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Political and External Affairs

CHAPTER 19 — Stock Taking

page 262

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.’

It would be easy to over-emphasise the importance of the

1 Notes of interview, 26 Feb 1944.

page 263 change of tone in 1943 as compared with 1942. The Prime Minister, though an authoritative witness, was given to warm speech on the spur of the moment. In an earlier phrase, he had remarked in secret session that some people would not believe that a crisis was at hand till bombs appeared on their breakfast table, and was considerably annoyed when the phrase was quoted at him in public. In 1943 the change was perhaps a matter of the way men talked rather than of what they did. Fashions of speech can swing from patriotism towards cynicism without people's behaviour changing in the same degree. A better test than words would lie in the activities and keenness of such bodies as Home Guard and the EPS, which had charge of air-raid precautions, and, still better, the effort and productivity of workers. One set of figures may have significance, that dealing with those of unrest which led to strikes. In 1942, the year of maximum national danger, 51,189 working days were lost in strikes—more than in any year since 1939; in 1943 the figures were down to 14,687—less than in any year since 1934.1 These figures cannot, of course, be taken at face value, for part of the explanation lies in domestic politics. The Nationalists had left the War Administration on the grounds that the Government's leniency to the Huntly miners would encourage further strikes, and unionists felt it incumbent upon them to exercise restraint, particularly in view of the approaching general election. This explanation is made more plausible by the swing back in 1944 to 52,602 days lost.2 Yet economic statistics, for what they are worth, indicate no slackening in effort in 1943 or even in 1944, but rather a return to a strenuous level of war effort, bereft of the spectacular tensions of 1942. Domestic problems—shortages, rationing, pressure on manpower, the difficulties of co-existence with a foreign army, however friendly—these things inevitably diluted the sense of urgency imposed by overseas events.
New Zealand's trend back towards normal was emphasised by the circumstance that 1943 was an election year. The breakdown of the War Administration made it virtually impossible to postpone the election further, and only Sir Apirana Ngata spoke against the motion moved by the Prime Minister on 25 February that the House of Representatives should not continue in being after 1 November of that year.3 On this major point, then, there was general agreement, and except for a clash towards its close, the parliamentary session ran fairly smoothly. Much of the pro-

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.

page 264 posed
legislation was not contentious, and even received less than a salutary modicum of criticism.1 As the election of September approached, however, two bills were violently attacked, and these, together with the manpower problem, provided such meagre substance as could be injected into the general election campaign. An amendment to the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act gave workers certain rights to sue employers in the Arbitration Court; there was no appeal to the Supreme Court, and in some instances the onus of proof fell on the defendant employer.2 Still more difficulty arose from a Servicemen's Settlement and Land Sales Act. This had admirable objectives—to facilitate the settlement on the land of discharged servicemen at reasonable prices, and in general to prevent speculation in land or undue increases in price. The Act gave the Government power to take over land suitable for subdivision, and to control the prices of all land sales. The basic value of farm land was the productive value, increased or diminished so as to make it a fair value. The basic value of other land was its value on 15 December 1942, also increased or diminished so as to make it a fair value. The processes of valuation were in the hands of various land sales committees, with appeal to a Land Sales Court, but not beyond that to the Supreme Court. The personnel of all these bodies was appointed by the Government. The act undoubtedly placed great power in the hands of the Government, the more so since such terms as productive value, fair value, and average efficient farming, though familiar enough in New Zealand legislation, were so vague that all depended on the administration. The Opposition complained that the Government was using the rehabilitation of servicemen as a cloak for pushing its socialistic schemes and that the act would operate unfairly against the holders of property in land or houses. The Government, however, could cite from previous experience of land speculation and the failure of soldier settlements and rehabilitation in general.
The election was fought by three parties: Labour, National and Democratic Labour, the last being the creation of J. A. Lee since his expulsion from the Labour Party in 1940. Between the two main parties there was little difference on major issues, as indeed there had been little difference between the two programmes in the last general election in 1938. The Labour Party relied on its past record, including a creditable war-effort, and the maintenance of social welfare. The National Party claimed in general terms to stand for ‘the largest possible measure of freedom for the individual

