Political and External Affairs
CHAPTER 19 — Stock Taking
NEW ZEALAND'S military commitments were at their peak towards the end of 1942 at the time the War Administration broke down, and in the months immediately following. Public tension was relieved by the arrival of American forces, though this reinforcement brought its own social problems; but awareness of danger remained acute at the end of 1942. As the American marines battled on Guadalcanal many a New Zealand home guardsman calculated rather grimly that, if they failed, his speculations on the probable fate of ill-armed troops facing the Japanese might be disagreeably tested in practice. In 1943 New Zealand's military commitments were slowly and anxiously retrenched; and retrenchment was paralleled in the feelings towards the war of New Zealanders who did not have the stimulus of combat. There was, indeed, no weakening in the judgment that the war must be fought to a victorious conclusion. When the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 declared that the Allies would exact from their enemies ‘unconditional surrender’, the phrase was accepted without much comment, governmental or private. Vague and emotive in terms of statesmanship, it nevertheless expressed well enough a community's general attitude: and it represented the views of New Zealand as fairly as it did those of her allies. Yet the tensity of feeling natural during a series of mounting disasters, culminating in danger of invasion, could naturally not be sustained. The sense of urgency declined, and servicemen returning from the Middle East complained of slackness and selfishness in the community. The Prime Minister said he agreed with them. ‘These things are unfortunately true,’ he said in February 1944. ‘The question is how far they can be rectified and counteracted and the people roused once more to the sense of danger that they had and the sense of doing the best that is in them [as] they did when we had to dig trenches and hideouts and places to protect the people against bombs1.’
1 Notes of interview, 26 Feb 1944.
1 Year-Book, 1946 p. 673. The number of strikes increased from 65 to 69, but this figure gives no indication of their magnitude.
2 Year-Book, 1946, p. 673.
3 NZPD, Vol. 262, pp. 28–36.
1 Round Table, December 1943, p. 94.
The general election was held on 25 September, when the Labour vote fell somewhat and the Nationalist vote increased slightly as compared with the election of 1938. The Government lost eight seats. It still had an ample parliamentary majority—12 seats in a House of 80—and a substantial majority of votes in the country, especially if those cast for Democratic Labour be counted as being on the whole pro-Labour and anti-National. Forty thousand votes were in fact cast for Lee's party, without winning a single seat. All its candidates except Lee himself lost their deposits, and he was in a minority of 5648 in a constituency where, as official Labour candidate in 1938, his majority (8607) was the largest in New Zealand. The separate recording of the servicemen's votes showed a much higher Labour vote among them than in the electorate as a whole.
2 Star-Sun, 24 Aug 1943.
3 Round Table, December 1943, p. 97.
4 Star-Sun, 27 Sep 1943; Round Table, December 1943, p. 98.
The direction of the war did not lack the expression of Opposition opinion at the highest levels. The upshot of political developments in 1942 and 1943 was a final definition of function. In the secrecy of cabinet, and indeed in secret sessions of Parliament, co-operation ruled. In the publicity of open sessions and the press, the Leader of the Opposition and the majority of his party preserved the right of free speech untrammelled by the responsibilities of office. Whatever strength or weakness can be given to a national effort by party politics and party criticism was lustily contributed by the official spokesmen of the National Party from November 1940 till the end of the war, excepting only the brief interlude of the War Administration in mid-1942.
1 Star-Sun, 29 Sep 1943.
2 6012 men returned in July and 115 in October, but 863 of these were men of the Railway Operating Group (being returned to New Zealand for direction into essential work) and other non-furlough personnel.
Even so, it is possible that serious trouble might have been avoided if New Zealand had not been preparing for a general election. The Government was clearly uneasy about the situation from the first, for on 5 August the Director of Publicity told newspapers that there was to be no reference without his permission to ‘replacing soldiers on furlough by exempted men now working on farms or in other essential occupations nor to the future composition or disposition of New Zealand force overseas.’ However, on 31 August the Leader of the Opposition, during a broadcast speech which opened his election campaign, castigated the Government for over-committing New Zealand's manpower and added that ‘in my opinion no man should be sent to the war twice before everybody has gone once1.’ This remark received some notice in the press, and on 2 September Mr Paul advised newspapers that ‘The publication in some newspapers of the statement that after such long service men on furlough should be given the option of voluntarily returning to civil employment, wrongly attributed to Mr Holland in his speech at Christchurch on Tuesday night, having destroyed the purpose of my directive of August 5 it is therefore now revoked.’
