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Armageddon or Calvary: The Conscientious Objectors of New Zealand and "The Process of Their Conversion"

XI.—A Remarkable Controversy

XI.—A Remarkable Controversy.

Mr. Massey took from the daily press certain statements alleged to have been made by me, and these, together with the Prime Minister's replies, were printed as under:—

1."Fourteen lads had been sentenced three or four times for the one offence—a gross injustice!"
Reply:"This statement is untrue. No man could be and no man was sentenced more than once for the same offence."
2."Some of them were boys of twenty, deported without their mothers knowing where they were going" page 36
Reply:"This is also untrue. Seven were 30 years of age and over; one was 27: three were 24; one was 23; two were 22."
3."They were taken Home in irons."
Reply:"This statement is like the others, but it is a fact that on the voyage some of them would not observe ordinary cleanliness, and as a consequence their civilian outfits were condemned by the medical officer, and they were compelled to dress in uniform,"
4."Massey, Ward, and Allen had promised that they would not be persecuted or forced to wear uniform."
Reply:"No such promise was made."
5.They were taken in irons to France."

"There were five of these men who stated that they were conscientious and religious objectors. These latter were not compelled to wear uniform and were not sent to France. The report does not show how many of the remainder were sent to France, nor does it say anything about their being taken in irons, but if such was the case then the obvious conclusion must be that it was necessary for the authorities to take such precautions.

"It is quite clear that the statements referred to were grossly exaggerated, and made for the purpose of prejudicing the administration of the Military Service Act in the eyes of the public. It is no pleasure to the Government or the Defence Authorities to punish men for non-compliance with a necessary law, but in a time of war the Act must be strictly enforced and administered without fear or favour." My rejoinder was published as follows:—

"In the first place, Mr. Massey makes quite erroneous quotations of my statements. He could easily have ascertained, either from myself or the comprehensive report of my speech published by ' The Maoriland Worker,' the exact statements made by me. Instead of doing this, he appears to have based his denial on the necessarily, condensed reports published in the dailies or hearsay.

"I said: 'Fourteen lads … had been flung into prison here, jailed two and three times over for the one offence—a principle vile in law,' etc. Mr. Massey makes me say that they were jailed 'three or four times' for the one offence. He says my statement is grossly untrue. Let the facts decide, the three Baxter brothers were each sentenced to 28 days in Alexandra Barracks, then to 84 days in the common jail, and again to 28 days in Alexandra Barracks, from which prison they were taken to the transport. Mr. W. Little received three similar sentences. Mr. Mark Briggs served a first sentence of 30 days, and was serving a second sentence of 84 days when deported. Mr. Garth C. Ballantyne had served one sentence of 28 days in Alexandra Barracks and was serving a second sentence of 84 days in the common jail when deported. There are also Conscientious Objectors serving second sentences in the jails of New Zealand at the present time.

page 37

"I was in error to the extent of one year when I stated that 'some of them were boys of 20.' I should have said 'boys of 21.' Mr, Ballantyne, who was arrested on March 21, had attained his twenty-first year on February 16. Mr. Fred Adin was a month older. How Mr. Massey now makes them 22 when arrested is for him to explain.

"Mr. Massey is again, in error when he credits me with having said: 'They were taken Home in irons.' I spoke from very complete notes of which 'The Worker' report is an exact copy. What I said was:" …. They were taken from the jail in the dark of night and forcibly placed on a transport. When they were taken out of jail they were not told where they were going. They were carried on the transport like bags of produce. And the transport had left New Zealand before their mothers knew what had been done. Their mothers were given no opportunity of saying good-bye to them, although they were going to almost certain death. They were herded together in a close prison cabin and when they became seasick were not given vessels to vomit in, with the result that the officer remarked that the cabin 'smelt like a hyena's den.' Three of them were left at Capetown, being too ill to proceed further; and the remainder, along with a number of troops, were transferred to another boat—which also carried passengers. After they left Capetown they were brought on deck, and their own clothes were stripped off them and thrown overboard—he had seen a photo of the incident—and they were forcibly dressed in khaki. They took the khaki off, and were at one time naked on deck. Later they were left with only their singlets and underpants on. On arrival in England they were taken to Sling Camp in irons, and were going about there in singlets and underpants. They were subjected to unthinkable treatment, and later some of them were taken in irons to France and threatened with the death penalty."

