Scoop Review of Books

We Will Remember Them Also

On Anzac Day a theatrical commemoration of those who didn’t fight

It’s generally accepted that the majority of New Zealanders today oppose war and advocate for more peaceful resolutions to conflict. Yet on Anzac Day those conscientious objectors who made difficult stands for this position historically still get limited acknowledgement.

This Anzac Day afternoon will be the first public performance of Michael Galvin’s play War Hero at Downstage Theatre, Wellington, April 25, 3pm, a play inspired by We Will Not Cease by Archibald Baxter and commissioned as part of the Bruce Mason Playwriting award.

The playreading, directed by Murray Lynch, will be accompanied by projection of celebrated paintings by Bob Kerr, which also tell Baxter’s story, as featured in Field Punishment No.1 by David Grant, a history of conscientious objection in New Zealand. The actors include Jed Brophy, Simon Ferry and Aaron Alexander.

Archibald Baxter was one of 14 conscientious objectors who were forcibly transported to the front line in France during the First World War where they were subjected to a variety of disciplinary measures, including the barbaric ‘No. 1 field punishment’.

This playreading is being presented by Playmarket with Downstage, the Bruce Mason Estate, the Downstage Theatre Society, and the FAME Trust. It’s also an opportunity to hear the work of a leading emerging playwright interpreting a classic of New Zealand literature with a stellar professional cast. The play was commissioned from Galvin as part of winning the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award, New Zealand’s most significant theatre award.

Michael Galvin is best known for his play Ocean Star which premiered to acclaim with Auckland Theatre Company in 2006. Well known as an actor for stage and screen (Shortland Street) his plays Station to Station and New Gold Dream are both scheduled for professional productions soon.

Baxter, the father of James K Baxter, wrote We Shall Not Cease in London at the beginning of the Second World War. When it was republished by Caxton Press in 1968 he wrote the following in the preface:

“A greater barbarism than any the human race has known in the past has risen among the nations. In the First World War multitudes of conscript soldiers were buried alive in the mud of France. Villages were also annihilated but the greatest number of casualties were among the conscript troops. In the Second World War the wholesale slaughter of civilians—by high explosives, by firebombing, and finally by atomic weapons—became a matter of course. Reports from the present Vietnam War indicate that 80 percent of the casualties are occurring among civilians. War has at last become wholly indiscriminate… We make war chiefly on civilians and respect for human life seems to have become a thing of the past… all wars are equally atrocious and no war can be called just.”

Playmarket is New Zealand’s playwrights’ agency and development organization, funded by Creative New Zealand to develop, represent and promote New Zealand playwrights of excellence. The Bruce Mason Playwriting Award is awarded annually to a leading emerging playwright who is commissioned as part of the award, sponsored by the FAME Trust and Downstage Theatre Society, to write a new work for the stage. The award has been in existence since 1983 and presents a roll call of some of New Zealand’s leading writers. For more information see

War Hero, Michael Galvin, Downstage Theatre, Saturday April 25, 3pm, Entry by koha


Poem the C.O’s
A Tribute to Moral Courage
Five Books for Anzac Weekend


  1. Richard Quinn, 23. April 2009, 17:27


    Five past four. Jim hadd given up the battle for sleep by three. In the dim light through the blinds he’d kept seeing the poppy on his overcoat lapel. He hadn’t realised when he hung the coat on the door that that bloody poppy would stare accusingly at him all night.

    Truth was, he hadn’ teven wanted to buy one. He’d walked down into town to buy a chop for his dinner. Outside the butcher’s shop a Girl Guide had thrust a poppy at him. She looked so trusting and innocent. Before he’d had time to think, his hand had pulled out the sixpence for his chop and thrust it into her collection box. The kid had leaned in close as she pinned the poppy on him and the smell of her freshness made him blink.

    Reduced to penury by this sudden – and completely out of character – behaviour, he fumbled in his pocket for change as he shuffled nervously on the sawdust-covered floor of the butcher’s. “Tuppence worth of cat’s meat, please, he mumbled, eyes not catching the butcher’s in his shame. The butcher, seeing the poppy, made a big pile of meat into a parcel. “There you go, cobber,” he said, handing over the parcel and receiveing twopence in return. “And have a good day of it tomorrow, eh?” Jim walked out, nodding silently, face crimson.

    The cat’s meat, carefully trimmed of fat, made the guts of a decent stew. But Jim had little appetite and the plate of congealing meat and spuds still stood on the table next to a couple of dead marines.

