We Will Not Cease
In 1915 in New Zealand the National Register was taken. All men of military age were required to state whether they were willing to undertake military service. Of approximately 196,000 in this category 33,700 said they would not undertake service at home or abroad, and 44,300 declared their willingness to undertake home service, but refused service abroad. Yet the following year the New Zealand Government introduced conscription.
The author made his opposition to the war and his attitude to conscription clear in the first years of the conflict, and after the passing of the Conscription Act, he was arrested without even receiving notice that he was required to serve in the Army. In company with other objectors, he was moved from jail to jail. He was transferred on board a troopship to France, and upon arrival there was officially tortured by means of the field punishment known as crucifixion. He suffered unofficial as well as official punishment, and was, on several occasions, beaten up. He was placed alone in an area which was heavily shelled and before he was through with the various attempts to make him change his mind, he was physically and mentally exhausted: prison, bad food (or no food), punishments, illness and nervous strain were at last too much for him and he collapsed, seriously ill, and had to be transferred to a hospital. He was taken (quite unnecessarily it appears) to a mental
hospital, which fact was subsequently used against him by the authorities.
The author, father of poet James K. Baxter, states his story without a trace of the hysteria or invective which would be excusable in one who had suffered so much. His book is a calm, logical indictment of a policy which did nothing to induce the Conscientious Objector to change his mind and did nothing in the long run to assist the authorities.
As We Will Not Cease was published in 1939 few copies reached New Zealand before World War II started, and so it is relatively little known in the author's own country. The Blitz of 1941 destroyed all the unsold copies held by the original publisher, Victor Gollancz Ltd.
Three years after the First World War, Archibald Baxter married Millicent Brown, the daughter of John Macmillan Brown, a well-known pioneering Professor of Classics and English at Canterbury College. He continued farming until 1930. A member of the Labour Party from the time of its foundation, he took an active interest in its growth and attended several Labour Party Conferences in Wellington. Mr Baxter and his family made a trip to England and Europe, where he attended the War Resisters' International Conference in Copenhagen in 1937. We Will Not Cease was written in Salisbury in 1937. Part of the source material of the book was available in notes which Mrs Baxter had made at the author's dictation shortly after World War I.
Mr Baxter's elder son, Terence John Baxter, appealed on conscientious grounds against being conscripted for military service in World War II. His appeal, however, was dismissed, and he was imprisoned in military defaulters' detention camps until the war ended.
Archibald Baxter, who is now 81, lives in Otago, New Zealand.