The Home Front Volume I
CHAPTER 1 — The End of Waiting
The End of Waiting
3 September 1939
THE years of waiting were over, the years of uneasiness, when newspapers had reported crisis after crisis till readers were numbed by the repetition of violence, confused by the welter of assertions, negotiations, shifts of policy. From the complicated and faulty weaving of the dictators and diplomats had emerged a gloomy pattern— the aggressors seemed always to get what they wanted, pushing back the so-called victors of the Great War and gaining at every move in strength of purpose, actual power and barefaced lack of scruple. Now New Zealand was at war because of German demands for Polish territory, and it did not seem fantastic. Almost it seemed inevitable. Shocked dismay was mingled with relief that the restless, anxious peace was ended, and the terrible excitement of war was at hand.
How much New Zealanders felt or failed to feel about the war-presaging events of the Thirties was largely determined by their sense of being remote in the world and small in the British Commonwealth, but also and very strongly by what was happening at home. The effect of the Depression of 1930–5 was wide, deep and cauterising. At its worst, in October 1933, there were 79 587 men registered as unemployed,1 while it is calculated that more than 100 000 could have been so classified,2 to say nothing of women, in a total population of 1 539 500.3 The Depression story has been told so often, sometimes poignantly, sometimes with weary repetition, but familiarity should not dull awareness of it when the war that followed is considered. For many New Zealanders the Depression was a worse time than the war. They found the limitations of the creed that if a man works hard he can always get along, but belief in the creed was still strong enough to cause deep shame and bewilderment. So many people knew the humiliation of farm or business failing, of being rejected by employers, of seeing their families in want; so many others lived in fear of these things. So page 2 many knew the uselessness of relief work, the cold and mud of labour camps, the tyranny of bosses conscious of labour queues, the tragedy of a lost shilling. So many women would never forget the dreariness of worn-out clothes, of meals monotonous and poor, of crowded living in dingy rooms. So many had feared to help their neighbours’ want lest they need every penny themselves, yet been ashamed of their caution. Behind the smashed windows of Queen Street lay a deal of ignoble suffering.
The Depression deepened very steeply the division between classes, and was to make many workers suspicious lest the bosses should steal a march against them under cover of the war. Meanwhile, in the Thirties, it blunted concern for more remote troubles. By 1936 prices were improving and the Labour government accelerated recovery with State spending and organisation. People were absorbed in housing and pension schemes, in working hours, wages, the cost of living, farming prices; they were catching up on the bad years, improving their homes and furniture, buying blankets and china and clothes and radios and cars, bent on climbing out of a local hell into a local heaven. There were others, appalled at finding the country in the hands of a rash, experimental government, who foresaw local disaster, a chaos of socialisation and financial ruin; the enemy at home absorbed their anxious fears, their political activity. Both sorts read of invasion and political violence in China, Abyssinia, Spain, as they might have read a serial, though no serial would be so disjointed or contradictory. Few read anything except the daily papers, and the opinions they derived therefrom were coloured by a variety of existing attitudes—their attachment to Britain, their sense of colonialism or of independence, faith in the League of Nations, fear of Communism, fear of Fascism. Generally, however, New Zealanders shared one attitude, and shared it with a good many other countries—they wanted peace, and they did not want to pay for it with money or with men.
It is a truism now that the seeds of the new conflict were sown in the treaties of 1919 and began to germinate in October 1931. Then, Japan having invaded Manchuria, the member states of the League, each preoccupied with its own economic problems and not guessing how Japanese aggression would grow on success, considered its own chances of advantage and collectively they did nothing. It was the beginning, the sketching in of the pattern that was repeated implacably, with details different and freshly distressing, during the next eight years, each precedent building up in individual minds a sense of bewildered, helpless connivance—‘It’s wrong, but what can we do?’page 3
When Hitler4 came to power in 1933, attacked trade unions and Jews and began to build up armaments and national spirit, the sense of war in the world grew stronger for New Zealanders. Japan was remembered as an ally; Germany was a familiar foe. Thereafter many, as they read the newspapers, felt that they would some day have to finish the fight begun 20 years before; in the small boys’ battles the enemy were always Germans.
But it was Mussolini’s5 Italy, hungry for empire, that next thickened the war clouds, for Italy, despite the threat of sanctions by the League, attacked Abyssinia in October 1935. Laval’s6 France, unwilling to risk a fight or a rapprochement of Italy and Germany, connived, though not openly or enough to satisfy Italy. The British government, though talking bravely of standing by the Covenant, was unprepared for war and determined to avoid it. It feared to drive Italy towards Germany; feared lest sanctions prove ineffective, which would make Britain the object of Italy’s hostility and contempt; feared lest they prove effective, when a desperate Italy might attack in the Mediterranean and France might forsake her ally. From present knowledge of the ineffectiveness of Italy’s armed forces, even years later, it seems astonishing that Britain, despite the lowered state of her forces in 1935, should so seriously have feared a fight with Mussolini; it seems probable that she also feared Mussolini’s fall and the chance of another communist state. Thus, palsied with considerations, Britain and France fumbled over the most important sanction—oil—and instead Hoare7 and Laval in December proposed a settlement so generous to Italy that it was indignantly repudiated by both public and Parliament in Britain.8 There was more delay over the oil sanctions, while Italy pushed on with the war, occupying Addis Ababa in May 1936; and the world—with New Zealand modestly dissenting—accepted the fait accompli.9page 4
In New Zealand, newspapers gave the dispute a leading place, starting several months before the actual fighting. There was a sincere attempt to settle a dispute with the League’s machinery, New Zealand was represented at the League, and the long preliminaries gave time for attention to focus. All these were reasons why Abyssinia bulked much larger in New Zealand thinking than did later and more clearly ominous affairs with which it had no direct connection, which had lost the edge of novelty and happened far more swiftly. Generally reports were either colourless or sympathetic towards the Ethiopians, a few cartoons by Low10 and Minhinnick11 attacked Mussolini, and from time to time editorials advised that New Zealand must stand by her obligations to the League, even to armed force. There was talk of being involved in war, which led to realisation that New Zealand’s armed forces were very small, its air power little more than Abyssinia’s. There was wide disapproval of aggression, of gas and bombs dropped on defenceless people, disapproval tempered with some reluctant recognition of Italy’s economic plight, plus a rather thankful sense of remoteness caused by the obscurity of international manoeuvring.