"Mr. Massey says that because 'some of them would not observe ordinary cleanliness, their civilian outfits were condemned by the medical officer, and they were compelled to dress in uniform.' My information is to the effect that all of them were forcibly dressed in uniform. A soldier writing from Sling Camp on October 12 to a friend at Invercargill, says: 'Before we left Wellington they put about a dozen Conscientious Objectors on board. There was a great go to get them to put on the uniform, but they refused. … After we left the Cape it was forcibly put on them, and their own clothes were thrown overboard. … After the uniform was put on them, they were brought round in front of where the lady passengers were—it was evidently thought they would not pull it off there, but off it came.' The ladles fled, according to the writer, and the Conscientious Objectors were left naked on the deck.

"Mr. Harry Patton in a letter published in the Christchurch 'Press' (December 28) wrote: 'I was ordered to put on the uniform on the boat, refused, and was forcibly stripped and forcibly dressed in the uniform, pulled it off, had my clothing returned at night, Tran-page 38shipped to another boat at. Capetown, kept at the stern of the boat a few nights, clothing taken off and thrown overboard, turned the hose-pipe on me, cold water, then dressed in the uniform, and numerous other little insults all the way.'

"One of the deported men, in a letter written at sea on October 14 (and printed in the 'Green Ray.' Dunedin) described how they were taken from jail after dark on July 12 last, and put on board the transport They refused to embark, and were forcibly put on board. 'I myself was carried on the shoulder of a military policeman as though I was a bag of chaff.' he wrote. He then describes how they were placed in the clink almost in the corner of the boat, and for the first few days the one porthole was not open, and the door was kept locked, consequently there was little ventilation. They were nearly all seasick, and, in the words of the writer, 'we could not get anything to be sick into, consequently the atmosphere became almost in-describable: to use the officer's own words, "the place smelt like a hyena's den." ' He then goes on to say that they were eventually ordered to put on the uniform, and 'on our refusing he (the officer) brought in the military police and took us out one by one on to the top of one of the hatches, and there, in front of the crowd of laughing, jeering soldiers, forcibly stripped us and put the uniform on…. I was greatly surprised to notice a number of the officers, who are generally supposed to be gentlemen, apparently enjoying this degrading spectacle; that also cameras were very much in evidence. None of us attempted to resist, but took it all with a quiet smile, and as soon as we got back to the "click" immediately took off the uniform in spite of threats to tie us up unless-we kept it on. We lay on our beds, all day in our underclothing, and in the evening they gave us back our own clothes, which, of course, we lost no time in getting into. Kirwan was so ill when carried out to have the uniform put on that he had to be taken to the hospital, where he has been ever since.'

"Mr. Massey again misrepresents me when he states that I said: 'Massey, Ward, and Allen promised that they would not be persecuted or forced to wear uniform.' In the first place, Mr. Massey knows quite well—as all who have listened to my addresses know—that I do not descend to the discourtesy of dropping the prefixes of my opponents. What I said, referring to the persecution of the Conscientious Objectors, was: 'This notwithstanding that Sir James Allen had promised a deputation that they would be subjected to no persecution' Mr. Massey says, 'No such promise was made.' I was a member of the deputation that waited on Sir James Allen in July last, to protest against the deportation, and I have a very clear recollection of Mrs. Ballantyne (mother of Mr. Garth Ballantyne) asking Sir James for an assurance that The lads would not be subjected to persecution during the voyage to England. The Minister's reply was that "they would be subjected to no persecution whatever.'

"In addition to the way they were treated on the transports, letters page 39from soldiers and others in England show what other treatment the objectors were called upon to endure. The London 'Call' of Thursday, November 15, contained the following, under the heading 'Brought from New Zealand in Irons.':'Further particulars are to hand respecting the New Zealand Conscientious Objectors to whom reference was made recently in these columns. Of the 14 that were embarked to England with the 28th New Zealand Reinforcements, to which they were deemed to be attached, three of them—Sanderson, of North Wairou, and two Baxter brothers, of Otago—were put off the ship at Capetown, as they were too ill to be taken further. The rest were taken to Sling Camp. Salisbury, where they remained in irons in the guardroom for several weeks. Eight of them have now been sent over to France. Most of them went over handcuffed, and therefore still resisting. Their names are: Ballantyne, Harland, Patton, Little, Baxter, Briggs, Maguire and Kirwan. Of the other three, one is in Codford Military Hospital, suffering from dysentery (Adin, of Foxton), and two are still in Sling Camp (Gray, of Canterbury, and Penwright, of Tasmania).'

