Field Punishment No 1

Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by adamcotton, Apr 22, 2015.

  1. adamcotton

    adamcotton Senior Member

    Last night I watched a great movie from New Zealand called "Field Punishment No 1", which told the story of 14 pacifists forced into the expeditionary forces of the New Zealand Army in WW1. The story's focus is on two of the most committed of the group, Archie Baxter and Mark Briggs, and follows the privations, punishments, and outright torture they endured for refusing to fight. Whilst most of the group eventually relented and agreed to serve as stretcher bearers, Briggs and Baxter remained steadfast to the end.

    The film derives its title from the form of punishment the army introduced as a supposedly "humane" alternative to flogging, whereby the victim would be bound to a post in an open field (displaced some degrees from the vertical) by his ankles, knees, and wrists, and left to hang in the coldest of weathers, the tightness of the binds causing the blood circulation to stop. It was a mild form of crucifixion! Briggs - because he refused to walk to the front while carrying a rifle - was even bound and dragged to the trenches for a distance of a 1000ft along crudely constructed duckboards, the exposed, crooked nails lacerating his back into a bloody mess. As if that wasn't enough, he was then dragged through a water filled shell hole in an attempt to drown him - on the orders of his own company sergeant!

    What the film makes clear is that these men's refusal to fight had nothing to do with a lack of courage - what they endured at the hands of the army, whilst refusing to compromise their principles, on the contrary required courage of the highest order. They were, rather, motivated by an unshakeable conviction that war was insane, that ordinary humanity was better than a savage animal fed and trained by, and captive to, its capitalist masters, for whose gain the war was ultimately being fought. Whatever your views on pacifists and "conchies", it's hard not to feel moved by the plight of these men, and how they exemplified all that it means to have the "courage of your convictions."

    And, of course, this is a true story, the script based on first hand accounts from those involved.

    Well worth a watch.
  2. Goodygixxer

    Goodygixxer Senior Member

    I bought this a few weeks ago but haven't got around to watching it yet. I'm glad you posted this because you have just reminded me about it. I will try and watch it soon to see what it's like.
  3. Drayton

    Drayton Senior Member

    The title chosen for the film is potentially misleading, in that FP No 1 (regularly used in the British Army as well as the New Zealand Army) was only incidental to a long catalogue of mistreatment of the 14 NZ conscientious objectors. The summary given here does not make clear that the 14 were forcibly brought to Britain on a passenger liner, confined in one cabin, stripped of their civilian clothes (thrown overboard), and because they refused to don khaki, left to appear for minimal exercise on deck, in front of civilian passengers, wearing only a towel, but grudgingly given singlet and underpants for landing. They were held at Sling Camp, Salisbury Plain, still wearing only underclothes, whence ten of them were eventuially shipped to France, the scene of the worst excesses,.

    To say that some of the men eventually relented and agreed to serve as stretcher-bearers is an oversimplification, Alec Baxter, brother of Archie, having, been sentenced to two years in a military prison encampment near Dunkirk, mostly confined in punishment cells or sibjected to FP No 1 for refusing to obey orders in prison, collapsed soon after his release to stretcher-bearing and had to be sent to hospital in England. William Little was wounded on the scond day of his stretcher-bearing and died of his wounds. Only Garth Ballantyne was able to stay in ambulance work to the end.

    The 14 included another of Archie's brothers, John. Archie's sons were COs in WW2. A notable family.

    The story was first published in New Zealand by H E Holland, New Zealand MP, in Armageddon or Cavalry, c 1920. Archie Baxter wrote his own story in We Will Not Cease, 1939 (republished some years ago).

    On 15 May 2015 a relative of the Baxter brothers came to the Inernational Conscientious Objectors' Day ceremony at the CO Commemrative Stone in Tavistock Square, London, wondering how to explain her connection to the topic - obscure names from the other end of the world a century ago.. She was amazed, but gratified, to find that Archie's name was to be read out as the representative CO for New Zealand among 70 representative COs around the world, and a flower individually laid in his honour.

    Indeed, We Will Not Cease.
  4. CommanderChuff

    CommanderChuff Senior Member

    Personally I enjoyed the film very much, not because of the CO beliefs, but for their determination not to be cowed or to change that determination. The filmcraft and effects were first class and the acting very believable. The best bit was the very end, which I wouldn't repeat here, but put the the while episode into context and meaning.

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