Video: Conscientious Objector

Speaking out against the war effort could land you in jail.

Sally Page, daughter of conscientious objector Robin Page talks, about her father's experience

The Defence Act 1909 allowed members of religious groups to appeal for an exemption but objectors were still expected to undertake non-combatant roles, often in the medical corps. Many religious objectors refused non‑combatant work as they would still be under military orders.

Officially labelled as defaulters, some objectors were imprisoned and lost some of their rights for 10 years after the War. A few were forcibly sent to the front anyway.

In general, public opinion was hostile towards the objectors. Despite the risk, many men stuck to their convictions and opposed the War on religious, ethical and humanitarian grounds.

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Robin’s family supported his decision to oppose the War. They attended his court martial and later visited him in prison. His aunts, Ellen and Ann Saunders, recorded their nephew’s experience in this scrapbook.

Courtesy of Sally Page

From Canterbury College to Paparua Prison

Robin Page had just graduated with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and spent the summer on a biking holiday when he was called up for service.

The Canterbury College graduate strongly opposed the War on religious grounds. He said it was “simply organised murder” and could find nothing in the Bible to support war. His appeal was unsuccessful. Page ended up being court martialled and sentenced to 2 years hard labour at Paparua Prison outside of Christchurch.

After he was released in 1919, he resumed his studies earning an Master of Science in chemistry in 1921.


Conscientious objectors at Paparua prison

Courtesy of Patricia Smith. All Rights Reserved

Paparua Prison

Up until 1915, Canterbury’s main prison was Lyttelton Gaol. As the population grew, so did the need for a larger prison.

War shortages meant the new prison was hastily assembled and very soon overcrowded. Page would have been in the company of like-minded people. About two-thirds of the inmates were conscientious objectors in 1917–1918.

The facility has since been upgraded and is now known as Christchurch Men’s Prison.