1 Round Table, December 1943, p. 94.

2 Ibid.

page 265 citizen’ as against Labour's principle of ‘absolute state control and domination1.’ It favoured a non-party wartime government and urged that New Zealand's manpower had been over-committed. On domestic issues, it denounced the land sales legislation and the Internal Marketing Department; matters of some substance in view of the importance for economic stabilisation of controlled land values and of marketing under wartime conditions. Nevertheless, the National Party specifically promised to maintain wages and social services, and indeed to extend social security benefits.2 As for the Democratic Labour Party, Lee joined Holland in saying that New Zealand's manpower was badly over-committed, but he claimed in general to stand to the left of the official Labour party; and he advocated the full use of social credit. All three parties, in fact, put forward welfare programmes rather than challenges to sustained effort: a natural result of New Zealand's physical remoteness from fighting, but not evidence that significantly more could have been done to help the Allied cause. A contemporary remarked that ‘No party put forward a policy of “blood, sweat and tears”’,3 which should be read as a criticism of democracy in general and perhaps of New Zealand democracy in particular.

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.

These results were variously interpreted. To Holland they indicated a public desire for a non-party war administration.4 The Prime Minister said, on the contrary, that the country had commanded the Government ‘to carry out its programme for the war period and in the post-war world.’ To him, the issue of a coalition government was now closed. ‘We do not propose to be handicapped, or trammelled in any way, by sharing the authority

1 Holland in Christchurch Star-Sun, 24 Sep 1943.

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.

page 266 for carrying out our policy, and the legislative and administrative plans for its realisation, with any person or party which has opposed us and our programme and has been rejected by the people1.’ If Fraser gave up the idea of greater formal political unity, it was no longer practical politics. Till the end of the war, New Zealand continued with its odd combination of a War Cabinet in which Labour ministers were joined by two Nationalists holding office as individuals. Of these men, Coates had died in May 1943: he had virtually been repudiated by his party, and intended to contest the next election, like the election in which he first entered Parliament, as an independent. As previously noted, he was replaced in War Cabinet by William Perry, a leading Opposition legislative councillor and President of the RSA.

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.


A problem which somewhat complicated the election campaign, and which in the end set War Cabinet an insoluble problem, was raised by the return to New Zealand in July of the long-service men who had been brought back on furlough from the Middle East. This furlough scheme was a condition of Parliament's approval of the proposal to keep the Division in the European theatre, and had been endorsed by General Freyberg and his senior officers. Neither parliamentarians nor soldiers foresaw what would happen when the time came for rejoining the Division. Maybe most of the more battle-eager of the men who had gone overseas in the early drafts had eliminated themselves from the furlough scheme by being killed or promoted or becoming indispensable. Yet it would have been difficult in any circumstances to withdraw 5300 men2 from the fighting zone, restore them for three months to their relatives and

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.

page 267 friends half-way across the world, and then call on them to return to the front. As it was, the inevitable contrast between the atmosphere of a fighting division and the kind of life that had by and large continued in New Zealand since 1939 was accentuated by the disappearance of such apparent civilian fervour as had developed in the period when a Japanese invasion seemed possible. This slackening of tension was not only likely to disillusion the furlough men; it caused sympathetic civilians positively to encourage the reaction which many of them felt against the call to return to the Middle East.

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.’

With the election only a few weeks ahead, policy towards the furlough draft became a political issue, and apparently for this reason War Cabinet postponed announcing the categories of men in the draft who were to be allowed to remain in New Zealand and thus warning those who were to return to the Middle East. A decision had in fact already been made, for Freyberg was told on 29 August that War Cabinet had decided that, with the exception of essential personnel, all married men with children, all men of 41 or over and all Maoris would be allowed to return to civil life if they so wished, and others could appeal if they had special reasons for release. It was expected that this decision plus medical boarding might reduce the draft by 1500–2000 men. Announcement of it was withheld so that Freyberg could comment.2 Freyberg

1 Transcript of speech from shorthand notes, filed in Prime Minister's office.

2 Documents, II, p. 253.

page 268 replied on 1 September saying that some such reduction in the size of the draft had been anticipated, but the announcement was not made until 1 October, six days after the election. This delay made impossible the departure of the draft at the end of October as had been planned, and on 10 September Freyberg was advised that the Government had directed that sailing be postponed until 20 November.

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.

