Conscientious Objectors

Conscientious Objectors in World War One

Auckland War Memorial Museum has recently added records for over 220 conscientious objectors to the Online Cenotaph database. The names of the objectors and the details of their convictions were taken from NZHistory’s published list of imprisoned conscientious objectors, 1916-18.

These records provide us with important insights into the personal details, occupations, and the myriad of reasons these men had for refusing to serve, as well as the harsh punishments that they were subjected to.

Image caption: List of Conscientious Objectors from the First World War, Archives New Zealand

When conscription was introduced to New Zealand in 1916 thousands of men were called up to serve under Section 34 and 35 of the Military Service Act. However, there were those who opposed the war because of religious, political and moral beliefs.

About 600 men declared conscientious objections. Many of those who refused to go were subsequently punished and incarcerated. Of these men, 286 were ultimately imprisoned in New Zealand.

Men who resisted

Archibald Baxter is one of New Zealand’s best known conscientious objectors. The father of poet James K Baxter, and a writer in his own right, Archibald Baxter was one of the 14 conscientious objectors sent to the front to be made an example of.

He recorded this experience in his book We will not cease. His brothers Alexander and John were among the 14 sent to War and all seven Baxter brothers refused to fight. The following six of them were classed as defiant objectors, arrested and sent to prison.

View their Online Cenotaph records

Alexander Baxter
Archibald Baxter
Donald Baxter
Hugh Baxter
John Baxter
William Baxter

Image caption: Military Service Act, 1916., EPH-PW-1-103, Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Ture Whakarite Mahi Hoia, 1916, EPH-PW-1-32, Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

John Bailsford was a journalist from Lower Hutt who held Left Wing political views. When found guilty of disobeying a command given by his superior officer Bailsford, he was imprisoned with hard labour for two years. Other groups such as the Irish Nationalists and Socialist groups opposed the War and were given similar treatment.

In 1917, conscription was extended to include Māori in the Waikato area who had opposed compulsory service. Te Puea Herangi led the campaign against Māori conscription, encouraging men not to take up arms, to respect the wishes of her grandfather King Tāwhiao Te Wherowhero in response to the New Zealand Land Wars of the 1860s.

This Tainui - Waikato resistance meant that men from these areas were targeted for conscription. Take Puke was one of these Waikato men who refused to report when balloted in 1918, and was arrested. He was later court martialled and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment with hard labour.


Ture Whakarite Mahi Hoia, 1916, EPH-PW-1-32, Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

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Image caption: Christine Masey. The White Feather Medal (2016). 2017.53.1 Auckland War Memorial Museum, Tamaki Paenga Hira Commissioned 


Medallist and sculpture artist Christine Massey was asked to create a medal for the Museum, inspired by the stories of courage in the First World War. The medal she created takes the shape of a feather, cast in bronze. Christine chose to create a medal that recognises 'the bravery of those men who did not go to War'.

In Wartime, the white feather was given to men in an attempt to shame those who had not signed up for duty. Some of those men who were given feathers could not go and some of them refused to.

The back of the medal is inscribed with these words from a Dornford Yates short story:

Dolly never took her eyes from his face. He did not look at her at all.
In that silence, under the female gaze, he makes his decision and joins up.

Otherwise he’d have had to have awarded himself the white feather.



Christine Massey, "The White Feather Medal", bronze, 2016. Collection of Auckland Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira, 2017.53.1 Commissioned

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Go to and use the custom search feature to enter "Conscientious objector" as a keyword to browse through the records we hold for Conscientious Objectors.

Cite this article 

Johnson, Ella. 'Conscientious objectors', Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Published: 24 04 2018.