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

XXV.—The Magisterial Report

XXV.—The Magisterial Report.

Marton, 21st September, 1918.

To the Hon. Sir James Allen, K.C.B.G., Acting-Prime Minister and Minister of Defence for the Dominion of New Zealand.


[Re alleged ill-treatment of prisoners in the Wanganui Detention Barracks.]

In accordance with the request contained in a letter dated 20th June last from Major-General Sir Alfred Robin, K.C.M.G., that I should enquire into and report upon the above matter, I have the honour to report as follows:

With the object of having the scope of the enquiry clearly defined I interviewed the Adjutant-General—Colonel Tate—and the Director of Personal Services—Major Osburne-Lilly—in Wellington.

My attention was directed to a proof letter addressed to the Editor of the "Truth" newspaper from a number of military prisoners who had been confined in the Wanganui Detention Barracks, complaining of ill-treatment at the hands of the officer in charge. Lieutenant Crampton, and others of the staff, and it was suggested that I should take that letter as the basis of my enquiry, and investigate the charges there made and any cases of similar nature which might, during the course of the proceedings, come under my notice. I was informed that I should have an entirely free hand, and that it was desired that the charges should be thoroughly investigated.

Particularly I was asked to ascertain:—(a) To what degree, if at all, the allegations in the letter to the Editor of "Truth" were correct. (b) If force had been used, for what purpose it had been used. (c) Whether it was lawful to use force for such purpose; and, further, I was asked to make such recommendations as I might think proper concerning the future conduct of the institution.

Instructions were given to Camp Commandants and other officers to allow me access to all camps and military institutions, and to permit me to see any soldier or other person whom I might desire to see; and throughout the enquiry every facility has been afforded me page 135by the Department to ensure a fair and complete investigation on the matters in question.

I have seen all the prisoners whose names are appended to the "Truth" letter, with the exception of three, who are now on active service, and one—Fitzpatrick—who has escaped from custody, as well as every person whom any prisoner has desired me to see as being able to throw any light on the subject.

Having regard to the general nature of the enquiry, I decided to commence my interviewing the prisoners in order to get a general idea of the situation, and, having ascertained that, to be guided by what I should learn as to how I should proceed further. I came to the conclusion that I could best effect this object by seeing them in private wherever they might be, and going into the matter with them man to man, and I have continued this method with all concerned throughout the enquiry.

Shortly after deciding upon this method of enquiry, and while in Christchurch, I received a telegraphic communication from Mr. J. McCombs, M.P., asking that I should allow the prisoners to be represented by counsel, but having decided upon the course that I intended to pursue, and, as the enquiry was a Departmental one in which I had no power to take evidence on oath, it did not appear to me that to do so would be either convenient or helpful, and I advised Mr. McCombs to that effect.

I then proceeded with the enquiry, and have seen and examined, and, in the majority of cases, have obtained written statements from prisoners, warders and others at the Paparoa Prison, Christchurch, the Alexandra Detention Barracks and elsewhere in Wellington, the Trentham Training Camp, and in Wanganui.

Having regard to the subject of the enquiry, I knew that I might expect to meet exaggeration on the one hand and prevarication on the other, and I approached it with this mind, checking the statements of one against that of another, and examining each person with reference to the statements of others. I have been able to discover little or no exaggeration in the statements of the prisoners. So far as I have been able to check them they are fair and truthful. There are, of course, discrepancies, but I found none that I can with certainty put down to dishonest motives; on the other hand, I am satisfied that many of the statements made to me by members of the Barracks staff were untrue.

I do not intend to set out in detail the evidence in support of any of my conclusions or the steps by which I arrive at them, except where it may be necessary to do so for the purpose of explaining or illustrating any particular matter. To do so would be to lengthen this report beyond reasonable limit. I attach hereto the evidence, which speaks for itself. I have omitted altogether reference to any matter that I regard as of only minor importance, or that I do not find to be substantiated.

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I first deal with the "Truth" letter.

This letter, though purporting to be signed by nine prisoners, was, in fact, not so signed; it was written either by or upon information supplied by Harry Wilson, he being one of the first of the prisoners to leave the Detention Barracks after the methods complained of in the letter began to be put into operation. As his sentence was expiring, it was arranged between the prisoners that he should take steps to give publicity to what was going on, and the letter was the result of this arrangement.

