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

VIII.—Historic Protest

VIII.—Historic Protest.

On the morning of July 15, Mr. Montgomerie Ballantyne (now deceased) came to me in haste with the news that his brother and thirteen other C.O's. had been forcibly taken from New Zealand in the Waitemata. After a hurried consultation, we decided that the most effective method of letting the public know the evil thing which had been done would be by deputation of protest to the Minister. Swiftly the messages were sent, and as swiftly came the response. There was no man or woman of responsible position in the Labour movement who was not ready to voice the intense indignation of organised Labour at the injustice which had been perpetrated. Indeed, to say that the indignation was intense is to put it mildly. Mr. McCombs, page 24M.P., happened to be in Wellington, and to him was entrusted the task of arranging the deputation, which was received by Sir James Allen (Minister of Defence) on Tuesday morning, July 17.

The report which follows was taken for and appeared in "The Worker."

The deputation included Mrs. R. W. S. Ballantyne (mother of one of the lads deported). Mrs. S. Snow (secretary Housewives' Union), Mrs. S. Beck (president Wellington S.D.P.), Mrs. Aitken, and Mrs. Wesley (Women's International League), Messrs. J. McCombs, M.P., J. Read (president Wellington Trades and Labour Council), G. L. Glover and J. Roberts (president and secretary respectively Waterside Workers' Federation), C. Grayndler (general secretary A.P.U.), H. Tunnicliffe (Palmerston North L.R.C.), H. E. Holland (executive member New Zealand Labour Party), R. W. S. Ballantyne, W. Barr, and other representative men and women.

Mr. McCombs, in introducing the deputation, said that while it was large and representative, the men and women comprising it had been called together at urgent notice, and, had time permitted, many others who were opposed to the forcible deportation of Conscientious Objectors would have been there also. He knew the deputation would have the sympathy of the Minister, for he remembered that when the Conscription Bill was before Parliament, Sir James had endeavoured to make the law better than it was for the conscientious objector. Within the short period that had elapsed since the deportations were known, a number of people had expressed their indignation to him personally, and that feeling was widespread. He read two extracts from the "Christian Commonwealth" showing that some time back the British Government had sent 34 conscientious objectors over to France, and when they still persisted in refusing military service, had court-martialled them, and sentenced them to death; but the death sentence was immediately commuted, and the men returned to England and put in prison. The British Government did not now send conscientious objectors to the trenches; and the deputation sought information concerning the objectors taken from New Zealand.

Mr. J. Read said he was firmly convinced that no military purpose would come out of the act of the Government in shipping these men away against their will. These men objected to fighting, and surely the Government was not sending them away with the intention that they should be shot in the trenches without lifting an arm in defence. If the Government were not contemplating this, then the men would become a burden on the military authorities. He raised his voice against the action.

Mrs. Ballantyne said she was the only mother present of the boys who had been forced upon a transport, and she demanded from Sir James Allen the information where her boy was being sent to. She had seen him last Sunday week, and he had told her there was then page 25no fear that he would be forcibly put on a transport. She was given no opportunity of seeing him again after he had been shipped. Her son had repeatedly told her on no condition would he take part in military service. She was sorry for the other mothers who had been debarred from seeing their sons before they were hurried away. Her boy was only 21 years of age, and was in delicate health. He had had a college education, and was a good, steady boy, and yet he had been put in jail alongside of men who were serving long sentences for crime. It was shameful to think of, and it was an outrage that the boys should be taken away by force without their mothers even knowing that they were going.

Mrs. Wesley spoke for those mothers who had not the opportunity of seeing their sons before they were deported. She herself had three sons at the front. They had gone voluntarily, but not with her consent; but she felt sure they would never have gone had they known that later men's liberties would be taken from them because they had religious and Socialist objections to military service. They left these shores thinking they were going to fight for freedom, and what freedom had they left behind? Since her boys had gone freedom in New Zealand had ceased to be. She was confident the lads carried away from New Zealand would never surrender their principles.