A few leftists bleakly saw the League’s collective security and preservation of peace as preservation of the status quo by the nations already supplied with colonial markets and raw materials—‘the only fight against war is the fight against capitalism’.12 A few unions, while censuring Italy, firmly declared against being drawn into an imperialist war.13 The Communist party at first declared that sanctions were the attempt of one set of exploiting powers to prevail over the other, and that Britain herself had designs on Abyssinia that might lead to general war;14 but after Russia declared for collective security it found it ‘necessary for all those who stand for peace to support the Soviet Union in the demand that sanctions be enforced’, the Soviet being the only power consistently and wholly on the side of peace, whereas a war led by Britain would be imperialistic.15 In several centres—Wellington, Napier, Palmerston North, Christchurch, Dunedin—street demonstrations and meetings were page 5 held by the Communist party or the Movement against War and Fascism, or Hands off Abyssinia committees, and at the Italian consulates in Auckland and Wellington leaflets demanding that the war should stop were distributed.16
The Labour Party, still in opposition, had now replaced its hostility to war with belief in the League and collective security; Walter Nash,17 for instance, said ‘those nations that carry out their undertakings can be completely effective without firing a shot’, but that if the British Empire were drawn into war New Zealanders should fight in sorrow for the good of the future.18 The conservative government, made doubly chary by responsibility, instructed its League representative to collaborate very closely with Great Britain on sanctions, but stressed confidentially that public opinion in New Zealand would not endorse any measure that might call for the application of force.19 In October, Parliament unanimously passed a bill that imposed economic sanctions and made it clear that any military sanctions would need further parliamentary action. The campaign that elected Labour to 53 seats out of 80 in November 1935 gave little space either to the war in Abyssinia or to general problems of defence and foreign policy. Neither party mentioned Abyssinia in its election manifesto—Labour stressed its support for the League and promised a foreign policy to promote international economic co-operation, disarmament and world peace, with open diplomacy and discussion and negotiation in Commonwealth relations;20 the National party supported the League and stressed co-operation with the United Kingdom.21
In December, the new Labour government cabled that it was ‘quite unable to associate’ itself with the Hoare–Laval arrangements but tactfully agreed to keep silent about its views.22 The press was divided, the Otago Daily Times of 20 December saying that these arrangements had met the merited condemnation of the world, while other dailies voiced ‘realist’ opinions that sanctions were impractical, page 6 an experiment; that collective security was based more on despair than on reason; that Hoare was right in fact though wrong in method, and that the fiasco resulted not from his weakness but from the gap between popular aspirations and political reality.23 This last view was echoed in the House on 15 May 1936 in a debate on foreign affairs24 by the youthful Keith Holyoake,25 who saw in the rejection of the plan ‘evidence of the fact that public opinion does not keep pace with world events’;26 Forbes27 and others of his party declared that the League had been tried as a preserver of the peace and found wanting; Labour members replied, dutifully but without much inspiration, that the League should still be supported.
‘Sanctions failed’ was inevitably the verdict in most minds. Stubborn idealists like Savage28 might urge maintaining them29 after Italy’s victory, but even Savage knew that New Zealand’s remoteness and its small trade with Italy made its objection pedantic, and he acquiesced in their general removal in July 1936.
In March 1936 while bombs were still falling on Abyssinia Hitler, seeing the League’s feebleness, the coolness between France and Britain and Italy’s estrangement from both, swiftly moved troops into the demilitarised Rhineland, in defiance both of Versailles and of the Locarno Pact of 1925, which last Germany had signed as a willing equal but which Hitler claimed was already violated by the Franco–Soviet treaty then being signed. With a gun in one hand and fresh guarantees of peace in the other he confounded his opponents, who had either to take him at his word or be prepared to fight—the routine that was to be repeated several times in the next three years. France and Britain spoke with separate voices. There were proposals and counter-proposals that changed nothing, and after the first headlines it became an affair of the diplomats.
The New Zealand government followed Britain closely—on 16 March they wrote that they ‘entirely concur in the attitude of restraint’ of the United Kingdom and while ‘entirely appreciating the necessity of ending the progressive deterioration in the value of international page 7 engagements’, urged consideration of every possible means to avoid plunging the world into chaos.30 Again on 6 April, after German counter-proposals that were unacceptable to France, they urged continued negotiations for the possible improvement of European relations, and without necessarily agreeing with the proposals advanced by Germany held that ‘these must be considered seriously with a view to an ultimate Conference intended to establish procedure for the avoidance of conflict’.31 The theme of hope in conferences that were never to be held was to be voiced again and again by the New Zealand government during the late Thirties; meanwhile they endorsed the restraint that seriously lessened French faith in Britain as an ally.
Newspapers disapproved the treaty-breaking, commended British calm, shook a reproving finger at France and generally gave Hitler the benefit of the doubt. The Press on 10 and 11 March noted the calm reception and held that the only way to prove Hitler’s sincerity was to take him at his word; the Otago Daily Times spoke likewise. The Dominion on 9 March thought that what Hitler offered now, ‘despite the breach of a bit more of the Treaty that bound Germany, is too valuable to be spurned,’ and on 12 March said that all the world knew that but for earlier French intransigence, Germany might still be in the League, might still be a democratic state. The New Zealand Herald on 11 March was outraged at Germany’s suggestion that it might now re-enter the League of Nations—‘Could anything be more absurd, or more offensively presumptuous?’—but by 19 March was pointing out that a cynic could heave bricks at all the powers for their recent diplomatic pasts; even Britain, over Abyssinia, ‘bore herself none too well’. There was also the comfortable possibility that the Rhineland march was Hitler’s ruse to divert Germany’s attention from her internal problems of food shortages and unemployment.32 Since the League had failed to impose the crucial oil embargo on Italy it was manifestly unlikely to impose sanctions on Germany.
