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Pacifism on the home front

In this excerpt, Millicent Baxter recalls her conversion to pacifism during World War I as a result of reading a letter written by her future husband, the pacifist objector Archibald Baxter. Millicent had not then met Archibald, but the letter to his parents, published in the newspaper Truth, moved her to investigate his pacifist viewpoint. In the face of popular patriotism, she adopted those views for herself.

Year:1981

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Pacifism on the home front

In this excerpt, Millicent Baxter recalls her conversion to pacifism during World War I as a result of reading a letter written by her future husband, the pacifist objector Archibald Baxter. Millicent had not then met Archibald, but the letter to his parents, published in the newspaper Truth, moved her to investigate his pacifist viewpoint. In the face of popular patriotism, she adopted those views for herself.


Year: 1981

Length: 04:16

Production Company: Radio New Zealand

Source: Radio New Zealand Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Catalogue Reference: 24243 Looking back. Millicent Baxter. 1981-01-24.


People: Millicent Baxter

Tags: Pacifism, Conscientious objectors, Homefront, New Zealand

Subject: Pacifism, Pacifists – New Zealand, Conscientious objectors -- New Zealand


Image Title: Illustration of method of attachment to fixed object as required in Field Punishment no 1 (War Office, London, 1917)

Image Source: https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/field_punishment/


Pacifism had long been associated with religious groups such as the Quakers. However, it became widely known as a socialist movement during the early 20th century. Archibald Baxter’s views were inspired in part by British Labour Party founder Keir Hardie, whom he heard speak in Dunedin in 1912. However, despite growing pre-war support for pacifism, by the time conscription was introduced during the First World War, sympathy for pacifists was low. Unlike religious objectors, for whom the general population had limited sympathy, or socialist objectors who were supported by a large working-class movement, pacifism was not a widely-held belief and therefore received much less sympathy from the public.

Fuelled by patriotism and love for the ‘old country’, popular opinion supported the war. Pacifist objectors were treated as deserters or disobedient soldiers rather than conscientious objectors holding to their beliefs. As a result, Archibald Baxter endured tremendous hardship during the war. He and several other pacifists and conscientious objectors were first imprisoned and then sent to the front line, where the commanding officers tried everything within their power to break the men’s spirit and turn them into soldiers – including the infamous Field Punishment No. 1. Only Baxter and one other man, Mark Briggs, did not break their resolve.

On the home front, it was Baxter’s reflections on this hardship and his steadfastness that were noted by Millicent Baxter in the published letter to his parents. Opposition to the war in any form remained unpopular both in New Zealand and other combatant countries. Millicent mentions that she was hesitant to share her feelings with others as she knew that most people at the time were extremely patriotic. And patriotism at that time meant supporting the war effort.