There are many reasons I am happy to make my home here in Whanganui, and the presence of Quakers is one of them.
On Anzac Day afternoon, I stood behind a row of small elderly women who had organised a peace vigil. I was glad to be among this dignified gathering.
As I looked at the backs of their white or grey heads, I reflected how these gentle and determined women had doubtless been advocating for peace and social justice for longer than I've been alive.
I have good reason to be personally grateful for Whanganui Quakers, as those living in the Quaker Settlement made room for me back in 2010 when I flew in to care for my mother in an emergency. I was a stranger to them, but no mind - they could help, and they did and I'll be forever grateful for that.
I ended up renting a small unit there and stayed for two years.
I was curious about them and their beliefs and ways, and the more I learned, the more my respect grew.
The Religious Society of Friends (as Quakers are officially called) was established in Britain in the mid 17th century, a time of considerable turmoil.
George Fox was a charismatic young preacher, independent of the established churches, but it was not his intention to form a new sect.
As Quakers in Aotearoa tells the story, George Fox "believed he had rediscovered original Christianity and that people were free to move beyond the institutional limits of any church. However, George Fox's message that we do not need priests or a church to feel the presence and 'voice' of God was regarded with utmost suspicion by the authorities of the time."
That led to Fox and his followers being beaten and imprisoned - some were tortured and killed - and the society was, in fact, founded to assist those being persecuted for their views.
The Quakers have a seriously impressive lineage of working for social justice, going back to the abolition of slavery and the right of women to vote. They are well-known as pacifists, with their "Peace Testimony" arising from a belief that there is "that of God in every one" and that war is contrary to the life and teachings of Jesus.
From the beginning, Quakers strove to "bring about God's will without the use of force or violence. Quakers refused to take part in war and preparation for war; and oppose the culture of militarism and the social and economic distortions that it causes".
Their commitment to social justice and equality sees them active still today, doggedly advocating for penal reform, for instance, and here in New Zealand, acknowledging the importance of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
I was saddened to read some rather strident denunciation of the Quakers who made white poppies available this week and organised the peace vigil. The organisers took great care to not set up their activities in opposition to anyone. Their freedom to express their heartfelt beliefs should be respected.
And isn't Anzac Day a very appropriate time to reflect on the horror of war and the need for alternatives?
I learnt more about the terrible reality of World War I by reading novels than I did from my history degree. But then, Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy was extraordinary (the third, The Ghost Road, won the Booker Prize) and meticulously researched.
Her novels offer considerable insight into the multiple, complex ways WWI shaped the lives of all who lived through it - the men who served and those who didn't, and the women at home who worked and waited.
There was a spectrum of support for the war - at one end were women viciously shaming men not in uniform; at the other, socialists unwilling to fight "a war of capitalist interests". History is always more complex - and far more interesting - when viewed through the lens of ordinary lives rather than the machinations of political and military leaders.
Barker's books taught me about the British military's brutal treatment of conscientious objectors. New Zealand didn't stop short of torturing "conchies" either, as the exhibit "Field Punishment No.1" at the Wellington Museum poignantly reminds us.
Freedom of speech and of religion were unfortunate casualties of war.
- Rachel Rose is a writer, gardener, fermenter and fomenter. Sources available at www.facebook.com/rachelrose.writer