Hard thereafter came the civil war in Spain, beginning in July 1936 as an army revolt. In February a liberal government had been elected (with a majority of seats though not of votes), but its reforms page 8 were resisted by the land-owning classes, to which the police and the army adhered. Strikes, disorder, and reprisal killings followed, and General Franco33 claimed to be upholding order and religion against anarchy. He also claimed to be leading a nationalist movement to save Spain from Russia which was organising and supporting the government—an exaggerated charge. Predictably, the most active groups on both sides were those with the most extreme political views, and it soon became a fight between Communism and Fascism. Italy and Germany, for future influence and to train and test their troops, equipment and aircraft, helped Franco from the beginning with arms, aircraft, soldiers and technicians, and in November 1936 recognised their protégé as the government of Spain. Russia, from mid-October 1936, sent arms and aircraft, and thousands of Communists and others from all over Europe went to fight in the communist-run International Brigade.
Spain, more than Manchuria, more than Abyssinia, disturbed the conscience of the world. In Britain Chamberlain,34 determined not to be involved, anxious to placate Italy, and of course deeply opposed to Communism, was widely charged, even by some of his own party, with favouring Franco. New Zealand’s Labour government joined in this criticism, urging adherence to League principles with persistence that must have seemed both priggish and impractical to the British government. On the League Council, Jordan35 repeatedly urged that Franco should state his charges before the League, and doubted whether non-intervention did anything but handicap the Loyalists and strengthen the aggressors. Twice, in March and again in September 1937, New Zealand refused to be associated with shipping proposals which would have come near to granting belligerent rights to the rebels; and it did not officially recognise Franco’s final victory in March 1939.
But if the New Zealand government’s attitude abroad was definite, though limited, New Zealand people generally were confused. Only the leftists and Catholics were blessed with clear minds about Spain—for Communists the Loyalists were clothed in righteousness, the reactionary Fascist villains must be fought and defeated. They repeatedly urged joint action with the Labour party, which firmly page 9 declined it.36 The Workers’ Weekly flamed abour the Nazi menace, its child victims, and British wickedness. A few women knitted for the defenders of Madrid—they were flagging by March 1937—and a few hundred pounds slowly trickled in to the ‘Spanish Aid Fund’, forwarded through the Communist party in England.37 On the other hand the Catholic Church in Spain backed Franco, and in New Zealand followed suit, with Zealandia and the New Zealand Tablet steadily denouncing the Communists. Many others, especially people of property or tradition, felt (like Churchill38) that their own class and values were assailed by the Spanish government; the term ‘Communist’ drew forth an almost natural hostility. Some did not feel secure enough in their jobs to risk even talking about Communism in an issue clouded and far away. It was very easy to remain ignorant.
Within the Labour party there were a good many cross-currents. British Labour, as the war went on, grew more and more hostile to Franco, his supporters and the Chamberlain connivance. ‘The left became war-minded: the Spanish civil war mobilised the non-trade-union sections of the Labour movement as Hitler’s brutalities had already begun to mobilise the trade unions…. Non-intervention and pacifism crossed over from the opposition to the government: “no-war” became the slogan, not of the left but of the right.’39
In New Zealand, Labour was the government. Was it distance, the responsibility of office, or the Catholic vote, that made New Zealand’s Labour movement cooler than Britain’s? Perhaps members of Parliament thought it was a matter for Cabinet, but very few gave any lead to Spanish support in their constituencies. The Spanish Loyalists had obvious claims on Labour principles and sympathies, but they were soon identified with Communism which many Labour people fervently distrusted as the rival that, claiming kinship, would creep into the Labour organisation and send it scattering in dissension. Nor did Labour prudence wish to alienate the sizeable Catholic vote—which was not a factor in British politics. Still, many trade unions and a few party branches passed resolutions of sympathy (and took up collections40) for the Loyalists in their fight for democracy and freedom, and urged the New Zealand government to press for page 10 the removal of the arms embargo. Some of these resolutions were no doubt contrived by local Communists, but they must have been supported by some ordinary members. The Labour Party Conference of 1937 deplored foreign intervention and urged New Zealand to press for withdrawal of foreign troops.41 The Standard, Labour’s official paper, though it had few editorials on Spain, printed a good many pro-Loyalist photographs, and its column on international affairs from September 1936 until March 1938 (when its space was swamped by the pre-election campaign) had many sharp, far-seeing articles on Spanish issues and the diplomatic moves. It advertised a collection for relief of distress in Spain which opened on 3 December 1936 and totalled £951 on 11 May 1939, mostly from trade unions and party branches. Some of Labour’s difficulties were perhaps indicated by the letter printed on 7 October 1936, attacking the unions for backing a ‘horde comparable with the supporters of Barbarossa’ and threatening the loss of Catholic votes; this brought forth other letters mainly opposed to it, with a statement from the Standard that the New Zealand Labour party had expressed no opinion on affairs in Spain and was not committed by resolutions of individual unions.42
Although the government in 1938 gave £2,000 to an international fund for the relief of Spanish refugee children of both sides,43 only one or two members of Parliament joined in the few public protests against particular bombing outrages, and only a few were associated with the Spanish Medical Aid Committee. This body, which was soon labelled ‘communist-front’, started in Dunedin at the beginning of 1937. It raised, mainly through public lectures and showings of the film ‘Defence of Madrid’, about £4,000 which sent three nurses, an ambulance and a laundry truck to Spain between May 1937 and January 1939.44 Only about a dozen New Zealanders actually took up rifles in Spain. A few others wielded ardent pens, mainly in the pages of the left wing journal Tomorrow, while the Methodist Times on 25 February 1939 said firmly that its sympathies throughout were with the lawfully constituted government standing, with all its faults, for the more liberal and democratic elements in Spain. The general public in its daily newspapers had copious and often confusing news, through cables, photographs and editorials. Evidence that Italy and Germany were taking part was balanced by the predominance given to Russian designs, and held in poise by the inertia of the British government. The total effect was probably page 11 to accustom New Zealanders to the idea of war in the world, a faraway war, between two sets of objectionable people.