Mr. J. Roberts said he spoke for the industrial workers, and he asserted that from one end of the country to the other industrial workers were opposed to men being taken 12,000 miles away against their wills for military purposes. The Government was putting itself up against a serious problem; it seemed to be forcing a crisis, for when other industrialists saw their comrades put on board a transport at the point of the bayonet it was likely to engender trouble.

A voice: "It's Prussianism."

Mr. Roberts, continuing, said the Government would be well advised to bring these men back, for the pride of conscience was the greatest gift man possessed. If he were one of the men he would keep on objecting all the time. People might call them shirkers, but he knew one or two of them who had told him they had decided they would not fight under any consideration, as they were opposed to military service. It might mean death for them, and thus they could not be called cowards. He thought the Government should act immediately, and have these men returned to New Zealand.

Mr. Holland said he represented the political side of the Labour movement. The first question he desired to ask the Minister on behalf of both the movement and the relatives of these conscientious objectors was: How many men were placed on board the transports, and what were their names? He asked for definite information on this matter. The deputation knew that some men had been forcibly placed on two transports—one lot on a certain date (named), and they had heard that another lot had been taken on a subsequent date; and they also desired to know what was going to be done when these page 26men reached England. He was personally acquainted with most of the men who had been subjected to compulsory transportation. These men had repeatedly stated that they were opposed to military service, and no matter what the consequences were, he was certain they would never do violence to their consciences. It seemed to him that men and women in New Zealand had no legal right to a conscience. He asked were these men, who had conscientious objections, going to be forced into the trenches. If so, it was certain they would be shot rather than bear arms. What military purpose was to be served, he asked, by dragging this handful of men away from New Zealand. Already they had in England more conscientious objectors than they knew what to do with. In Dartmoor there were 3000 objectors, and over 600 in Wormwood scrubs, while in all there must be quite 5000 of them in Britain. As far as he knew, there were more soldiers looking after these men than there were conscientious objectors, so that the pursuit of the conscientious objectors was not to be commended even from a military viewpoint. The men forcibly deported were of irreproachable character, and it could not be charged against them that they were cowards; for it required far more courage to take the stand they were taking than to go into camp. Some of these men and boys were Socialist objectors, some were religious objectors, and some objected for other reasons. The Minister would know that during the first three centuries of the Christian era no Christian would be a soldier, and men—and women, too—endured appalling tortures and were flung to the lions and heroically faced death rather than surrender their principles. There was very little applied Christianity to-day; if the Churches were all Christian churches they would all stand for peace and against war. The spirit that actuated the conscientious objectors of to-day was the spirit that inspired the early Christians, and it was not good that the spirit of Diocletian should be let loose against them. Most of those forcibly placed on the transports were mere boys, and to drag them from prison was bad enough, to forcibly carry them on board and make them a public spectacle was bad enough, but it was the acme of inhumanity and cruelty to take them secretly from these shores and not allow their mothers to see them or even know they were going. After referring to the Socialist conscientious objectors, Mr. Holland drew the Minister's attention to the case of the Cody brothers—of whom there were five, and who had all been called up under section 35, and who were apparently pursued by a number of persons, some of whom were undoubtedly actuated by a desire to secure the land the Codys held rather than by motives of genuine patriotism.

Sir James Allen: "That statement is not true. I utterly repudiate it."

Mr. Holland said the march of events would show he was right. He proceeded to refer to the fact that three of the Codys had been ordered into camp, and when they refused the remaining two were page 27again called before the Board, and ordered into camp, leaving no one to look after the farms, and their father lying on a dying bed. The last two brothers had since been arrested, and were now in custody, while the other three had disappeared.

Sir James: "Do you know where they are?"

Mr. Holland: "I do not; but if I did, I most certainly should not tell you. I am not an informer."

Sir James: "I did not think you would give the information."

Mr. Holland went on to say that it was a fact that men of Irish blood, with a knowledge of Irish history were conscientiously opposed to taking part in the war.

Sir James: "God bless my soul! Irishmen have been some of the best soldiers of this war. They have enlisted in large numbers."

Mr. Holland: "I concede all that, but—"

Sir James: "Give me an Irish battalion behind me, and I would go anywhere!"