"One soldier 'mentioned seeing one of them forced to put on a pack for France. He threw it off immediately. It was again put on and he was handcuffed. He then sat down, and was kicked along at the heels of the draft.'

"On October 27 Mr. Patton wrote to his relatives: 'I am being taken over to France to-night under arrest. I don't know what they are going to do with me there, but you will perhaps hear some day.' On October 26 Mr. L. Kirwan wrote to his relatives to the same effect.

"On November 30. the 'Friend'—a British religious paper—printed a letter from Mr. Patton, in which he stated that three of them reached Etaples on October 28. They refused to parade, and were taken before an officer, by whom he was sent to the guardroom for a few days. His letter runs: 'Then I was ordered out with a pack on:. I refused, and the pack was fastened on to me. I refused to walk with the pack, and was dragged about two hundred yards and placed in a tent. … There is another Conscientious Objector in the guardroom, named Briggs, who has relatives in Yorkshire. Three other Conscientious Objectors have been sent up to the firing-line—Little, Baxter, and Ballantyne. I don't know what had become of them. The officer told me I would be sent on there, too, and would probably be shot.'

"We now have Mr. Massey making the curious statement that "there were five of these men who stated that they were Conscientious and Religious Objectors, These latter were not compelled to wear uniform, and were not sent to France.' Mr. Massey's statement does not square with information in the possession of myself and others. The whole 14 were Conscientious Objectors—some for religious reasons, some for Socialist reasons, and some for Irish reasons. Three of them were left at Capetown ill; eight were sent to France; and one page 40was ill in Codford Hospital; Adin and Gray were still in Sling Camp. Where does Mr. Massey get the five who were 'not sent to France' because they professed to be Conscientious Objectors?

"I note with interest that, while Mr. Massey does not admit that these Conscientious Objectors were taken to France in irons, he is prepared to justify the outrage if it realty happened.

"Mr. Massey has made no attempt to reply to my exposure of the treatment of Conscientious Objectors at Featherston only the other day. Neither has he deigned to explain why his Government dragged the 14 away by night without giving their mothers any opportunity whatever of bidding them good-bye.

"It is not at all true that my statements 'were grossly exaggerated, and made for the purpose of prejudicing the administration of the Military Service Act in the eyes of the public.' They were made by way of an honest endeavour to save the young men and boys of this country from becoming in a general sense the victims of such atrocities as characterise the conscript service of Prussia and other of the militaristic countries, and they were further made in the interests of the broken-hearted mothers of New Zealand.

"I take this opportunity to challenge Mr. Massey to set up a Royal Commission—not a military tribunal—to investigate this matter, and to permit the return of the deported Conscientious Objectors for this purpose. Nothing that has ever happened has wrought such evil to our national life as this one incident; I venture to say that it has shocked the finer feelings of every honest-minded militarist, to say nothing of the many thousands who think otherwise.

"In conclusion, in view of the positive discrimination which has characterised the administration of our military law, is not the Prime Minister rather straining the possibilities when he tells us that 'in a time of war the Act must be strictly enforced, and administered without fear or favour.' That is a matter, however, that I shall deal with at my election meetings."

Mr. Massey made a further statement, over which the "Dominion" placed the headlines: "A Tell-tale Letter.—About Conscientious Objectors.—Plain Talk by Mr. Massey," commenting: "Mr. Massey does not follow Mr. Holland further in investigation of the statements as to how the men were treated, but he quotes a letter to show that Conscientious Objectors may not always be deserving of sympathy." Mr. Massey's statement follows:—

"There is just one point I wish the people of this Dominion to thoroughly realise with respect to the men for whom Mr. Holland is endeavouring to create a great deal of unnecessary sympathy as the 'victims of atrocities characteristic of the conscript service of Prussia.' ect.

