John Baxter beneath a Bob Kerr portrait of Archibald Baxter. (The shadow belongs to publisher Roger Steele)
John Baxter told a gathering at Turnbull House in Wellington, last night, that he had never been able to finish his grandfather Archibald’s classic work We Shall Not Cease. He first attempted reading the harrowing account of life as a conscientious objector during the First World War as a 14-year-old but found it too upsetting. He attempted it again in his 30s but once again gave up – “it just made me too angry.” He said “hearing grandad’s” voice as he read the book was too much for him to take.
John gave the opening talk at the launch of Field Punishment No. 1: Archibald Baxter, Mark Briggs & New Zealand’s anti-militarist tradition by David Grant with paintings by Bob Kerr.
Archibald, John said, had a similar reaction on reading Dick Scott’s The Parihaka Story. His wife, Milicent, quietly removed the book from the house to avoid the elderly Archibald any more distress.
John was effusive in his praise for Field Punishment No. 1 saying it had allowed him to read about much of what had happened for the first time.
The fact that it is written in a voice other than his grandfather’s made the reading of the history bearable.
A review of Field Punishment No. 1 will be published by the Scoop Review of Books within the next month or two. But if first impressions are anything to go by this looks like a great book. Bob Kerr is, as Roger Steele said at the opening, undoubtedly New Zealand’s leading documentary painter and David Grant’s earlier work on conscientious objectors Out in The Cold leaves me in no doubt that he’s the man to tell this story.
Jacquie Baxter – who writes under the name J C Sturm – surrounded by family and friends at the launch
David Grant talking at the launch of his latest book on pacifists