The same issues, more or less, were served up again in mid-1937 when Japan renewed her attack on China, where Chiang Kai-shek’s45 nationalist forces were then co-operating with Chinese communists in a programme of moderate reform and anti-Nipponism. China, a League member, went through the routine of appealing to the Covenant, but no basis for collective action could be found, though as usual Jordan spoke out in Geneva for principles and the lost cause. There was world-wide sympathy for China, many trade unions and other organisations advocating a boycott of Japanese goods. In New Zealand there was a curious conflict. The Watersiders Union and the Federation of Labour objected to loading scrap-iron and other material for war purposes on Japanese ships, in which protest they were joined by at least one Farmers’ Union branch.46 Importers, Chambers of Commerce and wool interests complained about one section of the community imperilling a valuable trade, and the Prime Minister declared that only the government had authority to decide where New Zealand would trade47 but prohibited all scrap iron exports ‘to protect New Zealand’s steel industry’.48 The Federation of Labour, anxious not to embarrass a Labour government, contented itself with this, with watching international trade union action, and with urging a personal boycott.49 The Standard on 7 October explained that a New Zealand boycott, pitiably inefficient in itself, would involve the British Commonwealth, of which New Zealand was the least important unit, in international politics. Members of the Commonwealth who were helpless should leave the initiative to those who would bear the result of action. ‘To pass resolutions is one thing: to take sporadic, unorganised, unauthorised action is another.’50 On 4 November an editorial said that any widescale boycott ‘may possibly result in our own pocket being hurt with a consequent injury to the pockets of our own workers. Japan, it is well page 12 to remember, buys a considerable quantity of our wool and… last year helped to raise prices to our benefit. Any boycott, effective or ineffective, will not improve our commercial or diplomatic relations with Japan, and though this may appear to be a materialistic viewpoint, it should be remembered that we live under a capitalistic system in a generally capitalistic world.’
The boycott was also frowned upon by a few intellectuals and pacifists who urged that it would act indiscriminately against all Japanese and, by proving foreign hostility and encirclement, strengthen the military party; also, Britain should first set her own house in order by sharing the empire acquired by earlier actions similar to those of Japan.51
In Europe, early in 1938, Hitler had declared that the German Reich reached out beyond its frontiers to ten million Germans in Austria and Czechoslovakia. His rapid seizure of Austria in March 1938 was swallowed with only a slight ripple of the world’s gullet. It was a swift decisive move, offering no scope for argument, and those concerned were ‘all Germans anyway’. Also, to some with knowledge of post-1919 Europe, in Austria both nationalism and economics made union with Germany inevitable. As early as 1934 an article in Tomorrow prophesied that in the long run ‘the Anschluss must come’.52 Chamberlain’s government, by 1938, had quite turned from collective security to hope that a satisfied Germany would mean peace, until peace itself could be buttressed by British rearmament. It speedily recognised the take-over. New Zealand was not consulted about the recognition, and did not protest. The Standard, in one of its last articles on international affairs before immersing itself in local matters for the November election, wrote of the event itself and its reception.
“No Danger of War” the posters said on Monday night. It had not seriously been suggested, however cleverly the news had been displayed to give an effect of it, that war was imminent. Hitler had marched his troops into Austria, just as before he marched them into the Rhineland…. Germany acted this time when France was without a government, M. Chautemps53 having page 13 resigned a day or two before and M. Blum54 still being in the process of forming his new Cabinet. Saturday, as it invariably is, was the chosen day to cross the Austrian frontier. The stage management was incomparably fine, for during the week-end, when the time came to assess the repercussions, foreign feeling would have recovered its outraged balance. A decade ago it would have been hard to imagine such an occurrence not being the word for war. But a decade ago Britain was still chivalrous in the self-saving cause of “balance of power.” Today it is almost ridiculous even to contemplate Britain’s lifting a finger to redress the wrongs of a small country. Even the sight of Germany gathering strength at a furious rate is no pretext for action but only for added rearmament against the day when Fascist might is face to face with Britain. So that to mention war this week was simply an anachronism.55
Newspapers had headlines about ruthless Nazis, Jewish purges and the frantic efforts of Jews and liberals to leave Austria; editorials spoke of the lengthening Nazi shadow and the blatant hypocrisy of Hitler. But Count von Luckner,56 on a round of public meetings at this very time, had in general a cordial reception, except from the Federation of Labour. He was well known for his exploits in 1917, when having got through the British blockade in a 2000-ton sailing ship disguised as a trader, he sank thirteen Allied cargo ships in the Atlantic and Pacific, the crews being all saved and sent ashore. He was wrecked in the Fiji group, captured and interned at Motuihi, Auckland; escaped, seized the scow Moa and made for the Kermadec Islands, where he was recaptured. Newspapers announced on 20 April 1937 that he was making a world tour in his new motor yacht Sea Devil, would visit Australia and New Zealand, and would ‘engage in propaganda for German ideals’.57 This provoked hostility from the Communists who from a German paper quoted von Luckner as saying, ‘I am going as Hitler’s emissary to the youth of the world to win them for a better understanding of our new Germany. I will tell them of my private exploits during the war and the salvation of the Fatherland….None but criminals have been deprived of their liberty in Germany in order that decent Germans may live.’58 page 14 A few trade unions59 joined in urging that he be refused admission. Some private persons also objected, while others defended a very gallant gentleman;60 the Acting Prime Minister, Fraser,61 had no comment to make;62 a respected trades union secretary advised reading Areopagitica and opposed exclusion on the grounds of freedom of speech,63 a view shared by the Federated Seamen’s Union64 and by Tomorrow.65 A rising civil servant, Dr R. A. Lochore,66 declared that he himself was one who had privately sought to persuade the Count to visit New Zealand, that the Count’s main object was to cement friendship between Germany and the Anglo-Saxon peoples. He would explain away the latter’s mercenary and selfish appearance on the one hand, and on the other show that Germans ‘are not the barbarians and sadists that fanatical war propaganda and its aftermath have so luridly depicted’. The press, Lochore said, constantly put the worst possible construction on news from Germany, while never before had Germans shown such cordial goodwill—‘I have repeatedly heard lectures on British ideals in Germany; I have delivered some on New Zealand ideals myself. For a week, in a camp of storm troopers we put in our mornings trying to analyse and understand the mentality of French and British.’67
