top of page
  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

I don’t believe in murder – standing up for peace in WWI Canterbury by Margaret Lovell-Smith

This is a weighty book comprising 334 pages of fine-print text. And the topic – conscientious objection at a time when going to war was seen by the majority as a mark of honour – is no less hefty.

The book contains so many personal stories; and I was immediately struck by the title – a quote taken from the story of one Harry Cooke in 1911, which summarises the belief held by many conscientious objectors to WWI, that war was nothing more than murder sanctioned by the government.

I was also very moved by a quote in the introduction. Christchurch tennis champion Anthony Wilding wrote to his mother Julia in September 1914: “I verily believe that it would take a braver man to stand down than become a soldier.” By then Wilding had decided to join the ‘fight for the Empire’ and he was killed at the Second Battle of Ypres less than a year later.

While dipping in and out of the book over a period of time, I continued to have the nagging feeling that some of this material was familiar to me already. I struggled to recall where I had first encountered details of New Zealand pacifism or conscientious objection. This went on for weeks until I chanced on the story of The Reverend James Chapple, which features large in this book. Chapple was a controversial figure who used his pulpit to promote a message of peace and socialism. In this instance, socialism should read as an opposition to capitalism. Chapple firmly believed that supporting war was just supporting capitalism. Talk about fire and brimstone. He was tried for sedition in May 1918 and sentenced to 11 months in prison. It is unclear why he had returned to New Zealand from San Francisco at all.

Chapple had fled to America in 1917 with his wife Florence and 13 of their 14 children. America at that time had not entered the war and Chapple was at liberty to fire back incendiary articles to the Maoriland Worker. But two months after the USA entered the war, Chapple returned home to stir the crowd from the pulpit. He was arrested after a rowdy meeting in Greymouth. Chapple is not a common name; so eventually the penny dropped when I remembered that Chapple’s story was the foundation for Maurice Gee’s extraordinary Plumb trilogy which had been given to me to read in the early 90s by the great environmentalist, my then neighbour, Don Chapple. Like Gee, Don was a grandson of the pacifist preacher.

I was also struck by the role of the enormous role taken by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. There’s a moving photograph on page 78 of the book which depicts a room full of women who all look like suffragettes. My great-grandmother wore a temperance badge on the lapel of her jacket until her death; and it was edifying to read about the potency of this symbol. It brought me even closer to understanding her.

The author, Margaret Lovell-Smith, was the lead researcher and writer for the website “Voices against War’ which was launched in 2016, and which eventually led to the writing of the book.

Lovell-Smith has previously written on the Canterbury women’s movement of the 19th century and other books which focus on leading women. She’s done an outstanding job of collating the material and turning it into this extensive collection of stories.

Reviewer: Peta Stavelli

University of Canterbury Press


bottom of page