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Jack Rogers Man of peace prepared to suffer for his convictions
Part 1 - Influences and decisions

Dorothy - 31/10/08


Jack is a staunch pacifist who paid the price for his convictions when he was held in a prison or a Detention Camp for over four years during World War Two. The peace movement in New Zealand today attracts considerable support and pacifists can express their opposition to war as they did during the war in Vietnam without facing prosecution and possible imprisonment as a result.

We have to wonder whether this tolerant attitude would continue if New Zealand were involved in another major war, and hope that the situation of Conscientious Objectors (C.O.s) would be very different from what they faced during World Wars 1 and 2.

Few of those imprisoned in New Zealand during World War 2 are still alive to tell their story. Some have recorded their memories in "No Other Option Experiences of New Zealand Conscientious Objectors and Supporters", published by the Christian Pacifist Society in 1989. In "Out in the Cold: pacifists and conscientious objectors in New Zealand during World War II" David Grant gives a clear factual description of the people, the relevant events and the issues involved. This is a comprehensive account, including experiences in detention camps, based on the author's MA thesis. Grant has used both archival and oral sources, interviewing over 50 people. He has also drawn information from private papers, diaries and letters as well as official and newspaper material.

Jack's early life
Jack was born in 1918 in Wanganui just two weeks before the Armistice.

Family connections with the Labour Party
His father was a Labour Party supporter. He spent some years in London but came back to New Zealand in his late teens when his father died. He got jobs like working in the coal mines. Of course the West Coast was where the Labour Party had strong roots. Some of the Labour leaders refused to join the armed forces in World War I and were imprisoned for one or two years.

Jack explains, "I believe that one policy plank of the party was that they would not agree to conscription of manpower unless the wealth of the country was also conscripted. The leaders of the movement were firm on that and refused to be conscripted unless that policy was adopted.

"The leader of the Party, Harry Holland, who was a Member of Parliament, was a pacifist, but he died just before the Labour Party came into power in 1935. I wonder whether if he had not died the Party would have been as eager as they were to drop that policy plank."

When Jack was given a month in Wanganui prison early in World War 2 he was told that he should feel honoured because it was in that cell that Paddy Webb, a prominent member of the Labour Party, was held because of his pacifist views during World War 1. He was a Minister in the Cabinet during World War II.

Regular church attendance and involvement
As he grew up Jack attended church every Sunday with his family and listened with real interest to the sermons. From boyhood he had no doubt that the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount were meant to be taken seriously. Especially around the time of Anzac Day the parson would preach a sermon on the theme that "Greater love hath no man than this - that he lay down his life for his friends." Surely this was not applicable to soldiers, Jack believed.

At school the children were regularly told the story of Simpson the man who at Gallipoli used his donkey to take wounded soldiers out of the battle zone to where they could receive treatment.

Jack was a keen Bible Class member and led a Bible Class.

Jack looks back on his secondary education at Wanganui Technical College.
"They held cadet training on Wednesday afternoons. At first this was held on the playing fields, but after about three weeks we were about to take the Oath of Allegiance. I had read Archie Baxter's book "We will not cease " and thought that the Oath of Allegiance was a nonsense. The Bible says that no man can serve two masters. The monarch's authority was undemocratic.

"I wanted to refuse to take the oath. I was only eleven years old. I had no one to turn to for discussion on what was involved. My father was the Chairman of the Board of Governors, and I didn't want to involve him. When the time came the platoon was marched to a schoolroom, one of the boys who was the Sergeant of the platoon, read the Oath indistinctly and that was all that happened nothing to sign, no debate, no discussion None of our teachers who led us in training (some in uniform) was present."

Training in shooting at the rifle range was also a problem for Jack, but he decided that he would have to accept it.

Some time later when he had Matriculation and at fifteen was still too young to go to University he returned to secondary school for a sixth year. Then he had an offer of a job at the freezing works as an electrical apprentice. On the following week there was to be bayonet practice attacking a stuffed sack, and Jack realised that he would have to make a stand, so gratefully accepted the job which meant that he left school.

Jack began studying with an overseas correspondence school for his A.M.I.E.E. It was a four year course. To try to finish the course he left his job and studied hard. He passed all his subjects except electro-technology.

Conscription brought in
Shortly after he was eighteen, conscription was brought in and Jack was called up. He declined to take a military medical examination, so he was summonsed to the Magistrates Court where he was sentenced to a month in Wanganui Prison.

Jack and all his family had enormous respect for their father, but as there was no easy communication between him and his children it was difficult for Jack to discuss the issues involved in his pacifist stand. Jack understands that his father was influenced by the environment in which he was brought up.