1 Transcript of speech from shorthand notes, filed in Prime Minister's office.
2 Documents, II, p. 253.
Fraser's announcement on the future of the draft was followed by some critical comment in the press, mainly in the form of anonymous letters in correspondence columns. A member of the Auckland Armed Forces Appeal Board was reported as saying that he was going to recommend that every man who appealed be allowed to remain in New Zealand.1 The Government, with good cause, became alarmed about the situation that had developed. A cabinet minister noted that ‘there would be a breakdown of morale if this grew into any continuous agitation.’ Accordingly, on 21 October Mr Paul reimposed the ban on press reference to the furlough draft.
The problem of what to do next illustrated the limitations of authority in a country not under immediate threat of attack, where governments have been for generations nicely sensitive to public opinion and wedded to a humanitarian outlook. The furlough men who refused to embark were tried by court martial for desertion and sentenced, not to be shot, but to ninety days’ detention, and all warrant officers and non-commissioned officers among them were reduced to the ranks. The detention was, however, suspended in the meantime and offenders were advised that they would not be committed if they embarked with the next draft. There was a demonstration in the streets of Christchurch by furlough defaulters, and an interview was arranged on 26 February between War Cabinet, together with two other ministers and the Adjutant-General on one hand, and the six representatives of the recalcitrant furlough men on the other. The interview was lengthy and amicable, and the Prime Minister in particular replied in quite conciliatory terms to the men's statement of grievances, which rested very largely on the inequality of sacrifice between themselves and fit men held on appeal in industry. War Cabinet later gave a definite promise that the notes of convictions for desertion would be expunged from the records of men embarking, and that 5 per cent of the men were to be returned to industry, their places in the Army being filled by Grade I single men then in industry.
On 31 March 125 of the furlough men sailed, but the great majority of those still liable for service again refused to embark; the men at Trentham expressed themselves both in flamboyant threats and in an orderly mass deputation, which told ministers plainly that they would not return overseas until fit men held on appeal had served. In this, it appeared, they had considerable support in public sentiment,2 though no news was published or public discussion permitted.
1 Director of Publicity to editors, 21 Jun 1944.
On 10 February 1900 men of the second furlough draft arrived in New Zealand. About 1100 of these were medically down-graded and others eliminated in other ways; but about 450 were required to embark for the Middle East at the end of June, and over 100 refused to do so. Court-martial proceedings were not taken against them, but their cases were investigated by a committee of officers to whom they were required to show cause why they should not be dismissed.
By a Gazette of 20 June, 432 furlough men were dismissed, and on 26 July 110 more. Such publication was a necessary part in the procedure of dismissing men from the forces, so this degree of publicity could not be avoided. The Director of Publicity, however, conveyed to the press a request from War Cabinet to refrain from mentioning the matter so as to prevent further details about the incident reaching the enemy, and newspapers were instructed not to mention the activities of the furlough men nor the action taken against them. The facts, however, could not be entirely hidden, and there seems to have been a certain amount of feeling in both political parties (particularly the National Party) that the action taken against the men was too severe, and Holland wrote to the Prime Minister on more than one occasion urging greater leniency. Moreover, if severity of punishment were difficult to contemplate in 1944, when manpower difficulties were acute, it became increasingly out of key with the community's mood as the war more or less obviously approached its close. Various branches of the RSA, for example, began to urge that the cases of the dismissed furlough men should be reconsidered, and in June 1945 the press reported the decision of the annual RSA conference to admit them to membership. This announcement was contrary to the Director of Publicity's instructions, but it was not thought expedient to prosecute in view of the end of the war in Germany. Thereafter censorship on the matter seems to have lapsed, and four days after the Japanese surrender the Prime Minister announced the cancellation of the dismissal notices and the restoration of all privileges to the dismissed men.
The Government's inability to get more than a portion of the first furlough draft back to the Middle East is a striking instance of the limited effectiveness of the impressive array of wartime powers which it had been given in law. As the CGS pointed out to page 271 the Government, the physical force to coerce the furlough men was, if it came to the point, not available; and against a group which was popularly felt to have a good case the legal right to coerce became unreal. No one could well deny that any country which accepted the principle that soldiers could retire on their own initiative after three years' service would be withdrawing itself from effective participation in the war. On the other hand, any civilian might feel distinctly uneasy in forcing men to return to dangers from which he himself had been sheltered throughout. Cabinet ministers who had emphasised on so many occasions the inestimable debt owed by the country to the men who had fought in Greece and Crete and North Africa found it difficult to treat some of these men as criminals when they argued that what was inestimable was also sufficient. The situation was indeed morally awkward, as was the case with so many other wartime problems. The fact remained, however, that when it came to the point no prominent politician of either party argued that principle should be intransigently upheld and the law take its course against the furlough men. Further, it was evident that public opinion was in a state not only to appreciate but to exaggerate the force of the men's case for their release from the Army, and to give less weight than at any previous time since September 1939 to the Government's argument that the efficiency of the national effort must be maintained at all costs.