"I desire to make it clear that so far as the statute law of this country is concerned these men are not Conscientious Objectors, but page 41soldiers of the Expeditionary Force who have been called up by ballot to take their share in the defence or the country of whose privileges and protection they have taken full advantage, and that so far as the Defence Department, which has to administer the law, is concerned, they must obey orders just the same as their fellow citizens do, and be prepared to accept the consequences of such refusal. These men cannot be allowed to place themselves superior to the will of Parliament and obey no law but their own inclination. If this is tolerated we will soon see an end of all decent order and government and a state of affairs such as is now wrecking unfortunate Russia.

"I want every father and mother who have sons fighting and dying in defence of our liberties and civilisation, and 'for the service of freedom,' not to be led away from the real issue, which is, that these so-called 'religious, conscientious, and Socialistic' objectors demand the right to accept and enjoy all the benefits accruing from the sacrifices of the sons of New Zealand, but repudiate their obligations to share in these sacrifices.

"Mr. Holland has made many statements and quoted many letters in the interests, as he says, 'of the broken-hearted mothers of New Zealand.' I think it is just as well that the parents of New Zealand generally should be given an opportunity to gain a clear conception of the lofty principles and ideals which animate some of these martyrs in the cause of conscience. The following extracts are from a letter which was written by the parent of a 'Conscientious Objector,' whose conscience only developed after his appeal on all other grounds had failed and his claim for exemption had been dismissed:—

" 'I'm afraid all this villainy is having a bad effect on us. David satisfies me. May he go down quick into hell, may his flesh be torn by dogs, may his name be obliterated. Relax all the law, "Thou shalt not kill," and you'll find ten thousand dead within one week…. A father of a returned soldier told me this morning that the French so hate the British and colonials that they refused them the use of their wells, and at the Somme the French women preferred to go behind the German lines to being left to our troops. An American reporter has said that without a million American troops we cannot break the German line. Good job, too. Well, where are we to go after the war? I'm sick of the Union Jack. For thirty years it has been blood-soaked without cessation. We English are played out. There's no good in' us. We are a set of brutal thieves. There's a Socialist colony in California.… Our real enemy is alive, and none seem to move.… Curse them, as Elijah did, and as all did, curse them. Will no one come out? Will not one revolt? Curse them. Curse them hard. They ought to die, for they are not only useless, but a stumbling-block, and by God's laws they should die a slave's death. … Damn them, they are rotten. By heaven, the whole, country is rotten—page 42absolutely rotten.… I'm regretting all the time now that you ever went near this people. It is my first close experience of "soldier," and I find the great mistake: they are scum, not fair, straight people, but criminals worse than jailbirds… The idea of fighting for such filth makes one sick…. I'd love to change places with you now. I'd take the oath, and, by God. I'd kill all I could of these black-hearted scum. Curse them. No Australian blacks are lower.… Wriggle out, if possibly and don't be particular. Once you can get away from them you can manage till we can leave them to the Japs. May the Japs mutilate every cursed man and rape every woman. War they want—let them go there—we don't want it.… Curse them. God curse and blight them.… One thing you may be sure about—if we British get a complete victory it will be our last: we shall be intoxicated with our hell-got gains and pride and power, and, just as Rome gained some tremendous battles at her downfall, so with us. …. I'm thinking that the war is steadily proving the superiority of the Germans at every point.'"

At the foot of Mr. Massey's statement was printed the following press Association message form Dunedin:—

"Commenting on the recent reference by Mr. Holland concerning Conscientious Objectors, the Minister of Defence states that the 14 men to whom Mr. Holland referred could not all be classed as Conscientious Objectors. Five had alleged conscientious objections, which the Boards rejected, five had appealed on the ground of hardship and public interest, and did not allege conscientious objections, and four did not appeal. No promise was ever made by Mr. Massey, Sir Joseph Ward, or Sir James Allen that, the men would not be forced to wear uniforms. The real religious objector, when exempted by a board, did not wear a uniform, and did service with the Agricultural Department. None of these men were entitled to this course, and most of them had not attempted to prove themselves within the category. The Defence Department knew as much about these men as it knew about any other soldier that was embarked and reached the other end. It was impossible to keep a record of every man's movements."

