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.”]