Sunday marks the centenary of the armistice that officially ended the "Great War" – World War I.

Much is being made of New Zealand's dominant role in one of the war's last actions, the liberation of the historic walled town of Le Quesnoy in northern France.

Townsfolk still revere the Kiwi triumph, which routed the occupying Germans without loss of civilian life or damage to the town.

One local recently remarked how her antecedents – while immensely grateful — were somewhat mystified as to how their liberators "from ze ends of ze earth" had ended up there.


They'd have been even more dumbfounded to learn we'd despatched roughly 10 per cent of our entire population to the other side of the globe to catch the action.

It's not surprising so much attention attends Le Quesnoy.

Apart from its proximity to Armistice Day, and even though over 140 Kiwi lives were lost there, it's one of the few "feel-good" stories of a five-year-long war where monster armaments spawned by modern industrialisation combined with chemical weapons to ferment an unprecedented witches' brews of decimation.

Here was something in best Boys' Own tradition — A brave young officer, revolver in hand, scales a flimsy ladder purloined from a local apple orchard, breasts the ancient city walls, and lets fly at startled Hun now scuttling off into eventual ignominious surrender.

By jingo, this was more the sort of wheeze all those farm boys from up the back of Waimate and Taihape had signed up for — and be home by Christmas to boot.

Archibald Baxter and his wife Milicent.
Archibald Baxter and his wife Milicent.

And what was it all about? Well, most were a little vague on that. Wasn't it something to do with freedom, poor little Belgium, and "God, king and country"?

Well, yes, there was a dusty old treaty with Belgium originally cobbled up to help Britain maintain port access to mainland Europe.

But following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria by a Serbian nationalist, and prior to Britain's eventual decision to jump into the fray, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Serbia, France and Germany had already all mobilised their respective armies in a dog's breakfast of various enmities and alliances.


Each would have said they were fighting for "freedom".

In short, the whole shebang was just one more episode born of centuries of internecine European infighting and empire-building.

Having at some point invaded about 80 per cent of all countries on the planet, Great Britain still saw itself as top dog, and Germany as the Great Pretender.

Still in thrall to the "mother" country, we dutifully enlisted in droves as mother's little helpers.

Our best contribution would have been simply to decline this collective act of insanity in the first place. The "war to end all wars" merely proved the catalyst for an even greater cataclysm just two decades later.

Let there be no doubt, some of our service men and women performed ineffable acts of bravery and heroically endured unspeakable ordeals.

But the point is, we should never have been there at all. In this brainless clash of imperial hubris, colonial troops were often just expedient cannon fodder.


Our best contribution would have been simply to decline this collective act of insanity in the first place. The "war to end all wars" merely proved the catalyst for an even greater cataclysm just two decades later.

The true heroes were the Archibald Baxters of the time, who saw through the jingoism and rank hypocrisy, and said "No".

Of course, as an apostle of peace, Baxter was literally crucified using a particularly vile practice known as field punishment number 1.

Archie's son, James K, later wrote a poem, Bucket of Blood for a Dollar, protesting our complicity in another imperial war in Vietnam.

Latterly he journeyed to Jerusalem on the Whanganui River in search of personal peace. Two millennia earlier, another Prince of Peace also travelled to a Jerusalem. He was crucified, too.

We need to continue to heed Archie's lead – as per our refusal to join the corrupt United States invasion of Iraq. Our troops should be for United Nations sanctioned peace-keeping and humanitarian purposes only.


Sure, there are baddies out there, but boot-licking half the problem helps no one.