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

IX.—After the Deportations

IX.—After the Deportations.

For a long period after the Waitemata had sailed, only the merest scraps of information concerning the "shanghaied" men filtered through. It was a time of terrible anxiety and suspense for the mothers and other relatives. Then letters began to come through, most of them from soldiers, and many of them sent surreptitiously, and from these we began to learn in shreds and patches of how the deported men were faring. Garth Ballantyne wrote his mother when nearing Capetown, and this letter brought the first definite news of experiences of the C.O's. up to that stage. Later still came messages from Britain, telling of the almost unbelievable cruelties to which they had been subjected while on the way from Capetown to Plymouth and the equally abominable cruelties inflicted on them while in Sling Camp.

We learned that our Religious and Socialist friends in Britain (who wished to advise the New Zealand C.O's. as to their legal position and rights under English law), had been refused permission to see them, and had been told that "New Zealanders in England are under active service conditions, and are subject to military law." Which meant that the New Zealand military authorities were adopting a different attitude towards the C.O's. from New Zealand than the British military authorities were adopting towards British Objectors. Several deputations waited upon the High Commissioner, at which Brigadier-General Richardson was present; and the reports seem to indicate that the High Commissioner was not permitted to have much voice in the matter. "General Richardson refused point blank to allow any communication with the Objectors by representatives of sympathetic organisations in Great Britain." The civil authority was made to subserve the military authority, and all the time our New Zealand militarists were gibing at the ultra-militarism of Germany, Of course, it is fair to assume that General Richardson had his instructions.

In the meantime, the feeling of resentment against the action of the Government in connection with the deportations was gathering strength. Immediately following the deportations, huge meetings were held in Wellington and other centres, and in nearly every case practically unanimous protests were recorded and demands made for the return of the deported men. The Trade Unions carried innumer-page 32able resolutions, the Labour Party branches and Socialist organisations took a similar course, the Women's Leagues, Councils, and Institutes poured in their protests. The C.O. became a topical subject.

The prime Minister threatened that every man not exempted by the Boards would be sent away. But, in spite of this attitude on the part of Mr. Massey there was a general idea abroad that the National Government had received a severe reprimand from the Imperial Government for its trouble in deporting the fourteen. On November 21, 1917, it was stated by the Wellington "Dominion"—the principal Government organ—that "the Imperial authorities have no wish to be troubled with men who will not fight," and that the policy of forcing objectors aboard transports had "now been abandoned in favour of imprisonment." This statement strengthened the belief that the Government had been rapped over the knuckles. It must have been felt, however, that the "Dominion" had been guilty of an indiscretion, for a little later a Southern paper (in an evidently inspired report) announced that all the Conscientious Objectors In jail would-have to go the same way as the preliminary draft." In reply to this announcement, I expressed the opinion in print that all that was best in the industrial and political life of New Zealand would indignantly repudiate even the suggestion that any such policy should be pursued.

The February official statement of Sir James Allen contained the following paragraph: "Statements have been made in the press that it is not intended to despatch abroad any more of the soldiers who have been punished for refusing to obey orders. These statements have been made without foundation, and no such decision had been reached." The manner in which this paragraph is worded suggests a heavy camouflage. It had never been stated by anybody that "soldiers who had been punished for refusing to obey orders" would not be sent abroad. The statement was that Conscientious Objectors who refused to be soldiers would not be sent abroad; and this proved to be correct. Sir James's statement could be read in two ways. However, the Government did not dare to send any more C.O's. away. If any further attempt had been made in that direction, it is certain that a very serious situation would have arisen in New Zealand. Besides, it is now clear that the Imperial authorities did not want C.O's. from here; they had quite enough of their own; and it is just possible that, when some day the correspondence becomes available, it will reveal the measure of the National Government's humiliation.