Fred Page and the No More War Movement
‘As long as we allow fear to be our guiding influence – and it is fear that demands armaments and official armies – we are daily drawing closer to, not further from – the brink of the precipice of destruction.’
The profoundly disturbing experience of seeing his elder brother imprisoned for his belief that war was wrong impelled the young Fred Page into a life dedicated to the cause of world peace.
When his older brother Robin Page was arrested, court martialled and imprisoned as a conscientious objector during World War I, Fred cycled from his home in Papanui to Paparua Prison once a week to visit him.
At the end of the war Fred Page continued to speak publicly and write letters to the papers about the dangers and futility of war. ‘Surely it is time we realized that there is nothing that will lead to more certain disaster than a continuance of war,’ he said in July 1919. For Fred Page Christian belief in the power of love was the source of salvation not warfare. He argued that:
‘The only salvation is faith in the power of Love – a realization that Christianity will work even where everything else has failed – that the teaching of the New Testament is not true because Christ said it, but that Christ said it because it is true’.
He also argued that build-up of arms and military capacity was an act of fear leading the world closer to destruction not a basis of genuine security. In a letter to the Lyttelton Times in 1921 he cautioned:
As long as we allow fear to be our guiding influence – and it is fear that demands armaments and official armies – we are daily drawing closer to, not further from – the brink of the precipice of destruction. We shall gain real security only when we cast aside fear and have courage to hope that our neighbours will feel kindly disposed towards us as long as we are kindly disposed towards them.
Fred Page finished his BA degree in 1918 and in the same year became one of the teachers at the Socialist Sunday School which met on Sunday afternoons under the leadership of the Rev James Chapple. Many later peace activists described their time at the Socialist Sunday School and the close friendships that developed there as significant for their later commitment to the peace movement.
With his brother Robin Page, family and friends, Fred Page enjoyed many tramping, camping and cycling holidays, his accounts of some of the more adventurous trips later appearing in newspapers. An interest in the natural world which was developed by these outdoor holidays probably also prompted Fred to choose “The New Zealand Clematis” as the topic for his MA thesis.
In November 1920 Fred Page became an assistant teacher at Christchurch Boys’ High School – the school where he had been a popular and successful student just a few years before. The following year an amendment to the Education Act empowered school committees to refuse admission to any child who refused to salute the flag and sing the National Anthem. Fred Page protested against this infringement of individual rights in a letter to the Lyttelton Times and was told by the school’s Board of Governors that he must not send any more such seditious letters to the newspapers. Fred Page further antagonised the board by asking for a conscience clause to be added to the oath of allegiance that was required from all teachers. This led to him being dismissed from his job and banned from teaching as a profession. Senior masters from the school and a council of Christian ministers called for his reinstatement, but with no success.
As a result of his unemployment Fred Page was free to continue peace advocacy work, while also working privately as a university coach. He also worked as a coal miner at Blackball, before joining his brother Robin at the Woolston Tanneries as a chemist. At the same time both brothers were contributing scientific articles to the Lyttelton Times, and Fred was also holding classes for workers at the tanneries, and giving weekly lectures at Paparua Prison.
On hearing about the No More War Movement that had been launched in Britain in 1921, he sought the approval of fellow members of the National Peace Council to start the same movement in New Zealand. This he did in 1923. As explained by Norman Bell, a later chairman of the No More War Movement, the wording of the pledge which members signed on joining, was a declaration of ‘present attitude’ not a binding pledge for future action:
War is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined (a) not to support or take part in any war, international or civil; (b) to work for total disarmament, the removal of all causes of war, and the establishment of a new social and international order based on the pacifist principle of co-operation for the common good.
The supremacy of individual conscience when it came in conflict with the state or other authorities was a theme of Fred Page's life. In the 1920s the National Peace Council (NPC) had representatives on the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), and after long and careful discussion between Fred Page and Norman Bell, Bell and the NPC withdrew from the LRC because of the declaration that the Labour Party demanded of its members to abide by all present and future decisions of the party.
Other early office-holders in the No More War Movement were Charles Mackie, Clyde Carr, a socialist Presbyterian minister who went on to become Labour MP for Timaru and Charles Cole, an Anglican minister in Christchurch.
In February 1930 Fred Page set out on a long-planned trip to Europe, a highlight of which would be to attend a meeting of the War Resisters’ International. Tragically it was while he was in Paris for this meeting that he died at the age of 31, the victim of a gas leak from the hot water system where he was staying on his first night in Paris.
The journal that he kept during this trip was later transcribed by his aunts Ellen and Ann Saunders and compiled into a memorial collection of writing by and about Fred Page which they published in 1939. It included moving tributes from numerous people who had known him at various stages of his life, including several people who had met him recently for the first time. The complete and selfless dedication which Fred gave to the peace cause led several contributors to comment on his unworldliness and Christ-like characteristics. Norman Bell who had worked with him in the No More War movement in Christchurch wrote:
He left behind him an example of honesty and straightforwardness, an example of genuine love of his brother man and kindliness towards all men and women; an example of readiness to help in some way all those genuinely in need; an example of fearless championship of what he thought right and for the benefit of mankind. (How often do I remember him standing up to speak in Victoria Square with only myself for his attentive audience!) for myself I confess that every time I think of A.W.P. I am encouraged, in spite of all difficulties, to go forward on the course we laid down together. Those whom the Gods love, die young.
His grave is in the Wiltshire village of Lavington, where his grandfather came from, and bears the inscription: ‘Alfred William Page. Born in New Zealand March 24th, 1899. Died in France, July 7th, 1930. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.’
Ellen and Ann Saunders, 'He's for the Morning’: Alfred William Page: His Journal: Also some recollections of his life, (Christchurch: A.Wildey, 1939), p. 25.
Saunders, 'He's for the Morning', p.25.
Saunders, 'He's for the Morning', p.25.
Saunders, 'He's for the Morning', pp.26-35; David Grant, A Question of Faith: A History of the New Zealand Christian Pacifist Society (Wellington: Philip Garside, 2004) p.11.
Saunders, 'He's for the Morning', pp.49-53.
Saunders, 'He's for the Morning', p.57.
Saunders, 'He's for the Morning', pp.57-58.
Saunders, 'He's for the Morning', p.60.