Von Luckner’s lectures, which contained no propaganda, were very popular, especially in Wellington where he received a tremendous ovation and his talk was punctuated with clapping—this but a week after Germany had taken over Austria. The Federation of Labour, however, said that in Germany he had promised to preach the virtues of Hitlerism, sneered at his goodwill mission, and challenged him to public debate on Nazi ideology. This the Count declined, denying all political interest, but explaining that the labouring people were the great power behind Hitler, and that no other country had such wonderful labour organisations as Germany.68 There were a few more newspaper letters,69 mostly deploring the Federation’s bad page 15 manners; the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club on 24 March honoured him with its burgee;70 Salient, Wellington’s university student paper, on 30 March printed a scathing interview. To sum up, it was mainly the Communists and the Federation of Labour who objected to his presence as a representative of a detestable regime; democratic feeling opposed exclusion, and many were ready to take the bluff sailor at face value—it was comfortable to think that there were decent Germans; most people did not concern themselves at all.
A few months earlier the area of commerce had shown similar unconcern. Late in 1937 trade and payments agreements were made with Germany rearranging the basis for existing trade, so that goods were directly exchanged for goods, not for credits. This caused New Zealand to take more German manufactures than before and send to Germany considerable quantities of butter and apples that otherwise would not have gone there.71 In general the arrangements debated in the House on 6 October 1937 were received by the press with mild favour—enthusiasm was hardly to be expected for any Labour action. In Parliament there was some government expression of the view that Germans were good people themselves and that more direct trade might promote more friendly relations. The Opposition’s criticisms were that the agreement was of little practical value to New Zealand, and might disturb the harmony of trade with Britain; only one member was opposed to trade with a Fascist country as such.72
Though in March 1938 Germany had expressly denied having any designs on Czechoslovakia, the last democracy in central Europe, by August the three million Sudeten Germans were the occasion for Reich demands which the Czech government, relying on joint treaties with France and Russia, refused. Chamberlain had admitted in March that if war broke out over Czechoslovakia it would not be limited to those with obligations—Britain would be involved. Out of the mists of diplomacy, war suddenly loomed frighteningly close, and Britain felt frighteningly unready for it. Chamberlain made his dramatic flights to Germany which culminated at Munich on 29 September and induced a not unwilling France to join in persuading the Czechs to accept partition, induced Hitler to accept their sacrifice, and so clawed off the thundering shore. September 1938 was a month of world crisis, of frantic, confused preparation, of stunned waiting. page 16 New Zealand was largely anaesthetised, gripped by a hard-fought election in which foreign policy and defence had very little part. It was obvious that in the nearness of danger the Labour government, remote and small, would not re-utter the well-worn pleas for collective security; it merely thanked the British government for copious official information and earnestly hoped that Chamberlain’s efforts would succeed.73
Newspapers nevertheless gave much space to the crisis, and for the first time BBC bulletins from Daventry were re-broadcast over the national network. People listened and talked, following the zigzag of successive ultimatums, negotiations and concessions, the details largely meaningless, from which two things at least seemed clear— Hitler was spoiling for a fight and Chamberlain was doing everything to dodge it. They realised that war threatened Britain, that they would follow Britain into it, and it was all too late and too far away to argue or protest.74
Thankfulness for peace was expressed in the first days of October by newspapers, and by public meetings in a few towns. At Auckland, led by R. Armstrong,75 a city councillor, and at Hamilton, led by F. A. de la Mare,76 there were also small public dissensions, tempering relief with disapproval of the methods used to obtain it.77 It was not then fully apparent how dearly Czechoslovakia had paid for peace and the details of the Munich concession were understood by very few. Hitler’s success could not, however, be mistaken and Peter Fraser, who had no wish to cloud his electioneering with foreign affairs, probably summed up widespread feeling by saying on 2 October, ‘In certain aspects the dictators of the world largely had their way, but the calamity which threatened was terrible…. Everyone felt that a load had been lifted from the mind and heart, and all were thankful to Mr Chamberlain for saving the world from worldwide bloodshed.’78
It was not hard to be thankful for even a reprieve from war; but a few trade unions vigorously criticised appeasement,79 while the government somewhat guardedly linked its official thankfulness with page 17 hopes that settlement would prove a lasting safeguard of world peace founded on justice and order;80 it did not think it necessary to comply with a British suggestion that Commonwealth prime ministers should congratulate Chamberlain himself.81 The National party leader, Adam Hamilton,82 congratulating the ‘saviour of peace’, hoped that his four-power agreement would forerun a more general peace-ensuring settlement,83 while some other National members chided Labour for its dissident unions and its rather limp support of Chamberlain.84 Both parties and the press—with a few bleak comments from Tomorrow—turned back to the November elections with renewed zeal.
