Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Voices Against War: new website on conscientious objection

"Bob Semple release from prison,” Voices Against War, accessed May 18, 2016,
Voices Against War ( is a recently-launched website dedicated to sharing the voice of anti-militarism and conscientious objection in wartime Canterbury. Featuring a wide array of stories and supported by photographs, ephemera and more, the website is a bold and much-needed counter to the carnival of commemoration that is WW100.

What I like about the website is its inclusion of women and pre-war anti-militarism. In most accounts, conscientious objection seems to fall out of the sky after the Military Service Act was passed in August 1916. Yet as the website (and my own work) shows, 1916-1918 objection was the continuation of resistance that had been temporarily submerged by the initial fervor of war. By including women, the website also widens the picture of wartime dissent—more often than not portrayed as the domain of those men eligible for military service only.

From the site:
When the New Zealand Government announced it was joining Britain in the war against Germany in August 1914, most New Zealanders greeted the news with wild enthusiasm. Volunteers flocked to enlist. It took real courage to go against this feverish tide of opinion but a few brave voices spoke out for peace.

Hundreds of young men chose to go to prison as objectors to conscription rather than compromise their beliefs, both in the pre-war period when compulsory military training was introduced and during the war.

On this website we highlight the stories of some of those courageous individuals who became political prisoners during this tumultuous period. Some served time in the old Lyttelton Gaol, some in the new prison at Paparua and others endured military detention in Fort Jervois on Ripapa Island.

Public sentiment was against the objectors. Usually referred to as ‘shirkers’, they suffered vilification at the hands of the press, discrimination in their workplaces, and in some cases the loss of civil rights for up to ten years. By also telling the story of the anti-militarist movement that began in Christchurch in 1910 we are marking the origins of the Pakeha peace movement in Aotearoa New Zealand. The labour movement was almost wholly anti-militarist and we also tell the story of those men jailed for breaching the government regulations that said it was sedition to speak out against conscription or war.

Women were not directly involved in compulsory military training or conscription, but some were involved in the anti-militarist organisations. They supported the men who were taking a stand, while also taking a courageous stand themselves to uphold what they saw as the British tradition of freedom of conscience. Maori were initially exempted from conscription. Later the Act was amended to include Maori though conscription was imposed only on Tainui Māori.

In telling these stories, many of which have not been told before, we are not seeking to dishonour or detract from the bravery and commitment to duty displayed by the thousands of men who served in the New Zealand expeditionary force. But these stories of Canterbury’s forgotten history have a place too and are an important part of Aotearoa New Zealand’s response to the First World War.
 I encourage you to take a peek, browse the stories, or scroll through the goodies on offer.

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