The other side of the medal
In November the museum commemorates Armistice Day, which marks the end of World War One, and staff have been asked to submit ideas for some sort of presentation covering that conflict. I figure other folks will have the Gallipoli and Somme angles pretty well covered, so I've submitted a document which emphasises the strong opposition to the war that existed inside New Zealand. Most Kiwis are well aware of what happened in the Dardanelles, and of what the Maori Battalion was, but few know about the big anti-conscription movement back home during World War One, or about the iwi who drove Maui Pomare and Apirana Ngata to distraction by refusing all invitations to exhibit their fighting prowess in the trenches of Europe and Asia Minor.
In many countries, the outbreak of World War One was greeted with great enthusiasm, and men and women volunteered for service in large numbers. As the bloody conflict dragged on, though, the supply of volunteers declined, and a desire for peace grew. Conscription was introduced in many places to keep the supply of troops flowing to the front. But opposition to the war continued to grow in most countries, and in 1917and 1918 it led to the series of protests, mutinies, and revolutions which did much to bring the conflict to a close.
In Australia, repeated attempts to introduce conscription were defeated by public referenda. Perhaps mindful of the experience across the Tasman, the Massey government decided to bypass the voters and ram a conscription law through parliament in 1916. The law was welcomed by some New Zealanders, but it was unpopular with a number of Maori iwi, with parts of the labour movement, and with some religious organisations. Many members of these communities refused the call to conscription, and thus came into conflict with the New Zealand state. Some were imprisoned, others went into hiding, and a few died because they refused to fight.
Tainui and Tuhoe were the most important anti-conscription iwi. Both felt that they had no obligation to fight for the New Zealand state which had first invaded and then confiscated their lands in the nineteenth century. In his biography of Princess Te Puea, Michael King describes how Waikato and the other peoples of Tainui defied conscription:
While the parliamentarians were activating the Maori traditions of Tumatauenga, god of war, Te Puea was reinforcing those of Tawhiao, prophet of peace. And Waikato's refusal to serve became a growing embarrassment to the government... in February 1918, Te Puea sent word to all waikato and Maniapoto men of conscriptional age to join her at Te Paina [a marae in Mangatawhiri, near Mercer]...Te Puea's message was 'If we are to die, let us die together'...
Police invaded Te Paina and dragged away the conscriptable men who had gathered there. Of the 550 Tainui called up for service, only 74 ever wore a uniform, and not one served overseas. One hundred and eleven Tainui men were imprisoned, and four died of influenza because of the poor conditions they endured in captivity.
The Tuhoe prophet and political leader Rua Kenana refused to recognise the authority of the government in Wellington, and discouraged his followers from enlisting in the army. In his biography of Rua, Peter Webster reports an opinion of the war that the prophet gave in 1915:
Oh yes, we have got a King in England...He no good, he bad. The Germans win. The Germans win...
In 1916 armed police invaded the settlement Rua had established at Maungapohatu, deep in the Ureweras. After a gunbattle two of Rua's followers lay dead, including Rua's son Toko. Rua himself was sent to Mt Eden Prison.
The most famous Pakeha to be imprisoned for opposing World War One was Harry Holland, the first leader of the Labour Party. Like many left-wing members of the trade union movement, Holland believed that the war was essentially a fight between competing groups of capitalists. He argued that New Zealand workers had no reason to kill German or Turkish workers, and that they would be better off uniting and creating a new international order based on socialism. Similar views inspired the revolutions in Russia in 1917 and in Germany in 1918.
In his study of Holland, PJ O'Farrell describes the sufferings the man endured in prison:
He was very glad to leave prison. It had depressed him...his cell was too cold for comfortable reading. It was often too cold for sleep. The monotony was unbearable.
The experiences of the Tainui and Tuhoe peoples and of Pakeha like Harry Holland remind us that not all Kiwis believed that World War One was a heroic 'war to end all wars'. On Anzac Day and Armistice Day we should not forget New Zealand's fighters for peace.