Mr. Holland: "Quite so. I admit the Irish can fight. They proved it last year, when 3000 of them, badly armed, held Dublin against 30,000 trained and fully-equipped British soldiers." There was, however, an historical fact which neither Sir James nor any member of the Cabinet could deny, and that was that the Irish were subjects of Britain by compulsion and not by consent, and when they objected to military service it was for this historical reason. When Irishmen volunteered for military service no injustice was done to anybody; but he submitted the Government ought not to compel Irishmen (or any others, for that matter) to go to the trenches from New Zealand. He had seen it in print that there were now 150,000 British soldiers on duty in Ireland, and even if they dragnetted New Zealand to the last man—First Division and Second Division—they could not get that number of soldiers from here. He went on to say that even if he were a militarist—which he was not, and had never been—he would not dream of taking up the attitude taken up by those responsible for sending the conscientious objectors away. They seemed to forget that the soldiers now being sent away were conscripts and not voluntary soldiers, and that there was widespread dissatisfaction with the Conscript Law. He did not think Cabinet would dare to test the accuracy of that statement by permitting both the soldiers and the people to vote on the question of Conscription.

Sir James Allen said he utterly repudiated the suggestion that the conscripts were not willing soldiers.

Mr. Holland asked Sir James if he would be willing to test his opinion by taking a vote of the men in any of the camps on the question of Conscription. He thought there was a tendency here to copy some of the worst features of Prussian Militarism, and urged that the boys just taken away ought not to be taken to the trenches, where they would be certain to refuse to bear arms, and would consequently be liable to be shot. He wanted to know whether the Government page 28proposed carrying their policy of deportation to its logical conclusion. Would the married men of the Second Division who were conscientious objectors be forcibly taken away also? He reminded Sir James that the National Register cards showed that some 34,000 men of military age said: "No military service whatever," and nearly 80,000 said: "No military service outside of New Zealand"

Sir James Allen: "Some of the men who said that were over military age."

Mr. McCombs and Mr. Holland said that was not so; men over military age did not have to reply as to military service.

Mr. Holland said since then a further change had taken place, and many married men who had answered "Yes" because they believed they would never be called upon, were now of quite a different opinion.

Concluding, Mr. Holland said, on behalf of the mothers and relatives of the men, he again asked the Minister for information as to the number of men transported and where they were being sent. He made a plea that the Minister would take such steps as would prevent such an outrage ever again being inflicted upon men and boys whose crime was that their ideals were loftier than those of their fellowmen.

Sir James Allen, in reply, said he realised what a very difficult problem the case of the conscientious objector to military service constituted. As Mr. McCombs had said, when the Bill was before Parliament he had done his best to put in a clause giving some recognition to the conscientious objector, but Parliament was very decided about it; and it had been very difficult to secure what they had gained, and that was only secured after several conferences with the Legislative Council. What was in the Act was there was the will of the majority in Parliament, and in administering it he had to carry out the will of Parliament. Now, as to religious objectors—

Mrs. Ballantyne: "There are Socialist objectors as well as religious."

Sir James Allen said there was a clause in the Act which provided that if a man objected to all military service, he could be put, by applying, to work on State farms.

Mr. Holland: "The present clause does not meet the case of either the Catholic or the Church of England conscientious objector."

Sir James Allen: "I admit it does not allow for all religious objectors."

Mr. Read: "It applies only to certain sects."

Sir James Allen said that if a man belonged to a religious denomination whose tenets were against military service he was permitted under the Act to do non-combatant service."

Mr. Holland: Which, as the conscientious objector interprets it, means helping some one else to do the killing."

Sir James Allen: "It means saving life, not taking it." Continu-page 29ing, Sir James said he could not understand the man who would object to non-combatant service. He had strained the military law as much as possible The authorities had to be careful that they were not sheltering shirkers under the conscientious objectors' clausemdash;men who had suddenly developed a conscience.

Mr. Holland: "You cannot lay that charge against these men; they have been conscientious objectors all along."

