Archives for category: antimilitarism

From Garage Collective: As the centennial of the First World draws near, more and more celebrations (yes, I have heard that word used) are beginning to rear their head. Under the snappy banner of WW100, events, projects, and cultural heritage institutions are revisiting the First World War—some to shed new light (such as tweets from the diary of farm labourer during the war), and some to propagate dated myths. It will be an interesting 4 years in terms of the narratives being told, and while there has already been the inclusion of the ‘dissident’ perspective in the form of a TV One movie, I am not holding my breath when it comes to discussions of the causes of the First World War (or its end for that matter, in the form of workers refusing to fight any further). At the NDF Conference I attended last year WW1 projects were talked about as ‘honoring those who had died for freedom’, as if the imperialist line sold to the public in 1914 was alive and well.

However there is one website that I’ve been trawling for interesting analysis, and that is No Glory in War is an UK initiative based on an open letter calling for the centennial to promote international co-operation. The website has a range of articles, videos and other resources and is well worth your time.

My own work on the IWW and anarchism in Aotearoa has flirted the edges of the First World War home front, and talks I gave last year were much more focused on this radical syndicalist opposition. It is an aspect of research I’d love to continue in the future (time permitting), especially the aftermath during the 1920s (the OBU, railway strikes, the homeboat strike, deportation, censorship etc). Although the conscientious objector is being re-framed in the public eye, I think it is also important to acknowledge the worker radicals, absentee ‘defaulters’ and army mutineers who fought their own kind of class war. And this war did not start in 1914, or end in 1918. Again, I doubt that the neat four year package we are about to consume will do this counter-narrative any justice. So pick your site of struggle and step into it—the record will be better off for it.

White Poppies will be sold at the front steps of the Wellington Railway Station from 7am to 8.30am, and from 4.30pm to 6pm, on Tuesday 22 April. They can also be ordered from White Poppies for Peace email

The white poppy is an international symbol of remembrance for all the casualties of war – civilians and armed forces personnel – and of peace. Information about the white poppy is available at

Sales help fund the White Poppy Peace Scholarships, These are awarded each year to assist with the costs of research into: the impacts of militarism, militarisation and warfare; alternatives to militarism, militarisation and warfare; or media coverage of militarism, militarisation, military deployment and / or armed conflict.


black+poppy+2Some great ideas here that would translate to Aotearoa.

The London Remembering the Real World War 1 group has now had two meetings, and has begun planning our response to the official commemorations of World War 1, which look like celebrating the war as a just cause, a triumph of British nationalism, and ignoring as much as possible the huge resistance to the war, and the origins of the war in routine capitalist competition.

Below is a summary of some of the decisions and ideas so far.

One suggestion for principles which we all liked was
• We honour all the dead.
• The war arose from normal capitalist social relations.
• Working class resistance stopped the war.

(These may need to be expanded on –but responses to this from folk not at the meeting would be useful).

General introductory leaflet

We agreed the need for a short introductory leaflet to announce our existence and position… The first draft is being worked on.


We agreed to set up a WordPress blog, which one person will administrate for now, but will allow us to have multiple administrators later, which we thought desirable. (Blog is being worked on)
Wordpress is also easy to use, and we have contacts who have good experience with use of it if we need help.

We will probably need several admin people, uploading stuff, so that is doesn’t get too much for one person; dealing with emails that arise from the blog is likely to be a big job too.

The home page could also be translated into other languages.

National meeting

It was thought some kind of national planning meeting, gathering together radical history groups and others, interested in planning oppositional histories and events around WW1 anniversaries. May 2014 was thought to be a good month; we should start contacting others to see if people are
interested… Contacts like Bristol Radical History Group, Peace News and the Peace Pledge Union would be good for a start.
One person present from Manchester at the first meeting, said she would talk to others there about setting up a group there.

Beyond that, a wide educational conference might be good, more of an open event, with speakers etc…
Benefit: The band that we are in touch with are happy to play a benefit in late February… Other acts that might be interested would be good (we can probably get in touch with Robb Johnson, who has written songs about WW1, and Leon Rosselson, maybe.


Some designs for stickers and posters were looked over… The Gerd Arntz Soldatentum anti-WW1 art is very striking, easy to reproduce, but too detailed for good reproduction as stickers, so we will work on doing them as posters. We could also maybe use Gee Vaucher’s Crass image – the dead hand on
barbed wire, with the caption “your Country needs you.”
A design for a sticker we liked the idea of was a black poppy with a red centre.
But this should be an ongoing search – if anyone comes across/knows of good and usable designs for anti-WW1 publicity, or is/has contact with artists who could produce such, get in touch with us…
Slogans discussed for stickers/posters:
• ‘No War but the Class War’
• ‘Workers stopped WW1’
• ‘We Stopped the War’
• ‘Resistance Stopped WW1’.
• ‘1914-2014 – 100 years of resistance to war.’
• ‘Class War – the War to End all Wars.’