It was a remarkable development that, with the war far from won, men could be released on furlough from a division fighting in the Middle East, brought half-way round the world, and then allowed, if sufficiently determined, to return to civilian life. The story which was worked out during the best part of a year from the return of the first draft in July 1943 did not necessarily show that New Zealand was fighting in 1943 and 1944 with less efficiency than in the critical year of 1942, nor that her determination to see the fight through to the end had declined. It did, however, illustrate certain characteristics of New Zealand's life and politics, and also some important changes in the attitudes of New Zealand citizens when the shape of the crisis changed from an evident military threat to the necessity for hard thinking and hard work. A further illustration is provided by the controversies which, during roughly the same period, attended the activities of J. T. Paul as Director of Censorship and Publicity. Both the extended use of censorship in 1943, and the criticism with which this use was met in 1943 and 1944, illustrated the increased restiveness of public opinion in the second half of the war.page 272
Two of the three most controversial employments of censorship powers in 1943 arose from discontent in the police force. About the end of 1942 there was considerable dissatisfaction in the force over rates of pay. The press, including the Police Journal, organ of the Police Association, was forbidden to make any reference to the subject.1 In his speech in the Address-in-Reply debate in March the Leader of the Opposition complained of the censorship of the Police Journal, and Fraser in his reply stated that he personally took responsibility for the ban. In wartime, he said, agitation could not be tolerated in the police force, which was as much a part of the defence of the country as were the armed services.2 Again in November 1943 there was criticism both within and without the police force of amendments to the Police Force Regulations which forbade policemen or their wives to engage in outside work without the approval of the Commissioner of Police.3 On 17 November Mr Paul warned editors against publishing ‘any statement or resolution containing any direct or indirect reference’ to this matter without his approval.
Another censorship telegram sent out in November was in the form of a request. It arose from threats by West Coast timber workers to strike unless their butter ration was increased from 8 ounces to one pound a week, and from statements such as that by the secretary of their union that ‘I have not known any Government in this country that could fool all the workers all the time into believing that strikes or threats of strikes have not compelled Governments to act4.’ Paul asked editors to eliminate ‘from all press matter….any suggestions that only by striking or threatening to strike can persons or bodies of persons with legitimate grievances obtain redress.’ Such statements, he wrote, tended to ‘result in unlawful action and to create widespread dissatisfaction prejudicially affecting national morale5.’ On 3 December he issued a further direction with wide implications: ‘without my previous written consent information is not to be published relating to any act of any person if such act amounts to a counselling or inciting of any person to commit an offence against any emergency regulations.’
1 Director of Publicity to editors, 5 Jan 1943.
2 NZPD, Vol. 262, p. 324.
3 Evening Post, 16 and 17 Nov 1943. Mr Paul explained to an editor that ‘The Commissioner of Police believes that employment in certain places would not be conducive to public confidence in the integrity of the Police Force. If wives were employed in certain places it would quickly be urged that the police were quite familiar with every irregularity or breach of the law which occurred in these establishments.’—Director of Publicity to Editor, Hawera Star, 6 May 1944. The Commissioner seems to have been concerned primarily with alleged breaches of the rationing regulations.
5 Director of Publicity to editors, 15 Nov 1943.
On three occasions recently the gag has been applied. We may be committing a breach of the emergency regulations by making that statement for the peculiar technique which the Director of Publicity has developed, and which he uses with such persistency and so promiscuously, prevents the newspapers even from stating that they cannot publish certain news. Every communique issued from Publicity headquarters is marked ‘Confidential’ and readers must sometimes wonder why a ‘blackout’ suddenly descends just when a particular news story is developing to a climax that is of vital interest to the people of the Dominion—and particularly awkward for the Government.
There is an element of grim humour in the fact that all three recent cases of suppression concern the workers, for whose special interest the Government exists or claims to exist. The workers may or may not have genuine grievances. We are not concerned with that issue at the moment. What we are concerned with is whether the workers have or have not the right to air their grievances through the Press, which, no matter whether they admire it or not, is the only Dominion-wide medium through which their grievances can be aired.
1 NZ Law Reports, 1944, p. 735.
The doctrine that the opinion of the Director of Publicity was examinable by the Courts could presumably have been overcome by fresh regulations if the Government had desired to continue the ‘morale’ censorship as it had developed in 1942 and 1943, and had felt this course would not produce excessive public indignation. It did not, however, take any such action, and this type of censorship was not enforced in 1944, unless indeed suppression of news about the furlough draft falls into this category. Government spokesmen attributed this welcome relaxation to the improvement of the war situation, but the outspokenness of the Times may have played its part in precipitating the change.
