conscientious objector from New Zealand during the first World War. It tells of his forced conscription into the New Zealand army and the barbaric and inhumane way he was treated when he stood steadfastly by his belief that killing was wrong and refused to carry out any military duties.

While people belonging to religious organisations whose beliefs forbade the bearing of arms were exempted from conscription, people who objected on purely moral and ethical grounds were not. Baxter and thirteen other conscientious objectors were subjected to barbaric treatments in an effort to break their will and force them to submit to serving in the armed forces. Of those fourteen, only two, Baxter and Mark Briggs, managed to hold out until the end, but they both did so at great personal cost.

Initial imprisonment in New Zealand was followed by their forced dispatchment to the other side of the world, where they were sent initially to England and then to the trenches in the front lines in France. As Baxter persisted in his resistance, refusing to wear a uniform, obey any orders or carry a weapon he was abused, starved, tortured and sadistically mistreated. The physical and mental abuses he endured almost killed him and left him a such a fragile mental state that he ended up in a mental hospital in England.

This is a very powerful book that tells a very shameful chapter in New Zealand’s history. It also gives us an insight into the dreadful effects the war had on so many of the men who served in the trenches. The fact that Baxter was treated with virtually nothing but kindness from the men in the ranks suggesting that many soldiers shared his views but did not have his courage to stand up to the government and the army. Baxter’s courage almost killed him and he suffered for his stand for many years after the war ended.

We should be very grateful to Archibald’s wife Millicent who persuaded him to dictate these recollections to her. This is a very important slice of history from a voice that the authorities tried to silence.

Reviewed and recommended by Debbie Evans
This book is also ‘Kate’s Klassic’ on Radio NZ tomorrow, 15 February.

We Will Not Cease
by Archibald Baxter
Published by Cape Catley (most recently)

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