Munich was accepted far more quietly by New Zealand’s Labour government, that for years had advocated collective security, than by Britain’s Labour and a section of her Conservatives. But British Labour was not in office, facing an election, nor preoccupied with installing Social Security and fighting the British Medical Association. The Standard’s main utterance was a reprint of an article from the Glasgow Forward of 24 September headed ‘Chamberlain: Hero or Traitor? Who dares to judge?’, asking what war would achieve and listing its horrors, including the seeds of another war. ‘Would Hitler doing the goose-step in London, and Mussolini astride the lions in Trafalgar Square be any worse than that?’ And it declared there must now follow a bold and genuine peace conference to solve the problems of nationalities, raw materials and food, even at the expense of British imperialism.85
No such arrangement was attempted. In mid-March 1939 Germany took over the remainder of Czechoslovakia and imposed a trade agreement on Romania; Lithuania under pressure ceded Memeland; Italy in the general rush grabbed Albania. The German sights shifted to Danzig and the Polish corridor and the Nazi machine pressed hard against Poland. Chamberlain, now fully aware that Hitler could not be trusted or appeased, fearing that a sudden coup might within days neutralise Poland, fearing also that Hitler might page 18 strike west before moving further east and pushed both by the warlike section of his party and by public indignation, made an astonishing about-turn; on 31 March Britain, with France, guaranteed Poland against aggression.
The New Zealand government, on 21 March, had reminded the British government of its desire for an international conference ‘in the widest possible sphere’ or at least ‘for a conference of those nations which are opposed to aggression and which are now seeing the danger to themselves more clearly than ever before’; it pledged that New Zealand would play its full part ‘should the occasion unhappily arise’ in defence of the right against the brutalities and the naked power politics of aggressor states.86 The British government appreciated these assurances but felt there was ‘real difficulty’ in arranging any form of general conference, pointing out that some states were determined on neutrality and those nearest Germany, from fear of immediate retaliation, wanted no part in discussions about checking aggression.87 The public of course did not know of this exchange. On 22 March Savage declared that his government had been informed ‘all along the line’ of international movements; that local critics, 12 000 miles from events, could well trust people on the spot, and that ‘when Britain is in trouble we are in trouble’. He also advocated that Britain should call a world conference to discuss economic problems leading to war.88 The Herald, for once, found that the Prime Minister expressed ‘the heart, mind and will of all in this country’ while Adam Hamilton declared that in supporting Britain the government had the whole-hearted support of the National party. The attitudes of the coming September were rehearsed.
In the British guarantee of Poland there was at last the firmness, the open statement of policy, for which Labour had pleaded earlier. Yet to fight for Poland, on the far side of Europe, with its illiberal landlord rulers, its depressed minorities, its short-sighted foreign policy, was a curious cause. There had been no time for consultation—it was accepted without comment by the government which had just avowed its loyalty. A few newspapers89 held that Britain should keep out of east Europe and unsuitable alliances with Poland, Russia or the Balkans, all disreputable opportunist dictatorships. But Chamberlain had stressed that the guarantee was to cover only an interim period, while Britain was negotiating with the Soviet Union page 19 and other states. There was no widespread realisation that the decisive step had been taken which in just five months would lead to war. Other apparent undertakings had dissolved in the hands of the diplomats, leaving plain men dismayed or puzzled or relieved. By now there was no sense that Hitler had some excuse, that he could hardly be blamed for retrieving his own—he had already amply redeemed Germany’s losses at Versailles, and could make no racial claims to Bohemia and Moravia. It was plainly more than time to stop him and if Poland were to be his next grab, Poland was the place for a showdown. There was still feeling that a firm ‘Thou shalt not’ in advance would be sufficient without actual fighting—the Christchurch Press of 3 April found ‘some reason to suppose that the announcement of the guarantee has relaxed rather than intensified the tension in Europe.’90
The intricacies of political pressures and of Chamberlain’s own mind in making the decision were not clear in New Zealand, but Chamberlain was known as a man who clung to peace with more desperation than dignity, and if he now felt that firmness was necessary then anyone could be convinced. Further, it was a relief to see the British Prime Minister cast aside his placatory role and speak sharply.91 In Britain the Labour party joined in the surge of applause and not since the war, wrote the New Statesman and Nation of 8 April, had a premier received such general support as that accorded to Chamberlain when he gave his unexpected pledge to Poland. This enthusiasm was echoed in New Zealand. In Britain and still less in New Zealand the difficulties of enlarging the Polish guarantee into a compelling ‘Stop Hitler’ bloc were not widely understood.
If the well informed in Britain still covertly hoped that the fight might be between Germany and Russia, it was a hope vaguely but warmly held by many a man in the street both in Britain and New Zealand—let the two bad boys have the fighting to themselves. Anglo–Russian peace-bloc talks, begun in April, went on slowly for several months, while leftists fumed that Chamberlain was losing the last real chance of preventing war. But Chamberlain profoundly distrusted both Russia’s honesty of purpose and its competence as a military ally;92 Poland, Romania and the Baltic states were all wary of receiving Russian guarantees lest these either provoke immediate German attack or lead to Russian intrusion to forestall indirect aggression; Russia, dubious lest Britain and France might withdraw at the last leaving it to face Hitler alone, declared its page 20 unwillingness to pull other peoples’ chestnuts out of the fire and balanced its halting movements towards a Western alliance with cautious steps towards Germany. On 12 May, the New Zealand government, acknowledging that the United Kingdom was much closer to the problem and its possible results, urged that it would be deplorable if Russian assistance in preventing aggression were not secured, and that no reasonable opportunity of gaining it should be lost.93 The British government politely replied that these considerations were constantly in its mind.94 This exchange did not of course reach the public amongst whom, leftists apart (in the pages of Tomorrow and to a much lesser degree in the Standard), there was little advocacy for alliance with Russia or impatience with the inconclusive moves. The public could not but perceive that peace-bloc manoeuvres were small and cautious, compared with the drive of German aggressiveness, but to balance and comfort there was a slight swelling on the theme that had been sounded for years by journalists and financial experts and refugee ministers—that Nazi Germany was war-weary already, its workers exhausted, its economic system strained, that it lacked adequate resources of raw materials, of oil and gold reserves, and could not fight a long war.