More ideas that evoke the spirit of desertion – one your typist came up with later was something like:
‘Mutiny, Desertion, Refusal: The real WW1 Spirit!’

We could also subvert official WW1 posters from the time, or those that the govt sponsor now…

Mainstream events and our response to them

The ‘big’ events that the official national commemorations will focus around, will be
• the outbreak of war
• the battle of the Somme (beginning 1916)
• the 1918 armistice

So it would be good to organize some subversive response to them… But hundreds of local events will also be put on, many of which would also be worth some counter-blasts. For instance, Imperial War Museum North is planning a ‘Closer Look at the Xmas 1914 truce’.

But we should also make a list of events they will IGNORE, and that we should raise.

Actions and activities

Practical suggestions

• A timeline of events planned for the ‘official’ commemorations; from that we could work out some concrete plans for what we could do.
There was some discussion around this; some other ideas for a web space included a weekly counter of casualties for the corresponding week of WW1… Like a ticking counter … (is this a bit sick?) Obviously updating this is a lot of work!

Some practical suggestion of activities we could do:

• actions at or counter to official events, to raise awareness, say we’re still here, still opposing war.
• specific actions or demos to commemorate specific events: one that has already been suggested was the big anti-war demo in 1914, just before war was declared; another idea we came up with at the meeting was a demo at the reopening of the Imperial War Museum’s WW1 exhibits (all closed at moment)… whenever that may be.
One of the biggest events next year will be on Remembrance Day – would be good to do something – without dissing the dead? Got a year to think about it.

Events, struggles and questions we Want to Commemorate –

• The run-up to war, the peace movement…
• The outbreak of War
• Jingoism and xenophobia: attacks on foreigners in the UK
• Conscription, and resistance to it
• The Russian Revolution 1917
• The first International Women’s Day
• The mutinies, all of them, but especially the ones that helped to end
the war in 1918.
• Strikes and bread and butter struggles during WW1
• the 1918 police strike
• The demob riots 1919

It would be especially good to celebrate the events that transcend the ‘national’, chauvinistic focus the authorities are emphasizing, that elaborate on more than just life on the western front; and to also make
contact with younger people, who the govt will be making an effort to spread shite among. An important link is between resistance to WW1 and current opposition to war, and to the ongoing attempt to integrate armed
forces into all walks of life – seriously, TV especially has increasing programs normalizing army, etc, but also all the supporting our boys campaigns, press etc. There’s definitely an ideological drive to ‘recapture’ what they look back and nostalge for, this ‘covenant’ of armed forces and ‘the nation’. Part of what we should be doing is pointing out that this past is much more ambiguous than they would like people to think, especially in the first world war period. In terms of getting in touch with younger folk, an info pack for schools, and talking to history teachers, were ideas that came up.

• media stunts – included an idea for an Xmas football match in France, with international comrades, Xmas 1914… David Cameron has already announced a Xmas match apparently though! So we need ways of turning that around (someone agreed to chase up a text about the use of football as a recuiting tool for the army…)
A left-field suggestion was to campaign for a Xmas match in Afghanistan, army & Taliban…?!

• Setting up our own counterfeit war memorials, plaques etc.
One mainstream plan already announced has been to set up a paving stone every place someone lived who won the Victoria Cross medal in WW1 – we discussed the idea of having a counter-memorial and ceremony, for someone in the same town/area who resisted the war.

• making some black poppies for next November, to commemorate deserters, draft-dodgers, mutineers, those who resisted at home through strikes, supporting and sheltering those on the run, anti-conscription activists, strikers, rent strikers… etc…

• Publications: a short pamphlet summing up anti-war resistance in London was thought to be useful. Past Tense are happy to collate information for this, and can put it together/print it.
• There are already plans afoot to reprint Dave Lamb’s excellent old pamphlet, Mutinies 1917-20

• We should also be monitoring stuff released under the 100-year rule to National Archives… on the case on that.

• to keep an eye on PHD students working on WW1… also they could all be probably persuaded to talk…!

• a reading list of books, pamphlets, papers, etc, on WW1.. (This has already been started)

Some other things…

We have access to Pathe film footage of ex-servicemen rioting for jobs in Downing St in 1920… and other films… a list is available.

