Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lest We Forget the Conchies

Anzac Day every year is as dear to my heart as the daughter of a World War II conscientious objector, as it is to any of the family members of those who fought in the wars New Zealand has participated in.

Anzac Day was the day my father and his ex-conchie friends chose to catch up with each other and to remember the sacrifices they made for the sake of their pacifist consciences. How they were imprisoned as 'defaulters' by the New Zealand Government for refusing to take up military arms and kill other humans.

They were the quiet and very much unsung heroes who were also able to commemorate the terrible losses in all wars, on both sides of the battle lines, and often for the rest of their lives they remained politically active in the struggle to end war, create peace, and bring about nuclear disarmament.

Dad used to wear a poppy every year, and he too mourned the brave losses, and many of course were from his own family.

This post is placed here as a wreath in honour of those men and women who oppose military solutions to conflict.

The photo above shows one of those WWII conscientious objectors, present at a Dunedin event this week to celebrate the launch of Field Punishment No. 1, a book about conscientious objectors in the First War, the most famous of whom was the legendary Archibald Baxter, author of We Will Not Cease. Former conchie Terry Baxter (second from left) is shown speaking to Kevin Clements (second from right), newly installed Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, who gave a speech at the launch. Kevin's father was also a conscientious objector in World War II.

Terry is the son of prominent pacifists Archibald and Millicent Baxter, and NZ's much loved poet James K Baxter was his younger brother. But like many of the conchies, he wouldn't want to make a fuss or blow his own trumpet, or accept status as a hero or role model for those who would like to know how to raise the courage to stand against your government when it tells you to do something that is against your conscience.

So it's just as well we have authors and researchers like David Grant who have worked hard to tell the story of the men who said No to war. To say No to war required huge courage, and the conchies and their families were subjected to much institutional and personal hostility.

David Grant was present at the launch and also gave a speech, and the formal part of the evening concluded with a haunting peace song sung by his niece Marama Grant.

The launch was held at Milford Galleries and was accompanied by an exhibition of the paintings by Bob Kerr that inspired the book and appear within it. Bob Kerr was also at the launch.

Missing were the many Dunedin-based conchies who have now passed on. We will remember them, too.


artandmylife said...

I am off to Milford Galleries then. This is one opening I really wish I'd got to. (Should be able to get to more now BTW)

Pdogge said...

Thank you for that as there has little been said at this time regarding "living peacefully".
I wonder also as a past Dunedinite where your new idyllic spot is and make a few guesses but will keep them to myself :-)