"Dad was such a busy man. He was Mayor, but he didn't get a lot of money for that in Wanganui. He had worked on the wharf and in the freezing works and he was also secretary of a union. I hardly knew him as a father. I saw him at tea time when we were all around the table, but Mum would always be saying, 'Sit up and be quiet because Dad's had a busy day and he's tired.' After tea he would go back to do more work on the trams or something like that. He was also appointed to the Legislative Council in about 1941.

"Much as I wanted to talk to him I couldn't, and I realised my Dad probably felt much the same. He did not know how to get over that hidden barrier. Neither of us could take that step. We did not have the self confidence, I suppose."

Provision to appeal
"They offered anybody who thought he was a conscientious objector the chance to go before an Appeal Board which consisted of a magistrate, the Crown Prosecutor and a representative of both the employers and the workers organisation."

If a farmer put in an appeal the same Board would assess whether his son could be spared from the farm to serve in the war. The same process was followed for people in what was deemed to be essential industry. If Jack had not resigned his job as an electrician to complete his studies he would most likely have been exempted from service on those grounds.

The Quakers were automatically accepted as being Conscientious Objectors. In the Great War they formed some qualified people into a medical unit behind the lines. The story is that it did not work as when the medical orderlies were called to pick up the wounded during a ceasefire the Quaker unit brought the most needy, but the military authorities expected them to bring back first the men who were most likely to be treated and able to return to war service.

The Christian Pacifist Society
Jack was strongly influenced by people in the Christian Pacifist Society.

The main people in the Society were the Rev. Ormond Burton and Arch Barrington, both living in Wellington.

Ormond Burton was a hero from the Great War who had been decorated for gallantry. Burton had fought in the war because he believed the destruction of Prussian militarism would usher in a new age of peace and freedom through forgiveness and reconciliation. Horrified and disillusioned with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, he became a resolute convert to Christian pacifism. He spent much of World War 2 in prison.

Arch Barrington was the secretary of the WEA (Workers Educational Association) in Wellington and was secretary of the Christian Pacifist Society. Arch would put out a weekly bulletin giving people's views and lists of membership and news of members throughout New Zealand, mostly a list of the men in prison.

The Christian Pacifist Society strong in Wellington
In Wellington the Society organised a team of street speakers led by Ormond Burton. They promoted their pacifist views and were imprisoned for three or six months. Ormond Burton spent several terms in prison. One was for standing on his soap-box speaking to an illegal gathering in Manners St, Wellington, holding up his Bible and saying "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." This resulted in his being arrested immediately and sentenced to two years and six months in prison for sedition.

Jack's interview with the Appeal Board
Although the Japanese were not in the war at that time the first question Jack was asked at the Appeal Board hearing was "What would you do if the Japs landed on the beach at Castlecliff near Wanganui and came to rape your mother?"

Jack's reply was, "I don't know, but I hope I would do my utmost to protect her by standing between her and her attacker, but I wouldn't have a gun."

He does not remember being asked anything else. There was no sympathy, no support, during this first and daunting experience of being in a court. One official said that the young men were not sincere but had been coached in what to say, and that they were being manipulated by old men sitting in their comfortable houses and telling them what to do which Jack says was blatantly untrue.

In Wanganui only about ten per cent of the Conscientious Objectors who were applicants were granted exemption from service, but in Christchurch about thirty per cent were successful in their appeals.

Jack's appeal was unsuccessful so he was summoned to the Drill Hall. He refused to comply with this order.

The next happening was the arrival at the house of a policeman delivering a 'bluie' a summons to appear at the Magistrates Court in Wanganui.

In the court he read his own statement. To his surprise his young minister came to the court to support him. Then his father, who was Mayor of the city and a well-known public figure, also spoke on his behalf, and asked if as a father he could serve his son's sentence for him. The magistrate replied that it was matter of law, not of conscience.

Jack was given a sentence of a month in prison

This hearing was reported in The Wanganui Chronicle, on Tuesday, July 20, 1941. The heading for the report was
BALLOTEE DEFAULTER
MONTH'S IMPRISONMENT IMPOSED
Refused to submit to medical examination by the army doctors
Father asks to serve the sentence

Three or four years ago Jack was able to get a copy of this report from the Wanganui library newspaper files.

At the end of his month's imprisonment he was released but was met at the prison doors and re-arrested by the military police without any formality and taken to Trentham Military Camp.

After three months in the barracks he was released. He was escorted to the newly built base Detention Camp near Rotorua. He was finally discharged (on parole) at the end of February 1946.

In Part 2 Jack describes life in the detention camp.


Related articles
Jack Rogers Man of peace prepared to suffer for his convictions
Part 2 - Jack describes life in the detention camp.
Part 3 - Jack's own account of "The Mail Run" Part 4 - for some happier events.



 
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