Sir James went on to deal with the case of the Cody brothers, and said the country was at war and in danger. There were five brothers in this family, well-to-do people. Other people in the district had sent their sons to the firing line. The five brothers were called up under section 35 of the Act. Their cases were heard; three of them were ordered into camp, and the Board depended on them to report on the date fixed. Instead of doing so, they had disappeared.

Mr. Holland: "They made it clear they would not go into camp."

Sir James Allen said these men were being searched for by the police, and he could well understand the indignation of the people of the district whose sons had enlisted. He denied that any of the persons responsible for that agitation against the Codys were influenced by motives suggested by Mr. Holland.

A lady member: "The Codys are not the only Irishmen who have conscientious objections."

Sir James Allen: "The three brothers I have referred to are deserters, and when they failed to report, the remaining two were ordered into camp."

Mr. Holland: "In other words, you punished the last two for the sins of the three who failed to appear."

Sir James: "Nothing of the sort. We punished no one."

Coming back to the case of the deported objectors, Sir James said that these men had been sent to England for the purpose of giving them a further chance of doing their duty. It was hoped that different circumstances would induce them to change their minds.

Mr. Holland: "You want them to go back on their life-long principles."

A member: "Trying the third degree on them?"

Sir James said the idea was to give them another chance to accept non-combatant service.

Mr. Holland: "Have these boys been sent away under any arrangement with the Imperial authorities?"

Sir James Allen: "No. We have not communicated with the Imperial authorities at all about the matter."

Mr. Holland: "Then I'm inclined to think you'll hear about it from the Home Government. The authorities there have quite enough conscientious objectors of their own, and they're not likely to take kindly to your attempt to unload your troubles on to them."

Sir James said Mr. Holland had questioned the willingness of the men who were being ballotted. That statement was quite incorrect.

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The men who were now being sent were quite as willing as those who had volunteered. When they got into camp they were as keen on their duty as the other men. It was true, as Mr. Holland had said, that the men now going away were more subdued, but that was because they recognised the responsibility that was on them.

Mrs. Snow: "They are getting less training."

Sir James Allen denied that statement, and said that men sent away before their time had their training finished in England. He added that instructions had been given in the camp that genuine conscientious objectors would be given non-combatant work.

Mrs. Ballantyne asked for an assurance that the lads would not e subjected to persecution during the voyage to England.

Sir James Allen replied that they would be subjected to no persecution whatever.

Mr. Roberts said he had gone through the Military Service Act, and he could see nothing that gave the Government power to deport men who were not soldiers, men who had not taken the oath.

Sir James Allen said these men were New Zealand soldiers under the Act, notwithstanding that they had not taken the oath.

Mr. Holland asked Sir James Allen for a definite statement of what the Government intended to do with these lads. Would it compel them to go into the trenches in France, and if they refused to bear arms there would they be shot? Would Sir James give the deputation an assurance that under no circumstances would these lads be shot for their refusal to surrender their principles?

Sir James: If I gave you that assurance, you would communicate with them and urge them to hold out."

Mr. Holland: "There is no danger of that. You know your Government opens every letter I receive or send. I want the information for the sake of the mothers of these lads. If the boys are to be shot because of their principles, why not keep them in New Zealand and shoot them here instead of taking them to France?"

Sir James said the Government had no desire to shoot anybody, nor did they wish to deal unjustly with anyone. As he had said, the idea of sending the men to England was to give them another opportunity to accept non-combatant service. If they still refused, he supposed they would be dealt with in the same way as the other conscientious objectors in England.

In reply to Mrs. Ballantyne, Sir James said facilities would be provided for parents to communicate with their sons.

In reply to Mr. Holland, Sir James said he could not see his way to furnish a list of the men sent away, but would see that the relatives of every man sent away was communicated with. He had been surprised to learn from the deputation that the parents had not been notified that their sons were being sent away.

In reply to further questions, the Minister said they had less than 50 conscientious objectors in custody.

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Mr. Holland: "But you have nearly 2000 of them already gazetted as deserters, and I suppose there are 2000 or 3000 more who are not yet gazetted?"

Mr. McCombs, on behalf of the deputation, thanked Sir James Allen, and the deputation withdrew.