Miscellaneous ideas

General discussion: events and aspects of WW1 worth doing something around:
• the networks of resistance, around the UK (and wider), supporting people refusing conscription…
• how the government acted when war came: the moments it started, the took over all the railways, stopped police leave, requisitioned all horses, introduced legislation to crack down on opposition; also changed licensing laws to try to increase production… interned ‘suspect foreigners’. Later introduced conscription, after initial euphoric flood of volunteers dried up in 1915; 1915 Munitions Act – government took over all factories for arms production.
On one hand this illustrates the nature of war under the modern capitalist state; on the other, its unlikely the centenary commemorations will flag these repressive measures – not like they’re going to say “hey, look, we
introduced conscription!” etc. We will have to bang on about all that.
• some discussion on the myth that “World War 1 liberated women”… is there any writings on this? Maybe something in Sylvia Pankhurst’s book, “The Home Front” (long out of print though)… anyone else know?
• theories of the origins of the war: eg, there’s a theory that WW1 was in effect started to control rebellious working class around Europe. There’s a book called “the People as Enemy”, which (although it is about WW2) shows evidence of overt discussion of this among ruling classes. John Zerzan also wrote an article on the social pressures behind the war.
• on complete lists of COs etc – we have access to full lists of all soldiers shot; is there a fuller list of all those sentenced – as many sentences were commuted. Cyril Pearce in Huddersfield is putting together a list of all Conscientious Objectors in the British Isles…
• Big business: who profited from the war? New technology, armaments…
• Shared myths of war; WW2 as shared national sacrifice obviously very big. But WW1 myth needs examining…


We had a discussion on celebrities – some folk suggested some names of famous people who might be sympathetic to what we are proposing to do… Ian Hislop, Carol Ann Duffy, Kate Adie were mentioned. Some of these have either written books or poems etc which touch on WW1… Another author
mentioned was Gerard Oram, who wrote a book on squaddies sentenced to death in WW1. General feeling seemed to be that we should not tailor what we are doing to recruiting them, but do what we do and make them aware of it, and let them come if they are interested. One way of this might be critical reviews of their books on blog etc.

Tours of WW1 sites of executions, mutinies etc

Some people are interested in setting up some tours to visit sites, eg Etaples, Ypres, Calais, Wilhelmshaven… we do eed to start thinking about this. Would be good points to meet up with international comrades…

Future Meetings of this group

We agreed to meet regularly, on the third Thursday of each month, so
Thurs 16th January
Thurs 20th February
Thurs 20th march

And so on… at 7.30, at 88 Fleet St, London EC4Y 1DH
(The entrance is in St Bride’s Avenue – press any buzzer).

To subscribe to the Remembering the WW1 e-list, send mail to

then reply to the email it sends to you…

Socialist Cross of Honor #5

 Reproduced from the LHP Newsletter #55.

In July 1911 William Cornish Jnr, a young conscientious objector from Brooklyn, Wellington, stood before Magistrate Riddell on charges of refusing to register under the Defence Act of 1909. Amended in 1910 and finally enforced in April 1911, the Act required compulsory registration of all men between the ages of 14 and 30 as an “attempt to re-organize [New Zealand’s] defence forces along the lines agreed to at the Imperial Naval and Military Conference” held in London in 1909.1 Cornish Jnr, having “no intention of obeying the law” and “prepared to take the consequences,” refused to pay the £4 fine. Instead, he was sentenced to 21 days in jail—becoming, according to Ryan Bodman, the first Pakeha political prisoner in the nation’s history.2

William Cornish Snr shared his son’s sentiment and echoed the rumblings of an antimilitarist movement gathering momentum—a movement angered by creeping militarism and state curtailment of liberty. “What is this terrible offence for which my son is punished?” wrote Cornish Snr to the Evening Post. “He refuses to register himself like a dog. A dog registered and collared!” He concluded defiantly:

My son is told to defend his country. He has got to defend his father’s property. And how much property has his father got? None. Nine-tenths of the working class—the class I belong to—have no property; therefore it means that the ruling class—the capitalists—have got the cheek and impudence to ask the sons of the workers to defend their property… I am happy and proud to be the father of such a noble son who has the courage to say: No! No! No!”3

Harry Cooke, son of the New Zealand Socialist Party’s (NZSP) Christchurch secretary Fred Cooke, was another young objector who said “No! No! No!” to the fine and was sent to jail. He was not the last. Backed by antimilitarist groups like Louise Christie’s Anti-Militarist League and Charles Mackie’s National Peace Council, along with working class bodies such as the NZSP, the Federation of Labor and the Passive Resisters’ Union (PRU), youths across New Zealand were refusing registration and compulsory military training in large numbers. By 1913 the Maoriland Worker, which started a ‘Roll of Honour’ on the jailing of Cornish Jnr, had 94 names listed (many with double sentences), while prosecutions under the Act had reached a figure of 7030.

