The Peace Column

archibald baxterArchibald on the Avenue

By John Murray 

In Dunedin near the railway station, there is an Avenue called Anzac.

Recently it hit the headlines because a group of citizens wanted to make there, in the spirit of WWI (World War One) commemorations, a memorial to one of New Zealand’s war heroes, the pacifist resister Archibald Baxter.

Archibald’s fame was later eclipsed by that of his son, poet and playwright J K Baxter, who also wrote and campaigned against war.

The group was headed by Professor Kevin Clements, the foundation head of the Department of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution at Otago University.

He asked that in this commemorative year, Dunedin should also honour this man, who suffered for his resistance to the war, in the same sacred Avenue.

The reply came back, not from the City Council but from the President of the RSA saying that they could remember Baxter if they wished, but it was not appropriate for him to be in the Avenue.

What is appropriate for Anzac Avenue?

“Appropriate”?  Why not!  What could be more appropriate than remembering a man who, because of his religious and political beliefs, was forcibly sent to France, ordered into the trenches and tied to a poplar stake in no-man’s land?

Those who recently viewed the TVNZ documentary “No 1 Field Punishment” will understand something of the ‘appropriateness’ of this memorial to the costly history of the war. This unbelievable treatment, just short of the firing squad, is worthy of remembrance of the brutality and the stupidity of war and of those who justify it.

field punishment

In a free democracy such as ours, the right to protest, to resist what can be shown as destructive of life, our common welfare and indeed of our environment itself, is an inalienable right – to speak the truth to power, to give the people a choice is indeed ‘appropriate.’

What about the Kapiti Coast?

That is Dunedin. What can we do here on the Kapiti Coast? Here in our District, we have another man, another hero of war and peace. He lies buried in Otaki. His name is Ormond Burton.

ormond burtonHe was a soldier in WW1, a Methodist minister who, because of his Christian faith, spoke out against WW2 and so became a prisoner of the State and was dismissed by his Church. He had served on Gallipoli and in France, and was  awarded the Military Medal.

He had resisted the new war that continued ‘the war to end all wars.’ Ormie, as he was known, was finally restored to his ministry and sent to Otaki to serve till he died.

Will it be ‘appropriate’ to remember Ormie? And all those others who resisted the Goddess of War I or II?

When White Poppies for remembrance and peace were offered in our streets  for this past Anzac Day, the RSA said it was not appropriate. It said this was mocking our sacred National Day.

It makes one wonder whether there is not anything more ‘appropriate,’ in a world still awash with guns, bombs and fighting men and women, than peace.  Blessed are the peace makers.

A very good idea. Ormand Wilson was an inspiration to my parents and later to me, in a time when objecting to war brought out some very hostile responses, but he kept talking peace.