Why didn’t you use the religious ‘loop-hole’ and point to your upbringing as the reason you were refusing to fight?
Yes, I could have done this. For most of us it would have made no difference to the verdict. Many ministers appeared before our Appeal Board to say that their protégés was sincere and had long held pacifist convictions. Only those who came from Quaker or Christadelphian families were recognised as genuine by the Board, since all other denominations had declared, in statements by their elected leaders, that this was a just war which they supported. Towards the end of the war in 1945 another more liberal Appeal system was set up, which did take account of religious background and/or strongly held humanitarian views with good evidence. Many applicants were granted release a few months earlier on this account. Those who had what were considered to be merely political objections, or were too inarticulate to state a convincing case, were unsuccessful. I didn’t appeal at this time. Nor did my brother Chris or most of my closer friends. We knew of so many who had little chance of gaining recognition here as genuine. Also we wanted to underline our rejection of the military demands that war made.
What work did you do at Mt Crawford, Wellington?
As regards work, its usefulness was never the main consideration. They invented jobs to keep us occupied; it was after all a prison on top of a hill, right away from any urban development. We’d be given, for example, a dozen socks to darn during the course of a day, which was a dull job that we, six men at that time, could complete in 30 minutes. Most of the work in detention camps and prisons was almost valueless. What mattered was to keep ‘disloyal’ men of military age out of circulation in wartime.
There were 6 exercise yards at Mt Crawford, one for first offenders, one for repeat offenders, one for infectious prisoners – usually sexually related infections - one for conchies and one for those on remand, and so on. This is where we, and most other prisoners, spent a good deal of time when the allotted tasks were done.
Later I asked superintendent McGrath – who I actually think wasn’t a bad sort – if I could plant some bulbs against the walls of the yard where we darned socks. It was the only part that wasn’t completely sterile and sealed, leaving an eighteen inch strip of earth around the perimeter of the yard. I was pleased when he agreed. Some of the prison garden gang turned up with a huge pile of compost, saying, ‘Where do you want this?” However, I was released before much happened with this idea. The prison garden was outside the walls, I liked working there – that felt useful. It had a wonderful view across the Wellington harbour, including Somes Island where the German and Italian ‘aliens’ were kept. Rolf Kersten was there, until Rosemary’s Uncle Gordon was successful in appealing for him to be allowed to work on their Northland farm, reporting to police weekly. Only a very few were released in this way. Uncle Gordon was a respected returned soldier from WW1.
What did a man have to do to end up in isolation?
Those who elected to be entirely uncooperative by refusing to work, either in detention camp or in prison, would end up in isolation, usually on reduced rations of food. Ron M. spent about 3 years like that in Mt Crawford, with only one or two hours out of his cell each day. In detention camp the procedure was revised and offenders were sentenced to prison “for the duration of the war”. That is how I became a prisoner, where the work was equally dull for the most part, but at least it was under the normal justice system and not by courtesy of a wartime expedient. In actual fact, though this was not what I had in mind when I refused to work in detention camps, Mt Crawford prison was kinder to me than the other three wartime abodes that I encountered: Mt Eden Prison (4 months), Hautu Prison (5 months), and Strathmore Detention Camp, where I spent 3 months early on. But I had far fewer contacts with other C.O.s during the final three years which were spent at Mt Crawford. This I regretted.
What was standard lock- up like at Mt Crawford?
Standard lock- up was 16 hours a day. It was 17 hours in winter because you came in from outside earlier. You imagine if you couldn’t read a book – and a large proportion of the prison population, as studies show, couldn’t read or write. There you were with four concrete walls, nothing to do. It did turn people crazy. I can remember several chaps who were quite gone mentally after a while.
I did have one day out of jail. I had to get some dental work done – I was taken with several others in the back of the prison van with two guards in front with the driver – although we weren’t regarded as potential escapees. On this trip, I saw the American marines – just a glimpse. They were on their way to the Pacific war zone. The Americans from the Deep South states were apt to be hostile to the Maori. There were several brawls in pubs at that time – we’d hear this via incoming prisoners. This sort of thing was kept out of published records. I know there were some fatalities during those brawls. Auckland had them too.
Explain how messages – uncensored – managed to slip through to the outside world.
Others could answer that better than me. I believe some used urine, easily available but not always invisible on the paper you were given to write a letter in prison. I recall Roy using this method in Mt Eden and then trying to explain to suspicious officers why he had destroyed the result. Gentle heat was supposed to make the message clear. I have heard a few hilarious tales on this topic. One message that was read out in our Parliament by a sympathetic MP had been written on toilet paper in a Rangipo Prison Dummy cell (an isolation punishment cell), then concealed under the metal knob washer on top of the chamber pot lid. Another sophisticated system had a code that indicated a certain page of a borrowed and returned book, on which would be found tiny pin pricks under selected letters that gave the message. Jack R. wrote to, and finally proposed to, his detention camp dentist’s nurse in Taumaranui, helped by this method. A laborious way of sealing the deal but proven to be highly effective. Jack and Jean are still together after more than 60 years.(to be continued)
This was Part Two of Kyla's Questions.
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