    Now, cup of cold tea in front of him, he kept staring at his son’s picture on the wall. He’d been thirteen when that photot was taken. Long-limbed, tousled har falling over his forehad and a grin big enough to swallow the national debt on his face. The huge eel he held up reached as high as his throat. God! What a great year that had been: the last of the good years, really. The missus walked out at Christmas time that year. Hell; she could have waited a bit. But that was women for you. Just too many years of living rough, travelling to endless and forgettable small towns stuck up freezing valleys, spreading the word about Socialism, Universal Brotherhood and the Capitalist Conspiracy. She’d have cheerfully swapped all those things for a warm coat and home of her own. Sheilas!

    Quarter to five. Jim remembered all the dreadful arguments – fights without fists, really – as his boy had argued the toss with him. The lad hadn’t tried to make his Dad change his views. He just kept quietly but stubbornly asserting some bloody right to make up his own mind about things. “Wasn’t that what you always wanted me to do, Dad,?” he’d asked, all the glibness of his father’s own rhetoric coming to his aid. And no matter how hard Jim had argued about being a Capitalist Tool and a Lackey of Empire (his statements often sounded capitalised), the boy persisted in his own quiet, obdurate way.

    The day he came home and dropped his enlistment card on the table in front of Jim, they never spoke together again. The house was a war zone; only the kitchen and bathroom were no-man’s land, where they moved silently past each other, disjointed ghosts unaware ot the other’s presence. The strain was immense.

    The day Jim dreaded came at last. His bedroom door creaked open at five in the morning; the train to Wellington would be coming through at six. His son stood by the bed. “I”m off now, Dad. Look after yourself. I love you.” And a hand had reached down to gently squeeze his shoulder. But he lay there, eyes shut,breathing regular, fast awake but not showing it. His boy shrugged helplessly – just seen through half-closed eyelids – and walked quietly out of the room, shutting the door noiselessly behind him. Click! The back door shut. The front gate squeaked on its rusty hinge and spring. Just for a moment, the sound of feet walking steadily down the street could be heard. Then nothing.

    There’d been a letter. Posted from a ship ‘somewhere in the Indian Ocean.” Jim had crushed it angrily between his fingers and tossed it into the fire unread.

    Then there was the OTHER letter. (A telegram, really). And that one he had read, because he knew what it would say. It did.

    The third letter was from the boy’s Sergeant. It had seemed so trite. Phrases like ‘died doing his duty, charging the enemy’ ‘only an hour after we landed’, ‘you must be so proud of him’, etc. etc., seared his very being.

    Jim never cried; but he never stopped aching, either. All those fine words about living by your principles, and he hadn’t even let his own boy choose how to live – and die – by those very precepts.

    Five to five. Here it was, 1932, and he had never publicly acknowledged his own loss or even his own pigheadedness. He looked again at the poppy in the coat lapel. And decided.

    He stood in front of the half-steamed-up mirror, his old cut throat steady. The stubble on his cheeks looked like cornstalks thrusting up through a deeply furrowed field. His tongue moved around his cheeks as he sought to smooth the furrows. The fingers of his free hand stretched loose pouches of skin tight before the cleansing blade.

    Cutthroat rinsed and folded, he washed in cold water: a daily penance.
    His only suit, threadbare but respectable, went on over a clean shirt and longjohns. It would be bloody cold. But not, he thought to himself, as cold as Gallipoli was on that dreadful morning.

    Dressed, he inspected himself cursorily in the hall mirror. Okay. And then he did what he had never done before. He took the boy’s medals from their resting place in the china cabinet. They were still wrapped inside their box – never opened – in tissue paper. He pinned them to his chest, above the poppy.

    Out the door, through the gate, feet echoing quietly. Up and down the street and across the hills other lights were on. Already a trickle of men were walking down towards town. Hands thrust into deep pockets against the chill late April wind.

    No one spoke. They just acknowledged each other with a nod. Silent emissaries. Pilgrims to a lost past – and forsaken future.

    “After all, ” Jim thought, as his feet carried him along, “a man has to stand up for what he truly believes in.”

  2. Richard Quinn, 24. April 2009, 23:19

    On Anzac Day

    On Anzac Day, she stays away;
    cuts the world from view.
    No laurel leaf, nor floral wreath,
    or poppy’s bloodied hue.

    A photo fades, in sepia shades;
    glazed eyes gaze yet.
    Young life lost for war’s trades:
    death pays Empire’s debt.

    Dawn Parade, speeches made;
    she never once attends.
    Medals grayed, ribbons frayed:
    tin a government sends.

    Oh son, son! My beloved one!
    Her body aches in pain.
    Bones bleached in Turk’s sun;
    her aching is in vain.

    Create a boy, in bliss and joy;
    tangle of lithe limbs.
    How did it ever come to this?
    Candle flickers, dims.

    So …

    On Anzac Day, she stays away;
    cuts the world from view.
    Bent, old, wrinkled, and gray –
    cleft to soul’s sinew.