Kevin McLoughlin, a tour guide at The Great War Exhibition since early 2016, recently attended a Wellington conference, Dissent and the First World War, which covered dissent and how the First World War divided New Zealand society.
“I’m interested in history and technology, and the social impact of the First World War,” Kevin says. “When I saw the dissent conference programme, I was keen because of our current temporary exhibition, Dissent.”
The conference covered diverse topics such as policing the war in New Zealand, visualising dissent from an artist’s perspective, legal issues and resistance in Australia and Canada.
“Cyril Pearce, the keynote speaker from England was really good,” Kevin says. “I got to spend a bit of time talking with him about social issues resulting from the war.” Cyril Pearce, an Hon. Research Fellow at the School of History, University of Leeds, has complied the Pearce Register, a database of over 18,000 British conscientious objectors.
“Pearce talked about a survey he’d done on conscientious objectors, in Lancashire and Yorkshire, which are the northern counties with pretty strong working-class populations. The surprise was that a lot of the anti-conscription feeling was not coming from the cities, but from small clusters in rural areas, from villages that couldn’t afford to lose men in the war.”
New Zealand’s conscientious objectors to the First World War were treated harshly, with the Crown only recently pardoning Rua Kenana and apologising to his family for his treatment during the war.
“I feel conscientious objectors were treated very badly,” Kevin says. “If you don’t want to fight, you shouldn’t be made to. The attitude wasn’t a great snapshot of what NZ was about. I hold a man like Archibald Baxter in high regard, for his courage for standing up—a guy from a small south Otago back block, standing up for what he did, and what he went through. I met his son, James K Baxter, who was a literature teacher for St Paul’s High School, which I attended. He was an independent spirit too.”
Dissent—A Different Type of Courage, a short audio visual show, runs at the Great War Exhibition until Sunday 1st October 2017. Our next temporary exhibition, Passchendaele—New Zealand’s Darkest Day runs from Wednesday 4th October.
Photo: On ANZAC day in 2016, a sculpture appeared on Wellington’s waterfront to highlight the courage of those who refused to serve in the military. Story Inc. recreated the sculpture for Dissent, the second episode in our seven-part Chapters of The Great War series of temporary exhibitions.