To the foregoing, I replied:—

"I had hoped that the Prime Minister would make some endeavour to offer an explanation of the facts furnished by me in my last statement. But he has not done so. It is unfortunate that Mr. Massey is completely silent on the matter of Conscientious Objectors being subjected to two and three sentences for the one offence, although he at first denied that more than one sentence could he inflicted. He is also ominously silent about the cruelties which were inflicted on the Conscientious Objectors on the transport and in Sling Camp. He now flies off at another tangent, and argues that 'these men are not Con-page 43seientious Objectors, but soldiers of the Expeditionary Force,' etc. I have known some of the men—particularly Messrs. Ballantyne and Brigge—for a number of years, and they are not only Conscientious Objectors themselves, but both of them belong to families that have for long years held pronounced views on militarism. Mr. Massey seems to think that the possession of a conscientious principle is a matter to be determined by Act of Parliament or War Regulations. For the first three centuries of the Christian era the Christians generally held similar views to those held by the Christian Conscientious Objectors of to-day; and the rulers of that period took the same view that Mr. Massey and his Government take to-day. Then the conscience men (and women) were flung to the lions or nailed to the cross. Mr. Massey makes a law which refuses to the Catholic, the Anglican, the Presbyterian, the Methodist, the Salvationist, or the Socialist, the right to hold a conscientious objection to military service; and, having made his law, he then pronounces its victims 'conscienceless.' I can appreciate the difficulty which he must necessarily experience in getting the more thoughtful of his own supporters to see it that way.

"But can Mr. Massey explain the apparent-contradiction of two of his statements. In the first denial he said: 'There were five of these men who stated they were Conscientious and Religious Objectors. These latter were not compelled to wear uniform and were not sent to France.' I furnished facts in my last statement which completely disposed of this assertion. In his second statement, Mr. Massey tells us 'these men are not Conscientious Objectors,' and he terms them 'these so-called religious, conscientious, and Socialist objectors.' Will he then tell us how it came that, as he first alleged, five of them were treated as Conscientious Objectors if none of them were Conscientious Objectors? Will he also explain the discrepancy between his first statement, which was clearly to the effect that only some of them were compelled to dress in uniform and for the sole reason that their civilian outfits were condemned by the medical officer because they 'would not observe ordinary cleanliness.' and Sir James Allen's statement, which is in effect that 'no promise was ever made … that the men would not be forced to wear uniforms'—the implication being, of course, that it was all along intended to compel them to wear uniform. In my speech no reference was made to any promise about a uniform, but only about persecution. However, it is for the Ministers to tell us whose statement is correct.

"I notice Sir James Allen says: 'The Defence Department knew as much about these men as it knew about any other soldier that was embarked and reached the other end.' He adds that it is impossible to keep a record here of every man's movements. If this is so, it is weighty proof of the need for great departmental changes. Fourteen men and boys with conscientious objections are forcibly carried from New Zealand, they are subjected to treatment born of the spirit of Diocletian, some of them are taken in irons to France—one a boy page 44of between 21 and 22—are forced to the firing line, their mothers are almost frantic with anxiety and grief, and for months the Department tells them it can give them no information as to the fate of their boys.

"why was it left to some of the mothers to learn from private sources—as they have learnt this week—that their boys have been courtmartialled and sentenced to five years' hard labour? The three sent to the firing line were Messrs. Ballantyne, Little, and Baxter—and these are the men who have been sentenced. Mr. Ballantyne is in a military prison in France, and the others are also in prison, either in France or England. I submit that the Prime Minister's sneer about 'the broken-hearted mothers' will not satisfy the men and women of New Zealand, who, whatever their political attitude or their views on militarism, love justice. One of the things they will want to know is why these men and boys are not brought back to New Zealand.

"It seems to me that there is no language in which could be adequately expressed the regret and resentment which every fair-minded person must have felt on reading the letter (alleged to have come from the parent of an objector) put into print by the Prime Minister with the only possible object of besmirching the parents of the 14 deported objectors. I would urge that the people have a right to expect from the Prime Minister a higher conception of what he owes to his office—a higher regard for the dignity of his position—than to permit the anger of an ill-advised moment to induce him to offer such a letter without the name of the alleged author. The parents of such of the Conscientious Objectors as I am personally acquainted with are as highly respectable and as deeply respected by those who know them, as any member of Mr. Massey's Cabinet, and would neither be guilty of penning such a letter as the one referred to, nor of putting it into print if it happened to fall into their hands."