After the initial postponement from the New Zealand side it proved impossible to obtain a troopship at the date required, and it was not until the beginning of January 1944 that the furlough men were summoned back to camp. By this time there had been considerable development of opinion among the men and their civilian supporters. Only 1637 still remained in the draft, for the quite unexpectedly large number of 2664 had been down-graded on medical grounds; the explanation may well have lain largely in the desire to give the benefit of even a faint medical doubt in cases where a man obviously did not wish to return to the Middle East. When the summons came to the men still remaining in the draft, many failed to report at all, or reported too late, or reported and refused to embark. In this they were in a number of cases publicly supported. At various towns in the Auckland province members of the draft assembled at railway stations to persuade those who were returning to camp to leave the trains. In Hamilton, in particular, the men were well organised and strongly supported by public opinion. A prominent citizen was arrested and admitted preparing propaganda for the furlough men. He was prosecuted under the Public Safety Regulations but acquitted in the Supreme Court, Wanganui, on 22 May as the jury did not consider the documents involved subversion. An odd echo of the doings at Hamilton came back from Europe on 5 May when a Radio Paris2 broadcast reported that ‘There has been a mutiny among the troops due to embark

1 Dominion, 21 Oct 1943.

2 Paris, of course, was still in German hands.

page 269 for the European front from Hamilton. A state of siege has been proclaimed in the town.1 Actually, of 1637 ordered to return to the Middle East, 123 were kept back because their wives were pregnant, and 663 sailed with the 11th Reinforcements on 12 January.

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.

On 5 April the Court of Appeal delivered a judgment quashing the earlier sentences for desertion, but pointed out that the men could be tried for other military offences, including insubordination and possibly even mutiny. War Cabinet immediately decided that all furlough men who had twice refused orders to embark would be dismissed for misconduct and lose all their privileges—that is payment of mufti allowance, discharge privilege leave on pay,

1 Director of Publicity to editors, 21 Jun 1944.

2 Puttick to Freyberg, 5 Apr 1944.—Documents, II, p. 347.

page 270 deferred pay, rehabilitation benefits and any gratuity that might be granted after the war. It was also decided that they should not be eligible for appointment or re-appointment to any government department, but were liable for direction to essential industry. As a result of legal difficulties War Cabinet later rescinded its decision to withhold mufti allowance and deferred pay.

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.’

This warning was perhaps a turning point in censorship admini-

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.

4 Evening Post, 15 Nov 1943.

5 Director of Publicity to editors, 15 Nov 1943.

page 273 stration
. On 6 December 1943 the Times of Palmerston North published an attack on the system which was notable both in itself and for its consequences. ‘New Zealand's war effort is hardly ever the prime consideration that moves the Director of Publicity to action,’ it complained. ‘What drives the gagging machine into top gear is a maternal solicitude for the Government.’ The editorial continued:

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.

R. H. Billens, the editor and publisher of the Times, was prosecuted under the Censorship and Publicity Regulations, and convicted in the Magistrates' Court, Wanganui, on 6 April 1944, but the conviction was quashed by a majority judgment of the Court of Appeal on 11 August. The fine points of interpretation of Regulation 16 (5 (b)) on which the decision turned are of less historical interest than the view expressed by Mr Justice Northcroft and Mr Justice Johnston that the three directives criticised in the editorial were themselves invalid, since the Director of Publicity could not in good faith hold the opinion that information on the subjects mentioned endangered public safety. As Mr Justice Northcroft put it, the regulations contained various anomalies and were difficult to interpret. While they should not be given a narrow interpretation to the prejudice of the public safety, yet they ‘are not to be given such a construction as will interfere, without regard for public safety, with the customary freedom of discussion of matters of general interest to the community. If this was intended as one of the functions of the regulations, then it should have been stated in clear and unequivocal language1.’ The Chief Justice, Sir Michael Myers, did not agree with his brother judges in their interpretation of

1 NZ Law Reports, 1944, p. 735.

page 274 Regulation 16 (5 (b)) and did not commit himself either way on the validity of the three directives.1

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.

page 275

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

New Zealand press censorship was, then, relatively drastic and was criticised accordingly. The historian reads, therefore, of the Director of Publicity's difficulties, rather than of his successes. It must, however, be remembered that the system could not have continued at all if head-on conflicts had not been the exception, and the rule a moderately cheerful system of give and take. At the

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.

page 276 increasingly infrequent conferences of editors,1 the records would seem to show a frank and friendly interchange of views between government spokesmen and their editorial questioners. The Director of Publicity at various times expressed his gratitude to the press as a whole for its willingness to co-operate with him. ‘Some day,’ he said in March 1944, ‘the full story of helpful co-operation between the New Zealand press and censorship will be told2.’

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.

2 ChristchurchPress, 9 Mar 1944.