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Jack Rogers Man of peace prepared to suffer for his convictions
Part 2 - The years in detention

Dorothy - 07/11/10


In 1941 Jack Rogers had his appeal against military service as a conscientious objector (C.O.) turned down and he was sentenced to detention for the duration of the war.

In 1989 Jack wrote of his experiences in detention in No Other Option - Experiences of Conscientious Objectors and Supporters during World War 2.
Paragraphs from his account there are quoted with permission from the Christian Pacifist Society. Jack's more recent comments on the script are included in brackets.

Describing his time in Trentham Military Camp he wrote:
"This was to be a remarkable experience. There was already one C. O. here (Ray Firmston) in his fifth week of detention: [I was the second.] when we left three months later there were twenty of us. We were kept first some in the 'main guardhouse' and then some in the 'quarter guard' and finally held captive in a special compound built alongside a vast dump of full petrol drums. On several occasions we were marched out and given 'military orders' to perform several jobs such as screening a pile of dirt.- which we refused, and even pointed out that they had forgotten the shovels! It was obvious that the military had been told to detain us until other provisions were made and that they did not like this one bit. Here we were being marched about the Camp, escorted by bayonet wearing soldiers (side-armed), in full civilian clothing and even allowed to mix in daylight hours in the tiny guardhouse with the guards and the rest of the six prisoners."

Jack's awareness of the feelings of others
As Jack tells of his memories his humanity is evident. He of course remembers his own sufferings, but he shows concern about the other prisoners and even the soldiers who guarded them.

In No Other Option he wrote:
"One day a small group of us were being 'marched' to the washroom and our guards [unwittingly] took us along the route of a complete 'march past' of the 7000 soldiers in the camp, and set us on a collision course. Everyone in the column and in that parade would have seen us. One Major literally rushed at us screaming abuse our feelings were mostly sympathy for our unfortunate escorts. A new set of rules about a mile long was the result. Strangely there were few confrontations or abusive criticisms made within my hearing. Officers were mostly polite; some seemed embarrassed by our presence. On one occasion an enthusiastic guardsman overreacted to a remark by one of our chaps and nicked him with his bayonet, but this was the exception."

"The 'pain' was not all on our side. One day the new sergeant of the guard (changed every 24 hours) took one look at his prisoner and turned swiftly away.

"Later in the evening he unbolted my cell door, sat on the end of the bed obviously in great distress, and said, 'Jack, you are in civilian clothes and have money on you? Please walk out of this guardhouse and through the main gates to your freedom. Everyone here is under my orders and no one will stop you." Only four months earlier we had enjoyed the very close friendship of a Bible Class Easter Camp I can only guess at the mental and emotional anguish he must have gone through!"

Jack did not follow his suggestion which could have had serious consequences for both of them.

"Another schoolmate was also Sergeant of the Guard but although seldom more than a few feet away he never acknowledged my presence."

Reactions of outsiders
"The Church organisations did not seem to know we were there for a long time, but later the Rev. Ivory was a sympathetic visitor.

"On several occasions I was visited by M.P.'s [and Cabinet Ministers] some of whom had had prison experience in the 'Great' War but there was never any offer of dialogue; probably they had been asked to keep an eye on the military. They asked the sort of "Are you all right in yourself?" question that was to be repeated ad-infinitum by officialdom throughout the years of detention.

"Some of us prisoners offered to 'work' in the V.D. hospital across the way while we were detained with qualifications but this was turned down by the commandant, a man who seemed to be much respected."

Sentence of detention for the duration of the war
After three months in Trentham military camp the prisoners were taken to the Magistrate's Court in Wellington and were sentenced to detention for the duration of the war. They were taken by train to Hamilton and then to Rotorua. From there they were transported to Strathmore Base Camp on the edge of the Kaingaroa Forest.

The Government set up a new Department of National Service to oversee the Detention Camps. Records from these camps were kept under a separate authority so that when politicians were accused of keeping conscientious objectors under military authorities this accusation could be denied. Sadly all the archives of the Detention Camp system were lost when the Wellington building where they were stored burnt down soon after the war ended.

Jack writes about the special Detention Camps.
"The intention of the Government to put us all into special Detention Camps was announced while we were in Trentham and discussion and soul-searching as to whether it would be 'right' for us to co-operate in these became the major issue. Indeed it was to become an ongoing and rather divisive topic throughout the rest of those long years.

"When, after three months in military detention, I was released into the arms of a new penal authority [The Department of National Service] I went with considerable misgivings and lack of conviction that this was indeed the right course to follow! We were all very much influenced by the example of Archie Baxter's resistance in the Great War on the one hand. On the other our very great respect for Ormond Burton seemed to suggest a course of acceptance of whatever punishment might be meted out to us."

Jack was interviewed three times by Mr Greenberg, the Director of the Detention Camps a stressful experience because of his changing moods. He would be using gentle persuasion aimed to get Jack to change his pacifist beliefs, and then would suddenly switch to threats, emphasising his right to have Jack committed to a mental hospital.

Move to Hautu
After six weeks at Strathmore the prisoners were taken by truck to the new camp on prison land at Hautu. They travelled to Turangi and turned left and went inland towards the bush.

Overview of Hautu Detention Camp in 1943 Compound of huts at Hautu
Overview of Hautu Detention Camp in 1943 Compound of huts at Hautu
Photo Source Jack Rogers
Click on the image to view a larger version

Hautu Detention Camp was used from June 1942 to April 1946. It accommodated 150 C.O.s of the 800 men who were conscripted into prisons and camps in WW2. The camera was smuggled into the camp. The three reels of photographs were likewise got into camp and smuggled out in a CO-made rolling pin! The photos were taken through a buttonhole in a man's jacket.

Hautu was one of ten detention camps. It became known as the 'Bad Boys' Camp".

Jack recalls the early days at Hautu
"The fencing was still being finished when they arrived. There were sixteen levels of barbed wire, and there was an apron on the top to prevent prisoners from escaping. At the corners three wires were firmly fastened with a brace to keep the wires stiff. Climbing over this and jumping down in the dark afforded a better way to escape than climbing between the wires if you were on your own!

"After some discussion we prisoners decided that each man should make his own decision about a possible form of protest.

"Any act of disobedience which the prisoners used to declare their resistance resulted in three weeks in a punishment area known as the 'dummy'. The area was secured with manuka enclosed in barbed wire. Punishment included solitary confinement and reduced rations, huts with windows covered with canvas, and locked doors for all but thirty minutes a day of exercise time in a small area surrounding the huts.

"Winter brought harsh cold weather. If the weather was wet the prisoners might not get their exercise time. In summer the temperature outside reached thirty degrees Celsius. We had to lie on the floor the coolest place dressed only in our underwear. The only reading material permitted was a Bible or a hymn book. I chose a hymn book.

"In the corner of the compound was a toilet a long drop - and I found later that prisoners had communicated by notes on toilet paper stuffed in between the overlapping boards in the wall. Someone had managed to obtain a pencil or a fountain pen no ballpoint pens in those days."

Letters were written in code and smuggled out of the camp. Jack was involved in a daring Mail Run which is described in his story The Mail Run.

Read Part 3 for Jack's own account of "The Mail Run" and Part 4 for some happier events.


Related articles
Jack Rogers Man of peace prepared to suffer for his convictions
Part 1 - Influences and decisions
Part 3 - Jack's own account of "The Mail Run"
Part 4 - For some happier events.



 
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