Archibald Baxter, We Will Not Cease, Penguin Books

This is a very sad tale—the autobiography of a conscientious objector in World War One. From the first day when the New Zealand authorities made an example of him by locking him away, his life was worse than most of us could imagine. His outright refusal to perform any sort of military service led the military machine to take him off to England, then off to France where he was "crucified" in freezing temperatures for continued disobeyal, then to the front line where eventually, as a non-soldier unable to claim food, he nearly starved to death, and finally to a barbaric Edwardian mental hospital (the "fitting place" for anyone mad enough to endure such tortures rather than fight).

At some points in this chronicle of torture it is hard to see how Baxter stuck to his principles and refused the easy option of non-combatant work, one which more and more of his collegues in conscientious objection came to take up. But it is equally hard to understand how the military in charge let the crimes against Baxter increase. Most of his friends amongst the rank and file of soldiers supported him, and only one or two sadistic sergeants actively persecuted him—on the whole it was just a case of people letting it go on. In the end it is somewhat cheering to know that Baxter survived with his principles intact, but it's depressing to know that his persecutors, and the system which spawned them, probably did too.

No more can be said about this book without ruining the effect of increasing outrage. This is a moving book, a very worthwhile read, equally as important now as it was fifty years ago when first published. Highly recommended.


First published in Togatus, 1 September 1987.
This page: 28 February 2000; last modified 8 May 2018.

©1987, 2000 Rory Ewins