Yet despite the statistics, antimilitarist ‘shirkers’ and ‘anti-defenders’ were in the minority—a movement on the margins of a highly conformist culture. They were often ridiculed by the mainstream press—“we have precious little sympathy with the silly, notoriety-craving youths,” wrote one scathing editor.4 Therefore, the support of collective associations like the NZSP and the PRU formed an important part of resisting militarism in its various forms, and dealing with the reprisals. With the creation of these associations came a working class counterculture with its own institutions, values and symbols, a “means of defining and winning space within the social structure.”5 Newspapers, banners, badges, slogans, songs, social events, physical spaces and social relationships were just some of the ways working people expressed their solidarity. PRU members wore distinctive red, white and gold badges on their jackets, published the spritely Repeal and had their own hockey team “with bright red uniforms and big crowds to watch them on Saturday which highlights the popularity of their cause.”6 The NZSP had its halls, Sunday schools, stationery (“the red flag and Socialist motto being very prominent”) and in 1912 even considered purchasing their own van.7

So when Cornish Jnr and Harry Cooke were imprisoned, the communities of which they were a part rallied together in true countercultural fashion. Although a demonstration planned at the prison gates was foiled when Cornish Jnr was released an hour early, the Wellington socialists threw two receptions for him at the Socialist Hall. The first, attended by a crowd of over 300, saw Cornish Jnr receive a medal from the Runanga Anti-Conscription League—possibly the first celebratory medal of its kind in the history of the New Zealand labour movement. Speaking on behalf of the League, Robert Semple “congratulated Cornish on defying an immoral law” before presenting him “with a handsome gold medal, which bears the following inscription:—‘Presented to W. Cornish, junr., by the Runanga Anti-Conscription League. 26/7/11.’”8 The following night saw Cornish Jnr receive a second medal – the Socialist Cross of Honor:

The design of this cross is based on the Victoria Cross. On the centre shield are engraved the name of the NZ Socialist Party, the number and the name of the boy. In the centre are a red flag and the words ‘Anti-Militarism’ and at the bottom is written ‘For Courage’”9

Cooke received his Socialist Cross in a similar ceremony a month later, presented by the Christchurch NZSP in front of a crowd of 200.

Cornish Jnr, as pictured by Bloomfield

Cartoonist William Blomfield, well known for his anti-socialist satire, was quick to jump on the paradox of anti-militarists receiving medals. His drawing of a menacing Cornish Jnr—medals abreast and Union Jack torn in his hands—is like a patriotic poster gone awry. All the elements are there: flags, conscription posters and medals portrayed in a way to stir even the mildest patriot, but for all the wrong reasons. The paradox was not lost on the NZSP. “Many may ask why the Socialist Party is initiating the military authorities and their barbaric symbols of slaughter,” wrote Fred Cooke. “We answer that our cross is symbolical of peace and brotherhood, and in after life the boys who have gained them can justly boast of striking a blow for liberty and fraternity.”10 Indeed, as the British cultural theorist Raymond Williams has pointed out, the crucial difference between the elite and the working class in cultural terms was not “language, not dress, not leisure… but between alternative ideas of the nature of social relationships.”11 The Socialist Cross may have been a medal originally based on militarist conquest, but in the hands of the working class its social value was immensely different.

It is not known how many of these unique medals were produced. By mid-1912 the NZSP was appealing for funds to keep the practice going: “there are a number of crosses in the course of being finished, and by appearances we shall require a larger number than was anticipated.”12 References to the Socialist Cross disappear from the Maoriland Worker after June 1912 and they are missing from collectors-catalogues such as Leon Morel’s Catalogue of Medals, Medalets, Medallions of New Zealand, 1865-1940. It appears none are held in any cultural heritage institutions, making them even rarer.

So imagine my surprise when, after giving a talk on New Zealand’s labour movement at Occupy Christchurch (in walking distance of the PRU’s former headquarters, the Addington Railway Workshops), I was approached by a man named Walter Dobbs claiming to have PRU badges in his possession. At that stage I had no idea any such medals existed, and assumed Walter simply meant the gold PRU badges worn by its members. Instead, in his Addington storage unit, he presented me with not one but two Socialist Crosses. A cross with the faded inscription #24 was in poor condition, but the Socialist Cross of Honor #5, given to PRU founder James Kirkwood Worrall after imprisonment on 5 March 1912, was as good as new.

