Research Progress by Annie Kane, Louise Piggin, Danielle Mitchell, Laura McRae, Rewa Kendall and Mikayla Eruera
How were the conscientious objectors treated in NZ and France?
Conscientious objectors in NZ were not treated lightly. A conscientious objector is person who for reasons of conscience objects to serving in the armed forces.
Conscientious objectors in New Zealand were first sent to prison camps or were forced into hard labour as sentences for refusing to fight or responding to conscription notices. It was decided in 1917 by the Minister of Defence at the time, James Allen, that after their sentence was served, the objectors would be sent to France and forced to fight, as their refusal was unpatriotic. To test the waters, the decision was made to send fourteen conscientious objectors to France on a troopship, ready to sail in Wellington Harbour. Once on board they would be treated as ordinary soldiers, and once they reached France they would be forced to fight with their fellow comrades for King and Country.
However the men continued to protest and fight onboard the ship, making trouble whenever they could. Uniforms were forced onto them, but the men took them off immediately. Their normal clothing was thrown overboard, yet they still preferred to wear towels or loincloths than the army uniform. Once they reached France, the men were intimidated and attempts were made to break their spirit. Some men broke down, and agreed to co-operate, however four men in particular continued to refuse. These were Baxter, Briggs, Patton, and Kirwin. The four men were sentenced to this punishment, also known as the crucifixion, where their hands were bound behind their backs to a post, and their legs and torso bound. After failing to get the soldiers to change their minds, they were sent to the front line trenches, where Baxter and Kirwin were forced to walk 1000 yards to the front lines. Where they were held for a day, then forced to walk back. Briggs was subjected to another punishment, where he was dragged across the duck walk, when he refused to walk himself. The duck walk was covered in nails and wire netting, therefore when he was dragged his clothes were ripped off and resulted in large flesh wounds on his body. During this punishment he was also thrown into large shell holes that were filled with water, and the men in charge of him simulated drowning.
Why did the authorities have this policy for conscientious objectors?
Socialist union leaders and politicians believed that conscription exploited the working class, however the government adopted a policy of attempting to force conscientious objectors to become soldiers, as refusing to fight was unpatriotic. Conscientious objectors were reviled by society as shirkers, and cowards, but many still stuck to their beliefs.
We are now going to continue to look further into this topic over the next month.
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Last modified on Thursday, 21 August 2014 13:59