In the main the statements contained in the letter are true, and I obtained evidence of several other things that are not referred to in it. As the letter was written before Donovan underwent his punishment there is no reference to his case, nor to the cases of Fitzpatrick or McConville. There is, however, about the letter an exaggeration of style that tends to give a heightened impression as to some of the incidents narrated. Take, for instance, that part of the letter which deals with Beaton:

"The following day another objector arrived from Wellington, in charge of Sergt. Smith, of the Red Caps, the late coal dealer of Petone, Lieutenant Crampton's right-hand man. On refusing to do certain things against his principles he was forcibly dressed in denims, handcuffed, and then dragged round the yard by means of pull-through ropes around his neck, which nearly choked him. He was kicked and punched at the same time, and also pushed against the wall with sickening thuds, until his face on both sides was like a piece of raw steak, and drops of blood were to be seen all round the yard and also on the walls."

This suggests that Beaton was seriously wounded, or injured about the face, as a result of the treatment. As a matter of fact, he was seen by Dr. Anderson on the evening of the day on which he received his punishment. The doctor says there were several scratches on the side of his face, none of a serious nature, but such as could—and I am satisfied did—bleed profusely. The statement in the letter as to the appearance due to profuse bleeding may in a way be correct, but without the explanation furnished by the doctor's statement, it conveys much more than the truth. Later on I have set out in Beaton's own words his account of the affair.

It may be well to state here that, although none of the men were seriously injured, it is possible, for one who knows how, to inflict severe punishment without leaving many marks, and that is, I think, what happened in these cases.

Moynihan and Donovan—especially Donovan—are spoken of as determined Irishmen who had set themselves to defy the authorities by refusing to wear the uniform or to drill. These men were ordered two hours' pack drill. Neither of them stood it a full hour. Donovan is said to have been a man who, in resisting capture, had fought with two policemen, and Moynihan is described as something of a pugilist.

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I am satisfied that it would take something more than moral suasion to reduce Moynihan to subjection if he had made up his mind to resist. Yet he and Donovan, in less than an hour, were transformed from determined and defiant objectors to obedient and well-conducted prisoners.

The amount of force used in each case would of course, depend, to a great extent, on the opposition shown.

Pallesen's case is one of opposite type from Moynihan's, Pallesen was a religious objector—I am satisfied a genuine one—who, terrified by threats and what he had heard from other prisoners as to the treatment meted out to objectors, decided while he was in Barracks, to offer no opposition to anything he was asked to do.

Each newcomer as he came in was warned by the other prisoners of what he might expect if he showed any opposition to wearing the uniform or drilling. Guard Byrne says he heard Monyihan saying to another prisoner: "It's not a bit of good for a man coming into the Barracks and saying he won't carry out the rules. I know it. They made me do it, and if they can make me do it they can make anyone do it." Byrne then adds: "What Moynihan said was perfectly true: when we made up our minds that we must do it we made them do it. If they had done it in the beginning there would have been no trouble." Byrne warned Donovan of what he had to expect and advised him to submit, giving me as his reason, "That he had had enough of it with Moynihan. Moynihan was a marvel of man to stand what he did."

Each prisoner who objected was plainly told by Lieut. Crampton that he intended to have discipline and obedience, and that so long as a prisoner was in the Barracks he would have to comply with the regulations, and that included wearing the uniform and drilling when required. If the prisoner would not agree to this he was threatened with the consequence of refusal, and if he still persisted he was broken in by main force. In Wilson's and Moynihan's cases bread and water and solitary confinement were tried first. Generally speaking, "breaking in" was accomplished in this way: A weighted pack was put on the prisoner's back, and a rifle fastened to his side by means of handcuffs and a piece of cord, one handcuff being attached to the stock of the rifle and the other to the prisoner's wrist; the barrel was tied by the cord to his shoulder. If he was wearing uniform, instead of being tied to the shoulder, the barrel was passed through the shoulder-strap. The prisoner was then ordered to march, and if he did not march he was pushed from behind and helped along by the arms round the yard. When he came to a corner he was pushed so as to bump against the wall, often so that he would strike it with his head; at times he was punched and thumped on the back and on the neck and his heels were trodden on. In some cases he was kicked. In Donovan's case, which I consider the worst, a rope was used by which to pull him around, water was thrown on him while page 138on the ground, and he was dragged for some distance along the floor of the yard. Beaton was also pulled round the yard by means of a. cord, and he, Moynihan and Donovan were caught and pulled by the hair. From time to time the men would be stopped and asked if they would wear the uniform and do rifle drill, and if they refused or would not reply they were driven round the yard again until they were worn out and exhausted and gave in.