Meanwhile July saw the last act of appeasement, this time in the Far East: the Tokyo Agreement,95 whereby Britain, recognising ‘the actual situation’ in China, advised British subjects there to keep clear of anything that might assist the Chinese and bring on themselves the justified wrath of Japan. New Zealand’s government had been informed but not consulted. Several Labour back-benchers spoke out strongly about this ‘Eastern Munich’ and Chamberlain’s European policies, saying that he was dominated by international finance and war profiteers, while New Zealand dragged silently at his heels— probably the strongest criticism of British foreign policy made by Labour speakers while Labour was in office.96 But this minor Eastern discord was lost among the quickening threats of Germany. By 1 June the Standard was remarking that people no longer asked if war were coming that year, but where it was likeliest to start, and on 6 July reported that the newsmen of Washington placed the page 21 betting 5 to 4 on the chance of war before 15 September. According to Tomorrow one of the most popular pastimes of August was guessing the answers to such questions as, ‘Will there be war?’ ‘When will it start?’ ‘Will we be in it?’; and an opinion commonly expressed was, ‘Oh, there won’t be any war, this crisis will pass like the last.’97
But August’s crisis did not pass, and when on the 22nd Russia and Germany announced their non-aggression pact there was no longer room for doubt or hope. The cable pages overflowed with inch-high black headlines; anger against Hitler was matched with shocked rage at Russia and statements that treachery might have been expected from that conscienceless nation. There was no feeling that anything could be done now to avert war, no doubt that New Zealand stood with Britain. Administratively the government was ready. The Organisation for National Security (ONS), modelled on the British Committee of Imperial Defence, having struggled through a starveling infancy, had come to modest growth since Munich, and now had its prescribed departmental procedures, its ‘War Book’ prepared. A state of emergency was proclaimed on Friday, 1 September, the necessary legal preliminary to bring into force the Public Safety Conservation Act of 1932, under which emergency regulations were issued as Orders-in-Council, dealing with mobilisation of the armed forces, stabilising prices and setting up censorship controls. With these weekend preparations tidily made, New Zealand waited for Sunday.
1 New Zealand Official Year-book (hereinafter Yearbook) 1938, p. 802
2 Sutch, W. B., Poverty and Progress in New Zealand, p. 134
3 Yearbook1938, p. 58
6 Laval, Pierre (1883–1945): French PM 1931–2, 1934–6, 1942–4; executed 1945
7 Hoare, Rt Hon Samuel John Gurney, 1st Viscount Templewood of Chelsea, PC, GCSI (1880–1959): Sec State Air 1922–4, India 1931–5, Foreign Aff 1935; 1st Lord Admlty 1936–7; Sec State Home Aff 1937–9, Air 1940; UK Ambassador Spain on special mission 1940–4
8 Laval, Premier of France, and Hoare, the British Foreign Secretary, secretly agreed that their governments would use their influence to induce Abyssinia and the League of Nations to accept that a large part of Abyssinia should be assigned to Italy for economic expansion and settlement. This was a sudden change from Hoare’s speech in September in support of collective security against aggression. When the proposals became known in December 1935 they were rejected by both the Commons and the Chamber of Deputies, amid uproar which caused Hoare to resign.
9 New Zealand did not officially recognise the conquest, and when in May 1941 Ethiopians, with the aid of British troops, drove the Italians from Addis Ababa, it had no diplomatic adjustments to make.
10 Low, Sir David, Kt(’62) (1891–1963): b Dunedin; cartoonist Spectator Chch 1902, Buletin Sydney 1911, Star London 1919, Evenig Standard London 1927, Daily Mail London 1950, Manchester Guardian from 1953
14 Workers’ Weekly, 31 Aug, 21 Sep 35, pp. 3, 1
15 Ibid., 28 Sep, 12, 19 Oct 35, pp. 3, 1 & 2, 2
17 Nash, Rt Hon Sir Walter, GCMG(’65), CH(’59), PC (1882–1968): b UK, to NZ 1909; MP (Lab) Hutt from 1929; Sec Lab party 1922–32; Min Finance 1935–49, Marketing 1936–41, Social Security 1938; Dep PM 1940–9; War Cab 1939–45; NZ Min USA & member Pac War Council 1942–4; PM, Min External Aff 1957–60; Leader Oppos 1950–7, 1960–3
18 NZ Worker, 25 Sep 35, p. 1; see also Standard, 16 Oct 35, p. 8
20 NZ Worker, 8 May 35, p. 6; Standard, 13 Nov 35, p. 1
24 New Zealand Parliamentary Debates (hereinafter NZPD), vol 245, pp. 149–84
25 Holyoake, Rt Hon Sir Keith, GCMG(’70), CH(’63), PC (1904–): MP (Nat) Pahiatua from 1932; Dep Leader Oppos 1947; Dep PM & Min Agriculture, Marketing, Scientific Research 1949–57; Leader Oppos 1957–60; PM & Min Foreign Affairs 1960–72; Min State 1975–7; Gov Gen NZ 1977–80
26 NZPD, vol 245, p. 164