The Worrall brothers wearing their PRU ribbons

Walter also had transcribed copies of Worrall’s letters from Ripapa Island in Lyttelton Harbour, an internment camp for conscientious objectors. Marched through Lyttelton at the point of bayonets, Worrall and other resisters were shipped to the island in June 1913 where they soon refused to clean weaponry and carry out military drill. “They were placed on half-rations, to which ten of the PRU members responded with a hunger strike.”13 As well as letters to his mother describing the hunger strike and island conditions, Worrall and Reg Williams managed to get an impassioned plea to the Labour Unity Conference being held in Wellington, causing the entire group of over 400 delegates to march on Parliament and demand a hearing with Prime Minster William Massey:

It is now the morning of July 2, and ten of us have refused the fifth meal offered us. Three of our number are ill, one seriously. It makes no difference, however, as we have decided that unless we are allowed to return to the barrack room and given our full rations, we will be carried off the island dead, or as near dead as our tormentors will allow us to get… Our message to you, our comrades, is to fight hard. No quarter! No compromise! No surrender! We are prepared to play the game to the last: all we ask is for you to do the same. Let the world know that this little country is game enough to challenge the power of the military autocracy which is threatening to overwhelm the world, and is ruining the workers of the world.14

Massey called an immediate Cabinet meeting and the following day promised the conference that conditions on the island would be improved, military drill would not be enforced and inquiries into all complaints would be made. Although not the unconditional release originally demanded, the hunger strikers and resulting publicity had won their point.15

These letters give a rare insight into the fraught activity of antimilitarists like Worrall and highlight the importance of both collective and family support, the latter being a key but under-examined institution.16 “With your letters time passes fairly quickly,” wrote Worrall to his mother, just after the hunger strike,

I received Father’s note, and was very disappointed that he could not come across… I hope that Father left the fruit across there, because I feel fit to eat some. Perhaps you may be able to come another day this week—try, anyway, because I want Father to see the place. Don’t forget to make things hot outside. I will write more soon. Don’t worry, we will win yet. Don’t forget the fruit. W Hooper and I are waiting for it.17

Likewise, the Socialist Cross and corresponding letters shown to me by Walter highlight how much important archival material relating to the labour movement exists in private collections, its value often unknown to their owners. Sadly, in a time of cuts and mergers, archival outreach is often the last thing on a heritage minister’s mind. That is why labour history and accounts of our working past are important—the continuation of a working class counter-culture held dear to those that struggled to create it. As Fred Cooke wrote in 1911, “in the future, when working-class history comes to be written, our Cross will be held in high esteem.”18


1. R.L. Weitzel, ‘Pacifists and Anti-militarists, 1909–1914’, New Zealand Journal of History, 1973, p.128.
2. Maoriland Worker, 14 July 1911; Ryan Bodman, “‘Don’t be a Conscript, be a Man!’ A History of the Passive Resisters’ Union, 1912-1914”, Masters Dissertation, University of Auckland, 2010, p.8.
3. Evening Post, 10 July 1911.
4. Marlborough Express, 7 April 1913.
5. Bill Osgerby, as cited by Alan Howkins. ‘Labour and Culture: mapping the field’ in John Martin & Kerry Taylor, (eds.), Culture and the Labour Movement: essays in New Zealand Labour History, Dunmore Press, 1991, p.26.
6. Maoriland Worker, 28 June 1912. Special thanks to Ryan Bodman for pointing this out to me.
7. NZ Truth, 5 August 1911.
8. Maoriland Worker, 11 August 1911.
9. Maoriland Worker, 25 August 1911.
10. Maoriland Worker, 12 April 1912.
11. Howkins. ‘Labour and Culture: mapping the field’, p.25.
12. Maoriland Worker, 12 April 1912.
13. Bodman, ‘Don’t be a Conscript, be a Man!’, p.21.
14. NZ Truth, 5 July 1913.
15. Bert Roth, ‘The Prisoners of Ripa Island’, Here and Now, November 1954, p.18.
16. Melanie Nolan, ‘Family and Culture: Jack and Maggie McCullough and the Christchurch Skilled Working Class, 1880s-1920s’ in Culture and the Labour Movement, p.164.
17. James Worrall, letter to his mother, 2 July 1913, private collection.
18. Maoriland Worker, 25 August 1911.