In all, leaving out Fitzgerald's case, which I have been unable to investigate fully, there were four cases in which prisoners were actually broken into submission. They were Wilson, Moynihan, Beaton and Donovan. The details of each of these cases appear in the statements of the prisoners concerned.

I propose to use Beaton's own words as giving a fair average of what happened. He was more severely treated than Wilson, but less so than Moynihan or Donovan. His statement of what occurred is accepted by Lieutenant Crampton as being a "fair outline of his career." He denies only that he ordered anyone to pull Beaton's hair, and says he could not tell who actually tied the rope on. I am satisfied however, that Beaton's hair was pulled, and that a rope was tied round his neck as be describes. He says:

"I am a conscientious objector. I arrived in the Wanganui Barracks on the 6th May on a sentence of 28 days for being absent without leave (not rolling up to medical examination). Sergt. Smith took me up from Wellington. On arrival at the Barracks I was taken before the O.C. to have my particulars taken. When it came to the question of what my religion was. I answered, 'I decline to state.' He then asked me my nest-of-kin. I said I hadn't thought of it before, and it would take me a little time to consider. After taking the other particulars, he charged me with insolence. He asked me how I pleaded, and I said 'Not Guilty.' Sergt. Smith was there all the time. He then sentenced me to two hours' pack drill, and ordered me to be deprived of my mattrass for two nights. I was taken to a cell, and told to take off my civil clothes by Sergt. Smith. I refused to take them off, and Sergt. Smith said. 'You are very foolish.' Parmenter came in, and he and Sergt. Smith took off my clothes, I not resisting. The O.C. came in also. They put me into the denims. I was not treated roughly. I was then taken into the office, I think, and a pack was put on. From there I was taken into the yard and a rifle was offered to me, which I declined to take. So it was handcuffed to my wrist—a pair of ordinary handcuffs, I think. Then I was ordered to march; I think there was only Parmenter, Smith, and the O.C. there then. I just stood still. Smith then tried to force me to march by pushing me behind. He pushed me a step or two. As I did not take it on the O.C. went in and came out with a rope. He fastened it round my neck. Then Smith took hold of it and commenced to pull me along, Parmenter pushing behind. I was pushed and pulled this way for several minutes. Every time I came to a corner, especially the page 139corner near cell 3, I was bumped into it. The O.C. then ordered Smith to catch me by the hair. 'Get him by the hair,' or something like that. Smith grabbed me by the hair and kept hold of it until a handful came out. Then he got hold again, and some more came out. Then he left the hair alone and went on pulling the rope, When he had me by the hair he had a short grip of the rope. Hayes and Byrne then came on the scene. Byrne commenced to punch me on the hack of the head and neck. This was kept up for several minutes. They were still running me around. Sometimes I fell to the ground. I was not kicked while on the ground, but I was kicked on the heels to quicken my pace. When I was on the ground the O.C. looked at his watch and said he was taking that time off, occasionally I was stopped to right the pack, but I was kept going continuously. Smith was not on the rope all the time; sometimes someone else would take his place. Hayes was the one that did the kicking on the heels. It was not a serious affair—it was only to quicken the pace. After a time I took hold of the rifle and held it up. I found it better for myself to do that than let it hang by the handcuff. The O.C, after a while, asked me if I would put on the uniform. I said 'No, and he said, Keep him going. After a while he repeated the question and I answered, 'No,' and he said, 'At him again,' until I was bleeding from the face, where I had been pushed against the wall. (I could not lie on my right side for three weeks after.) They kept me going until I was fair done up. At the latter part the rope was choking me. After about three-quarters of an hour, I think, I was taken outside the front of the building to finish my hour. I think he thought he had dealt enough with me. From the time I took hold of the rifle I walked myself. The second hour I did the next day on a sentry beat.—I had given in to drilling. After I had done the first hour I was ordered and took a cold bath. I consider the treatment I got in the yard brutal. It is hard to explain it on paper—it doesn't look anything, but for an untrained man to go through it was very hard. He is more than a beaten man after a quarter of an hour. After I did what I was told there was no further trouble."