None the less, New Zealand press censorship continued to come under fire during 1944. Both the Associated Chambers of Commerce and the Newspaper Proprietors' Association pressed unsuccessfully for an amendment to the regulations similar to that made in Australia on 18 May 1944 after a clash between the censorship and the press in that country. This restricted censorship exclusively to ‘defence security’, made some effort to define the term and provided specifically that ‘Censorship shall not be imposed merely for the maintenance of morale or the prevention of despondency or alarm’ nor ‘prevent the reporting of industrial disputes or stoppages.’ Similarly a visit of a party of New Zealand editors to England early in 1944 was followed by an argument between some of them and the Director of Publicity over the relative liberality of British and New Zealand censorship. The argument was long and complicated, but whatever the rights and wrongs of all the points raised in it there can be no doubt that in two important respects the New Zealand censorship was more drastic than that of the United Kingdom. British practice was not to censor matter published within the country except for reasons of defence security, and even in that field the censors' communications were merely warnings that publication of certain matters would be an offence against the Regulations. A prosecution would have to prove a breach of those Regulations and not merely a disregard of the censor's advice.2
1 The Chief Justice's dissenting judgment concluded: ‘The offence lies in the mere publication of the statement or indication, and the invalidity of the directives, if they be invalid, is, it seems to me, no defence. The appellant, if he wished to test the action of the Director of Publicity in respect of the “directives” in question, could have published information on the prohibited matters, and then, on a prosecution under Regulation 15, made his defence of the invalidity of the directives. He did not take that course. What he did was to publish a statement or indication which, in my opinion, comes within the prohibition of Reg. 16 (5(b)), and, on a prosecution under that regulation, the defence which he might have made to a charge under Reg. 15 is not open to him.
‘In the result, I am of opinion that there has been a breach of the regulation and that the appeal should be dismissed.’—NZ Law Reports, 1944, p. 721.
2 Williams, Press, Parliament and People, pp. 15–20.
The differing attitudes towards censorship were illustrated at the time of the furlough draft when the British Chief Press Censor wrote to the New Zealand High Commissioner that ‘I have…instructed the Censors to inform me if any story is submitted on the subject, as I would have to try and use persuasion rather than the blue pencil. Unfortunately, we have no powers to censor news merely because it affords, or might afford, material for enemy propaganda1.’ A similar response was given on occasions when New Zealand made representations about news stories coming out of Britain which were considered bad for morale in this country. Thus on 14 November 1940 Fraser drew the British Government's attention to a message which reported that uneasiness was discernible in Britain regarding ‘“failure to unite the nation for total war, lack of aggressive spirit, weak administration by some Ministers, undue optimism regarding production, failure to grapple with shipping losses, and slacking by dockers.”’ Fraser felt strongly ‘that such criticisms (which he would not have allowed to be released here had his attention been drawn to them before publication) will have a very bad effect in New Zealand and he cannot understand why they were allowed to pass the United Kingdom censorship authorities2.’ He received a typical reply from Churchill that ‘We dwell under a drizzle of carping criticism from a few members and from writers in certain [sections] of the Press. This has an irritating effect and would not be tolerated in any other country exposed to our present stresses. On the other hand, it is a good thing that any Government should be kept [alert?] and made aware of any shortcomings in time to remedy them. You must not suppose everything is perfect, but we are all trying our best, and the war effort is enormous and morale admirable…3.’ However, in March 1942 the United Kingdom introduced a censorship of outgoing messages which were thought likely to give a distorted picture of events in that country. This seems to have resulted mainly from the reports of the British High Commissioner in Australia on the effects which some of these messages were having on morale there.4
1 Official Secretary NZHC to Secretary for External Affairs, 14 Jan 1944.
2 GGNZ to SSDA, 14 Nov 1940.
3 PM UK to GGNZ, 18 Nov 1940.
4 Williams, pp. 64–5.
Good personal relations, in fact, often softened the asperities of the censorship administration. Nevertheless the whole story of press censorship, like that of policy towards dissident minorities, illustrates the comparative weakness in New Zealand of that stubborn regard for individual liberty in times of adversity that persisted in England. Direct responsibility for public policy must rest with Fraser. Indeed, it reflects at times his impatience and even lack of scruple when dealing with the disaffected. Yet its causes were deeper than any personalities of the wartime years, as is shown by parallel events during the depression years and during the First World War. The reasons for a certain divergence between New Zealand and British practice lie outside the scope of this history. The question suggests itself, however, of the relation between the British devotion to individual rights and the general British concept of an ordered society. This concept had been weakened—or at least significantly modified—in New Zealand—as indeed it was also being modified in the parent country. Maybe progress towards equality meant less rather than more freedom.
1 Two in 1940, two in 1941, one in 1943, and one in 1945.