27 Forbes, Rt Hon George William (1869–1947): MP (Lib) Hurunui 1908–43; Min Lands, Agriculture, Deputy PM 1928–30; PM 1930–5, in Coalition govt 1931–5
28 Savage, Rt Hon Michael Joseph (1872–1940): b Aust, to NZ 1907; MP (Lab) Auck West from 1919; Leader Labour party from 1933; PM from 1935
31 GGNZ to SSDA, 6 Apr 36, in ibid., p. 19
32 Standard, 11 Mar 36, p. 6
34 Chamberlain, Rt Hon Arthur Neville, PC (1869–1940): MP from 1918; PMG 1923; Min Health 1923, 1924–9, 1931; Chancellor Exchequer 1923–4, 1931–7; PM & 1st Lord Treasury 1937–40
35 Jordan, Rt Hon Sir William, PC, KCMG(’52) (1879–1959): b UK, to NZ 1904; 1st Hon Sec NZ Lab party 1897; MP (Lab) Manukau 1923–35; NZHC London 1936–51; Pres Council LoN 1938; chmn Imp Economic Conference 1937–8
36 Workers’ Weekly, 15 Aug 36, p. 2, 9 Apr 37, p. 2; Standard, 9 Apr 37, p. 7
37 Workers’ Weekly shows a total of £336 by 17 Dec 39
38 Churchill, Rt Hon Sir Winston, KG(’53), PC, OM, FRS (1874–1965): British Army 1895–1916, serving India, Khartoum, South Africa etc; war correspondent South Africa 1899–1900; MP (Cons, Lib) 1900–22, 1924–64, Sec State Colonies 1906–8, Home Sec 1910–11, 1st Lord Admlty 1911–15, 1939–40, Min Munitions 1917, Sec State War & Air 1919–21, etc; PM & 1st Lord Treasury, Min Defence 1940–45; Ldr Oppos 1945–51; PM & 1st Lord Treasury 1951–5, Min Defence 1951–2
39 Mowat, C. L., Britain Between the Wars. pp. 577–8
40 The Waterside Workers Federation gave £300. Standard, 23 Sep 36, p. 7
41 Workers’ Weekly, 9 Apr 37, p. 1
42 Standard, 21 Oct 36, p. 15
43 Ibid., 14 Apr 38, p. 1; NZPD, vol 252, p. 584
44 Standard, 13 Jan 38, p. 7, 9 Feb 39, p. 2
46 At Hororata, see Press, 9 Oct 37, quoted by Tomorrow, 13 Oct 37, vol III, p. 771
48 Standard, 4 Nov 37, p. 1. Export, without the consent of the Minister of Customs, of all cast scrap iron had been prohibited since 10 June 1937 by statutory regulation 183/1937. On 5 October another regulation (243/1937) extended this prohibition to all scrap metal.
49 Ibid., 28 Oct 37, p. 1, 3 Mar, 21 Apr 38, pp. 11, 5
50 Ibid., 7 Oct 37, p. 1
51 Tomorrow, 30 Mar, 13 Apr 38, vol IV, pp. 351, 383
52 Ibid., vol I, 19 Sep 34, pp. 4–5, by J. C. Beaglehole, referring to John Wheeler-Bennett’s Wreck of Reparations. Again, in Salient, the student paper of Victoria University College, Wellington, an editorial on 8 January 1938 suggested that though the democracies were ‘aghast at Germany’s so-called “grab”’, many Austrians might find it economically helpful.
53 Chautemps, Camille, GCVO (1885–1963): French politician; Min State 1936–7, 1939–40; PM 1937–8; in Daladier Cabinet 1938–9
55 Standard, 17 Mar 38, p. 8
56 Luckner, Count Felix von (1881–1966): good-will missioner and sailor, to Australia 1895–1900; German Imp Navy, in Battle of Jutland, then commander raider Seeadler, world tour in Sea Devil 1937ff; in Germany, not a Nazi, 1939–45; lecture tour to further understanding between people 1949–50
58 Workers’ Weekly, 9 Jul, 30 Apr, 7 May 37, pp. 1, 2, 1
59 Ibid., 9 Jul 37, p. 3; Tomorrow, 21 Jul 37, vol III, p. 580
61 Fraser, Rt Hon Peter, PC, CH(’45) (1884–1950): b Scotland, to NZ 1910; MP (Lab) Brooklyn 1918–50; Min Education, Health, Marine 1935–50; Acting PM, 1937–40; PM, Min External Affairs, Police 1940–9, Island Territories 1943–9, Maori Affairs 1946–9; Head War Cab & War Council; UN offices 1945–8
63 Workers’ Weekly, 6 Aug 37, p. 1
64 Standard, 15 Jul 37, p. 9
65 Tomorrow, 21 Jul 37, vol III, p. 580
66 Lochore, Dr Reuel Anson (1903–): civil servant, diplomat; PM Dept, Dept Internal Affairs with several years post-WWH as Naturalisation Officer, Dept External Affairs 1957; NZ Min India 1962, Indonesia 1964, 1st NZ Ambassador West Germany 1966
68 Ibid., 19 Mar 38, p. 12
72 NZPD, vol 248, p. 628; whole debate pp. 594–639
74 Round Table, Oct 38, pp. 53–7; Wood, F. L. W., New Zealand in Crisis, May 1938– August 1939, pp. 1–9
75 Armstrong, Richard (d 1959 aet 60): with RFC WWI, to NZ 1922; exec member Labour Representation Cmte, Auck Trades Council; former City Councillor and past member Auck Transport, Drainage Boards
76 de la Mare, Frederick Archibald (1877–1962): Hamilton High School Board Governors, 1st chmn CORSO cmte, borough councillor; NZU Senate 1919–47
82 Hamilton, Hon Adam (1880–1952): MP (Nat) Wallace 1919–22, 1925–46; Min Labour, PMG 1931–5; Leader Oppos 1935–40; War Cab 1940
85 Standard, 27 Oct 38, p. 17
87 SSDA to GGNZ, 31 Mar 39, PM 6/6/3, pt 16, in ibid., p. 4
89 eg, Press, 22 Mar 39, Auckland Star, 21, 23 Mar 39
92 Feling, K., The Life of Neville Chamberlain, p. 403; McLeod, R., and D. Kelly (eds), The Ironside Diaries, p. 78
94 SSDA to GGNZ, 17 May 39, PM 6/6/3, pt 17, in ibid., p. 12
96 Standard, 3 Aug 39, p. 10; NZPD, vol 254, p. 699 (R. McKeen), p. 738 (A. H. Nordmeyer), p. 787 (W. T. Anderton), vol 255, p. 13 (R. M. MacFarlane), pp. 108–9 (C. M. Williams)
97 Tomorrow, 16, 30 Aug 39, vol V, pp. 649, 677