In addition to the four cases I have spoken of, I find the following matters proved:—

1.That on the occasion on which Wilson was forcibly dressed in his cell he was handcuffed, and while so handcuffed was knocked against the wall of his cell by Corporal Parmenter, so as to strike the wall with his head.
2.That Moynihan was forcibly dressed on three occasions on the Sunday on which he was dealt with in the yard—he having between time torn off the uniform or part of it. That these dressings resulted in a general melee or, as one of the guards describes it, "mix-up." That while these things were going on Moynihan no doubt received some knocks; that he had his head knelt on by one of the guards, and that he received a kick on the chest. I am of the opinion that page 140the kick or knock was one of the general results of the scuffle, and was not intentional.
3.That Badger and Pallesen were dressed in uniform against their wills, but that, as they offered no resistance, they received no rough treatment.
4.That Badger had a rifle handcuffed to his wrist and that he was kicked and punched by Sergt. Smith while being drilled in the staff yard as described in his statement.
5.That on the occasion spoken of in prisoner Carian's statement, and in the circumstances and in the manner described therein he was kicked by Guard Williams.
6.That Fitzpatrick was ill-treated in the yard by Lieut. Crampton and Sergt. Smith. I am unable—owing to Fitzpatrick not being available—to ascertain the full detail of the ill-treatment, and I am satisfied that as a result of what happened in the yard Fitzpatrick was bruised on the arm and was bleeding from the ear.
7.That the prisoners Badger and Pallesen were spoken to by Lieut. Crampton on the occasion of his taking their particulars in the office, and by others of the staff on other occasions, in the manner described in their statements, and that this treatment was in some way as hurtful to them as was physical ill-treatment to the other prisoners.
8.That McConville was assaulted by Lieut. Crampton in the yard while undergoing punishment drill. In the absence of Fitzpatrick, who was present at the time, I was unable to make a complete investigation of this case. Owing to my not being able to get Fitzpatrick's statement, and having regard to the denial of Lieut. Crampton and the statement of Hayes, I am unable to say whether McConville was actually struck by the rifle; but I am satisfied that Lieut Crampton caught McConville by the throat, pushed his head against the wall, and at least threatened to strike him, and that the object of this assault was to frighten McConville into taking the uniform kit when it should be offered to him on him arrival at Trentham, and was not done for anything McConville was doing or had done or omitted to do in the yard.

From all the happenings it was quite clear that the object of the application of force was to compel prisoners who objected to do so to take the uniform and to do the rifle drill with the general purpose of breaking down opposition to Military Service.

As to whether it was lawful to adopt means of this kind to effect this object, it is scarcely necessary for me to say anything. If measures of this kind had been used in a Civil Prison to compel a prisoner to perform some task there is no doubt as to what would have been said to them. Turning to the rules for the conduct of Military Detention Barracks, I find that the only regulation dealing directly with the subject is Regulation 109, which says: "No member of the staff shall strike a soldier under sentence unless compelled to do so in self-defence, and in any case in which the application of force page 141to a soldier is needed no more force than is necessary shall be used." This regulation is practically identical in terms with Regulation 31 of the Regulations under "The Prisons Act, 1908," being the rules regulating the conduct of civil prisons.

It appears to me that under this regulation no more force may be used either in a civil prison or in a military detention barracks (as at present constituted) than is necessary to prevent a prisoner from harming himself, his fellow-prisoners, the prison staff or the prison property, or to convey him to or from some place to or from which he has been lawfully ordered to go, and it cannot he used to compel a prisoner serving sentence to perform some task or to do anything in the nature of a task that he has refused to do.

It was contended by Lieut. Crampton that, according to the custom of the service, force similar in kind to that used by him was applied in all detention barracks, and evidence was adduced to me as to the practise in the Abbassia and Citadel Detention Barracks at Cairo and in some punishment compounds under Imperial rule in France From this it appears that force more or less severe is used as punishment and to reduce refractory prisoners to submission. There was, however, no question of objection to military service with any of these prisoners. They were simply cases of defaulters, some of the riff-raff of the Army. Strong measures would have to be taken in such cases. But whether force of the kind spoken of was or was not used in those places is beside the question. Either the regulations under which they were conducted were different from those in force in New Zealand, or much of what is said to have been done there was as irregular as what was done in the present cases.

I am satisfied that Lieut. Crampton knew that what was being done would not, if called into question, have borne the light of day, but it is fair to him to say that his position was in some respects a difficult one. If he had only had the ordinary military prisoner to deal with I do not think, so far as he was concerned, that there would have been any trouble over the management of the prison. By the ordinary military prisoner I mean the man who, having no objection to military service, is doing a term of imprisonment for "absence from parade," "drunkenness on duty," or some such offence, and who, recognising himself as a soldier, is quite amenable to military discipline and looks upon his drill as part of his ordinary work.

