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Archie Barrington discusses conscientious objection

Audio file

From 'Interview with Pacifist, Archie Barrington'. (3 September 1979)

Part One: Formation and early years of the Christian Pacifist Society.


We formed the Christian Pacifist Society with a view to uniting Christians of all denominations in total repudiation of war because it was unChristian - and to work for peace. I'd previously been associated with attempts to form peace movements - the Federation Against War, the Council Against War - I was involved in the movement against war and Fascism, which preceded the Christian Pacifist Society, and the Peace Pledge Union - an English movement. But the Christian Pacifist Society was specifically Christian and I was either secretary or president of it for its first 25 years. And we had meetings. Our first demonstration - first protest demonstration - was when the Labour government at Queen's Birthday weekend in 1938 arranged a bombing display at Rongotai aerodrome and a military tattoo through the city. We organised a small protest at the aerodrome, and we were ordered away by the police, and we wouldn't go and they sent for reinforcements, and we again wouldn't go. They didn't know what to do, so they watched the proceedings while we went on talking. And I arranged a poster parade to accompany the military tattoo through the city streets on the Monday, and I made sandwich boards - which nearly choked us - for this purpose, but it was quite effective.

Interviewer: What was the strength of the following that you had in New Zealand for the pacifist movement in those days?

Barrington:It built up - very largely because of my connection with the Methodist youth movement - very largely of Methodists, young Methodists, and I suppose at the time the Second World War began we'd have between five and six hundred. Not a very large movement, but quite a significant one because these members were pledged absolutely to refuse to have any participation or support for war.


Part Two: Protest and Arrest.


We'd been holding open air meetings in Wellington, and some in Auckland. And — after this demonstration on Queen's Birthday Weekend 1938 — weekly open-air meetings and poster parades. Quite early in the war the poster parades were smashed by the police and we couldn't continue them, and there began to be disruption — by the police, not by the public — of our open-air meetings.

In January 1940 a friend offered to take me by car on a lightning trip of the North Island and we held open-air meetings wherever we stopped. I was arrested in Wanganui, Auckland and Gisborne, and marched out of Stratford, Te Kuiti and Tauranga by returned soldiers of the First World War. I had eggs thrown at me at New Plymouth and tomatoes at Stratford, and had my soapbox kicked to pieces by an angry policeman in Hawera. It was quite an interesting tour! And Wanganui was my first arrest.

Now on returning home I found another prosecution waiting for a meeting held in Swan Lane before I left — Swan Lane is a small closed lane off Cuba Street in Wellington — and the charge of course was obstructing a public place. One of the fines I incurred on the lightning trip was, I think, three pounds, and I refused to pay it, and this led to my eventual imprisonment for a very minor period — 6 days. It was a cause of great laughter by some of the hardened criminals I met as soon as I landed at Mt Crawford prison and I was known as Mister Mere Weekender.

And actually I only stayed one day because Dr Dry — of Massey University, who recently died having given his name to the Drysdale Sheep (because his work at Massey was identical twins in sheep and he discovered a sheep which was named after him)— he came out and paid the fine and took me home in a taxi, so it was a very brief interlude.

Interviewer: What was the general attitude of the public and the press in those days towards your activities, were they very jingoistic?

Barrington: We had no experience of jingoism in our meetings at the famous Basin Reserve in Wellington and other places, except for the occasional opposition like on that tour that I mentioned. That was provoked by returned soldiers — whom I'm sure communicated from place to place. But in the city, we'd have occasional interjections but the public were certainly not riotous or contentious and I can remember only one occasion when some young soldiers baled me up and shoved me off my soapbox, and baled me up behind a motorcar, and the police put me on a tram. And of course on another occasion — a notorious occasion — when the mayor of Wellington, in a broadcast address, said that if the pacifists wanted a fight they could have one. And this of course brought thousands of people to the Manners Street reserve on that Friday evening. They were expecting some excitement. Mr Burton was arrested after the police said he was not allowed to speak — he was arrested for saying 'ladies and gentlemen' — which was obstructing a policeman in the execution of his duty. And he was carted away and I spoke for a few minutes before they realised the meeting was continuing then I was arrested and taken to the police station and they found that they had made a mistake on this occasion —they hadn't ordered me not to speak so I hadn't committed an offence, so they had to let me go on that occasion.


Part Three: Prison Life.


Interviewer: In 1941 Barry you were sentenced to one year's hard labour. What were conditions like in Mt Crawford for conscientious objectors in wartime in New Zealand?

Barrington: Conditions in the prison were fairly primitive, but I couldn't call it producing suffering in any way. We were deprived of our families and our families were deprived and had some trouble to meet and come out with the young children and visit us once a week, but it was certainly not real hardship as far as... — except of course that you were locked in your cells for 17 hours out of the 24 — you had all your meals in there, in your cell. We were allowed books—which had to pass censorship— and some periodicals, and we could write a certain number of letters, which of course had to be censored. But I wouldn't regard that as hardship, it was only the fact that you weren't able to carry on your work.



Radio New Zealand Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Reference no: TX1735

Image: Barrington's peace caravan

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Archie Barrington discusses conscientious objection, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated