Poem of the Week: The C.O’s by Donald Baxter (brother of Archibald and uncle of James K Baxter)

Their names are writ in every Clink –
This small but steadfast band
Who for themselves have dared to think
And firmly take their stand.

The tyrants’ boast to crush and kill
And this proud spirit bend
Does only strengthen each man’s will
To conquer in the end

Although to-night in prison cell
‘Neath Mammon’s lock and key.
It only holds the earthly shell –
The mind and soul are free.

The Brotherhood of Man’s their aim;
So come whate’er betide
They’ll bear it all in Freedom’s name.
Their conscience is their guide,

Though each should fill a Martyr’s grave,
What grander end could be ?
Their death will only help to pave
The road to Liberty

(Written by Donald Baxter while in detention – 26th July 1917)

Kevin Clements with thanks to Leunig.

"My courage failed
My strength did not endure
I broke down frightened and alone.
I did not sacrifice my life,
It was taken from me
As there I lay half mad and trembling.
Please no bugle call, no flag, no volley
I died human.” Leunig.

I’m not there to read this poem by Leunig,
But he speaks my mind.

I was shot in war,
my body broken,
bloodied and dismembered.
I never made it back
and have no grave
to mark the spot.
My family never found me
And I remain in Turkish dust.

A hundred years on,
My body, my blood,
my dreams ,
were not given for you
in remembrance of me.
They have been expropriated
for a national communion.

Please don't do this in my name.

I want no muffled walk, dawn parades,
Fawning Prime Ministers, and Governors General.
I loathe last posts and know there will be
No reveille.

I don’t want young children
that being killed in action
Is any more glorious than being killed
in a car crash..

I don't want white crosses in school grounds
Youth ambassadors at Gallipoli
National lies about sacrifice,
freedom and democracy.

Please don't lie in peace about
What I felt in war.
Please don't use my shortened
Life for your political advantage.
Please let me be what I was;
A man of my time,
A man who knew no better,
A man killed for no purpose,
A man who died hopeful
That others
will refuse to do the same.

Please do that in my name.

Kevin Clements read this poem, which he had written on the day, at the ANZAC Day peace commemoration at the Dunedin Peace Pole in the Otago Museum Reserve.

The Reading of the Names

Please listen; first you need to understand
that here the dead are laid in shallow graves –
precise, immaculate of course – names etched
in tiny trenches clean as crosshairs – light
as whistling in a field behind the lines –
a little deeper than the brass they lie
Please listen; every year, these dead will march
again inside this hall, for we who live
will stage a soft parade; the name
of every man who died will step into
the air, a list straightforward as the alphabet –
two hundred names and more will move aside
the silence, pause a moment, then make way,
aloof alike to honour or indifferent stares

John Birnie

[The author taught at Waitaki Boys’ High School where, each Anzac Day, the names of the war dead associated with the school and commemorated on brass plaques in the school’s Hall of Memories are read aloud.]

In The Flanders Snow

There’s a troop train due at Dunedin station,
Young soldiers waiting row on row;
And there’s Archie Baxter and his brothers,
With a police escort to make them go.

They’ve decided not to join the army,
They’re aren’t prepared to fight the foe,
They won’t obey the Government’s orders,
To Flanders fields they will not go.

They’re opposed to war and against the army,
They stand for peace and will not go,
Won’t raise a fist or raise a rifle,
To any man or the Government’s foe.

So it’s prison cells with “special” treatment,
Punched and kicked, all heavy blows;
“You’re shirkers and you’re useless cowards,
We’ll beat you ‘til you beg to go.”

But they won’t bear arms and they won’t bear stretchers,
They won’t take orders, they just won’t go;
So they’re tried and sentenced by court martial,
“You’re traitors and we’ll make you go.”

And Archie Baxter and his brothers,
Were put in chains and forced to go,
And were crucified near the front-line trenches,
Field punishment in the Flanders snow.

Tied to posts for endless hours,
Torture served up cold and slow.
The end draws near and death approaches,
Shellfire sweeps the Flanders snow.

But they’re seen and freed by a front-line sergeant,
Who’d heard of Archie weeks ago,
From prison cells and railway stations,
Rumours reached the Flanders snow.

They’d all discussed the Baxter brothers,
Conscription laws and who should go;
And how police escorts and politicians
Weren’t seen much in the Flanders snow.

The war, the law, the Baxter brothers,
Put in chains and forced to go;
By troopship, trains, torment and torture,
From Dunedin to the Flanders snow.

Mike McPhee

 [The author writes: “My wife works in the local [Owaka] school library and recently asked the children to ask their parents or grandparents if any family members had served in the First World War. She was somewhat surprised when a little boy Baxter presented her with a collection of newspaper clippings about his ancestor, Archibald, who had gone to France. This incident spurred me on to finish a poem I had started about Mr Baxter, a man who really was a war hero.”]