Charles Edward Warden: Christian Ideals Lead to Imprisonment

Charles Edward Warden

Charles Edward Warden, West Coast Road, Arthurs Pass Village

‘When men recognise that Love is stronger than War, and try to do to others as they would that others do to them, then perhaps the greed of gain and the lust of power which make war possible, will die out; the cruelty and misery will cease; and the Kingdom of Heaven may be recognised on Earth. This is the Ideal, which we must ever try to hold before us even though we fail and blunder again and again.’[1]

For three and half years Charles Warden was employed by the Lyttelton Harbour Board as a clerk. But in January 1917 he was dismissed because ‘his views and intentions with regard to military service’ were not ‘in accord with those required of persons employed by this board’.[2] This had become evident when all the employees of the Harbour Board were asked to provide evidence that they had enrolled as reservists in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Warden had complied by enrolling but had added the phrase ‘without however admitting liability under same’ to the form.[3] It was this addition that cost him his job although his work had been satisfactory and he was said to have been a very useful assistant in the Lyttelton and Christchurch offices.[4]

In response to his letter of dismissal Warden wrote a long letter outlining his reasons for refusing to serve in the military. He believed the Military Service Act was ‘un-Christian and unconstitutional’[5] and he did not agree that conscription would help maintain ‘the liberty loved by all Britishers’ which had been ‘wrested at great cost from both Kings and Parliaments’.[6]

An original thinker with socialist leanings Warden also sent a long letter to the Minister of Defence, James Allen, just days before his Court Martial in January 1918. Published in the Sun newspaper his letter argued that New Zealand should be sending food to Britain rather than men; and that conscription of money (rather than men) would also make more sense.[7]

A large crowd, mainly women, attended his Court Martial at the King Edward Barracks in Christchurch - so many people wanted to attend that some were shut out of the hearing which also considered the case of socialist Arthur Borrows. Warden told the court that the Military Service Act was unconstitutional, unjust and un-Christian, and could not be enforced by any Christian government. He proceeded to put forward a novel argument for exemption from military service, arguing that his family in Scotland were paying feu duty, which in times past was the annual rent paid by the tenant of a feu, or a grant of land, instead of rendering personal military service to the landowner. He also tried to demonstrate his views of the methods adopted by the Allies to overthrow Prussian militarism, with an experiment involving a circular tobacco tin, a bent metal tube, and a sheet of paper. His statement cut no ice with the military board and he was later sentenced to twelve months hard labour. Both Borrows and Warden wore a red rose in their buttonhole and at the closing of the court hearing a large number of women marched out of the barracks singing ‘Keep the Red Flag Flying’.[8]

Charles Edward Warden

Charlie Warden outside his home, a former Public Works house named ‘Gaya’, named for the grove of ribbonwoods (Gaya Lyallii ) that stood beside the house.

After serving nine months in prison, Warden was released on 22 October 1918. His prison experience had evidently not dampened his enthusiasm for making public statements, for the following year he took issue with comments made by the Rev Leonard Isitt on the occasion of the unveiling of the roll of honour at the Durham Street Methodist Church. Isitt’s remarks, he said, could have created ill will between those who went to war, and those who refused to go, when both had believed they were doing their duty. Warden said he had found that COs respected men who acted up to their beliefs, while returned men were tolerant towards the COs. [9]

 ‘When we try to love the other fellow – and I take it this is the true Christian spirit which we wish to promote – we shall not fear him, neither will he fear us; and the necessity for defensive armaments will entirely disappear. Then militarism with its inevitable war, pestilence, and famine, will be unknown.’ [10]

Little is known about the early life of Charles Edward Warden, who was born in 1879 and whose accent betrayed his Scottish origins.[11] Ten years before his court martial he had been a member of a five man scientific expedition to the Kermadec Islands, a private expedition which received assistance from the Philosophical Institutes of Canterbury and Otago. The group spent ten months on Sunday Island with Warden’s particular responsibility being meteorology. Interviewed on his return Warden made it clear he had enjoyed the primitive but hard-working island existence, and had collected a large quantity of detailed weather recordings.[12]

Postwar Warden moved to Arthur’s Pass where he was known to have been a conscientious objector and a socialist and was seen by a young observer, Grace Butler, to have a ‘hint of mystery’ about him, due to the fact that he had ‘done almost no regular work for years and had buried himself at Arthur’s Pass without ever once budging’.[13]

Butler described Warden as a benign figure who always wore sandshoes and whose moustache was dyed orange with nicotine. She described his speech as a nasal singsong, and said his nickname, “Old Sausage-fingers”, referred to his ‘pudgy digits’ surprising in one who, as pianist, was the mainstay at the Saturday night hops. ‘No matter how late – or early – the hour, he’d keep playing by ear any tune you cared to name or hum, until asked to stop’.[14]