But side by side with this class of men, Lieut. Crampton had to deal with two other classes of prisoners—one composed of men openly "up against and out to beat" military service, the other class composed of men whose religious scruples—though in many cases genuine—are beyond the understanding of the normally-constituted person. Neither of these would comply with the regulations, and the Lieutenant was thus faced with the question of the effect or the example of these men on the ordinary prisoner. Seeing them doing as they liked—a favourite practice with some of the more defiant of the objectors was page 142to show their defiance by refusing to address the officer as "Sir"-the ordinary prisoner would naturally see no reason why he should not behave in the same way.

Lieut. Crampton says that, before he took actual charge of the Barracks at Wanganui, knowing that he would have Conscientious Objectors to deal with, he had visited the Alexandra Barracks, Wellington, for the purpose of seeing in practice the methods applied there. He says he found discipline in those Barracks very bad, that Conscientious Objectors were under the control of a corporal and were allowed to do what they liked. He says that in answer to a question, the corporal replied, "What can I do? If I ask them to do something or wear any prison clothing they refuse. They whistle, sing, call out, and count out the military police, and do what they like."

He explained that in consequence of what he saw there he resolved to have a different state of things in the Barracks under his charge, and, if his description of matters at the Alexandra Barracks is correct, it was certainly time that a change was brought about there.

The defiant objectors gave him credit for being quite fair with them. He was determined that military discipline should be maintained in the Barracks, and he made this quite plain to them. As soon as one of them had given in and agreed to "carry on" there was nothing to complain of on the part of Lieut. Crampton. His attitude, towards this stamp of man was: "'Either I beat you or you beat me, and I'll take care you don't beat me." He took a short cut towards solving the problem before him, disregarding the fact that prison regulations are binding on all alike, and that, while they call for strict compliance on the part of the prisoners, they call with much greater force for compliance from those in whose charge prisoners are placed, and in whose hands they are to a very great extent helpless dependants.

Under the regulations, what appears to me to be ample power of punishment is given to officers in charge. Under Regulation 131 they may order close confinement, punishment diet, and deprivation of mattress for any period not exceeding three days. This power is far greater than that possessed by the jailer of a Civil Prison, and a prisoner committing a breach of regulations lays himself open to be dealt with by courtmartial, which may impose still greater punishment. Had Lieut. Crampton dealt with these prisoners throughout in accordance with this regulation, he would have been within his rights, but it is very open to question whether, as a matter of principle, it is right to deal with them at all in this way. It has to be remembered that these men were military objectors; that for refusing their kit, which really means refusing to perform any military duty, they had been sentenced to detention; to again offer them the kit or part of it or to require them to perform acts of a military nature while under detention and to further punish them for refusal is in effect to punish them twice for the same offence. If the courtmartial had power page 143to order "bread and water" or to impose other conditions as part of the original sentence for refusing the kit, good and well; it could—if it wished—have done so. But if such a court had not that power, or if it had refrained from exercising it, it is not proper for the punishment awarded by the courtmartial for a particular offence to be increased by other means because of a repetition of that offence during the period covered by the original term.

I think the practice of sending objectors for a short term to Detention Barracks is absurd, It tends to destroy the discipline of the ordinary military offender and seems to me to serve no useful purpose. I think such men should be treated from the beginning in the way that it is proposed to deal with them ultimately.

It is not within my province to discuss the general question of the treatment of such men. Ranging as they do from the shameless coward and the open rebel to the man who, whatever may be thought of the soundness of his principles, is sincere and is prepared to sacrifice everything for them, it is difficult to devise a means of treatment applicable to all cases.

During the course of my investigations I have had many conversations with Objectors and others, and in consequence have formed some opinion on the subject, and if required I shall be glad to place it before the Department.

I submit the following recommendations as to the future conduct of the institution:—

(1) That the Barracks be used as a place of detention for military offenders only, and that objectors to military services should not be sent there.

(2) That the personnel of the staff be changed. So far as I can ascertain, none of the present staff possesses any experience or particular qualification fitting him for this kind of work, Some are clearly quite unfit to act as prison warders. I suggest that the new staff be composed of specially-chosen men, none under the rank of a non-commissioned officer.

(3) That, in addition to the military official visitors provided for by Regulation 41, the Minister should appoint suitable persons, being civilians, with duties and powers similar to those of a visiting justice of a civil prison, and that all members of the Prisons Board, the Inspector and Deputy-Inspector of Prisons and the Stipendiary Magistrate of the district be so appointed ex officio.

I have the honour to be, etc.,

(Signed)J. George L. Hewitt.