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

VII.—Deported by Night

VII.—Deported by Night.

From the first application of the Conscript law to the middle of 1917 a steady stream of victims poured first into the detention barracks and thence to the prisons. The first sentence was generally 28 days' detention, followed by 84 days in the civil prison. Later this was extended to 111 days, and still later to 11 months or one year. When it was found that deportation would not break the C.O., an almost uniform sentence of two years' hard labour was inflicted. One C.O. tried by Court-martial in the early part of 1918, when asked to plead, retorted: "What is the use of my pleading when my sentence has already been determined?" "How do you know that?" demanded the President of the Court. "I know it, anyhow," replied the prisoner.

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"If you know it, then, what is the sentence?" asked the President. "Why, two years," said the prisoner. "How do you know?" again asked the President. "We have power to award either a heavier sentence or a lighter sentence than that." "I know you have the power," said the prisoner; "but in your own mind you know that my sentence is two years." The C.O. was found guilty and remanded for sentence. When the sentence was promulgated it was found that he had been correct—his term was two years' hard labour. Then, suddenly, New Zealand was shocked into vigorous protest by the deportation of fourteen Conscientious Objectors.

On July 15, Mrs. Ballantyne received a hurriedly-scribbled note from her son, Garth (who had been sentenced some time previously and was serving his sentence in the civil prison at Mt. Cook). He had pencilled this note on board ship, and it had been got ashore surreptitiously. The message read:—

"The undermentioned Conscientious and Religious Objectors were forcibly put on board the transport Waitemata on July 13 and 14:—

"John Baxter, Archibald McColl Learmont Baxter, Alexander Baxter, Brighton, Otago.

"William Little, Hikurangi, Whangarei, via Auckland.

"Mark Briggs, Box 285, Palmerston North.

"Fred Adin, Patrick Street, Foxton.

"L. Penwright, Geeverton, Tasmania.

"Harry Patton,, North Beach, Cobden, Greymouth.

"Albert Ernest Sanderson, Babylon, North Wairoa, Auckland.

"Garth Carsley Ballantyne, 53, Bidwell Street, Wellington.

"David Robert Grey, Lowcliffe, Hinds, Canterbury.

"Daniel Maguire, c/o P. Higgins, Foxton.

"L. J. Kirwan, Sewell Street, Hokitika.

"Thomas Percy Harland, 15 Lawson Street, Roslyn, Dunedin.

"All well, in good spirits, and determined to stick out to the end."

Up to this time the public of New Zealand had had no inkling of the Government's intention violently to take from these shores the men who were conscientiously opposed to military service. The parents and other relatives of the fourteen men so taken were not notified that their sons were to be taken away, and, consequently, the mothers particularly were shocked and almost prostrated with grief when they learned that their sons had been dragged away by night and forcibly placed on the transport. Those of us whose task it was to break the news to some of the mothers would never wish to undergo another similar experience.

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On the Wednesday following the deportations the mother of one C.O. came to me at "The Worker" office. She had three sons, all of whom were Conscientious Objectors. The whole three had been called up under Section 35, and two of them had gone to prison—one for 28 days and one for 84 days, while the third had just given himself up to the military authorities. On the Tuesday evening the mother had come to Wellington for the purpose of visiting her sons on the following day. On the Wednesday morning, however, she heard that some Conscientious Objectors had been forcibly deported; and, hastening to "The Worker" office with fear in her heart, she learned that one of her boys was among them. She had received no intimation that her son was to be taken away, and she was given no opportunity whatever of seeing him before he left. Her tears fell like rain, and the sobs that welled from the depths of her broken mother's heart proclaimed the magnitude of her hurt. Search all the long history of the ages, and you will find nothing more tragic than the spectacle of that bereaved mother—the light gone out of the years of her life—bowed down beneath the burden of sorrow endured by the mothers of the world through all the centuries of sin and suffering that stretch from the foot of Calvary's Cross to the gangway of a Twentieth Century Transport. To me it was as if the Mother of God stood there uplifting a protest to Heaven against the crucifixion of Humanity, and levelling an accusation against myself and all the rest of New Zealand for the Wrong we had made possible.

A few days later the father of another of the men came from the North, only to learn that his son had been forcibly taken away. He was destined never to see his boy again.

Other fathers and mothers were left to discover for themselves that their sons had been transported without even the sorry consolation of bidding them farewell.