Warden lived in a former Public Works house named ‘Gaya’, named for the grove of ribbonwoods (Gaya Lyallii ) that stood beside the house.[15] He had brought with him from Scotland some handmade interlocking wooden cameras and was keen on photography.[16] In 1927 he recorded the first use of skis at Arthurs Pass with his camera, and in 1929 when the Arthurs Pass National Park Board met for the first time, he was appointed the first resident park ranger, a part-time position for which he received a small salary. One of his duties was to keep a look-out for people removing plants and shrubs from the park, a practice that was still an issue nine years later.[17] He was elected as a vice-president of the Canterbury Mountaineering Club.[18] Warden remained ranger until 1937 when he was commended for the various services he had performed, which included providing guidance, information and erecting signs.[19] He was honorary clerk of works for the Arthur Dudley Dobson Memorial which was unveiled in April 1937 and was appointed to the Arthur’s Pass National Park Board of Control in February 1942.[20]

Charles Edward Warden died in 1959 and was buried in the Burwood Anglican Cemetery, Christchurch.[21]

Margaret Lovell-Smith


[1] C Warden to the Secretary of the Lyttelton Harbour Board, 17 January 1917. Lyttelton Harbour Board Correspondence European War 1914 – 1918. Archives New Zealand/Te Rua Mahara o Kawanatanga Christchurch Regional Office [Archives Reference: XBAA CH518 Box 793, XBAH-A002-1008, R25017755].

[2] ‘To All Whom it May Concern’, 27 January 1917, Lyttelton Harbour Board Letter Book, 1916 – 1918. Archives New Zealand/Te Rua Mahara o Kawanatanga Christchurch Regional Office [Archives Reference: XBAA CH518 Box 1090, XBAH-A003-24, R25018918].

Likewise a newspaper report said he had ‘given every satisfaction in his work’. ‘Court-Martialled: Reservists on Trial: Women Crowd the Court’, Sun, 22 January 1918, p.5.

[3] Charles Warden’s ‘Form of Declaration’, dated 3 October 1916; Memo for Mr Clibborn, 16 January 1917. Lyttelton Harbour Board Correspondence European War 1914 – 1918. Archives New Zealand/Te Rua Mahara o Kawanatanga Christchurch Regional Office [Archives Reference: XBAA CH518 Box 793, XBAH-A002-1008, R25017755].

[4] ‘To All Whom it May Concern’, 27 January 1917, Lyttelton Harbour Board Letter Book, 1916 – 1918. Archives New Zealand/Te Rua Mahara o Kawanatanga Christchurch Regional Office [Archives Reference: XBAA CH518 Box 1090, XBAH-A003-24, R25018918].

[5] C Warden to the Secretary of the Lyttelton Harbour Board, 17 January 1917. Lyttelton Harbour Board Correspondence European War 1914 – 1918. Archives New Zealand/Te Rua Mahara o Kawanatanga Christchurch Regional Office [Archives Reference: XBAA CH518 Box 793, XBAH-A002-1008, R25017755].

[6] C Warden to the Secretary of the Lyttelton Harbour Board, 17 January 1917.

[7] ‘Food or Men?’, Letter to the editor from C E Warden, Sun, 12 January 1918, p.6.

[8] ‘Court-martialled: Reservists on Trial: Women Crowd the Court’, Sun, 22 January 1918, p.5. ; ‘Local and General’, Evening Post, 24 January 1918, p.6.

[9] Conscientious Objectors’, Letter to the editor of the Press from C E Warden, 8 August 1919, p.7.

[10] ‘Conscientious Objectors’, Letter to the editor of the Press from C E Warden, 8 August 1919, p.7.

[11] WARDEN, Charles Edward - WW1 93019 – Army, Archives New Zealand/Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga, Wellington office [Archives Reference: W5537,0032801;R20996222].

[12] ‘Students of Nature: A Year on an Island’, Lyttelton Times, 3 August 1907, p.4; ‘The Kermadec Islands’, Wairarapa Daily Times, 3 January 1908, p.7; ‘A Crusoe Life: The Kermadecs Expedition: Mr C E Warden Interviewed’, Star, 27 November 1908, p.1.

[13] Grace Adams, Jack’s Hut, [Wellington: Reed, 1968] p. 118.

[14] Adams, Jack’s Hut, pp. 118-119.

[15] Adams, Jack’s Hut, p. 80.

[16] http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Heritage/Cemeteries/Burwood/BurwoodAnglicanCemetery.pdf

[17] Adams, Jack’s Hut, 93, 99.; ‘News in Brief’, Otago Daily Times, 24 December 1929, p. 20.; ‘Plants at Arthur’s Pass’ Letter to the editor of the Press from C  E Warden, Press, 25 March 1938, p. 15.

[18] ‘Mountaineering Club: Claims to First Ascents’, Press, 1 October 1931, p.5; ‘Mountaineering Club’, Press, 12 October 1932, p. 13.

[19] Adams, Jack’s Hut, pp. 102, 125.

[20] ‘Memorial Unveiled’, Evening Post, 19 April 1937, p.11.; ‘Personal Items’, Press, 23 February 1942, p.4.

[21] http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Heritage/Cemeteries/Burwood/BurwoodAnglicanCemetery.pdf

Charles Edward Warden: Christian Ideals Lead to Imprisonment