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‘To Be Truly British We Must Be Anti-German’

New Zealand, Enemy Aliens and the Great War Experience, 1914-1919


Andrew Francis

This book is a study of the treatment of New Zealand’s German-speaking settlers during the course of the Great War. As with Britain’s other dominions, New Zealand’s German and Austro-Hungarian residents were subject to a raft of legislation which placed restrictions on their employment and activities, while those considered a danger to domestic security found themselves interned for the duration of the conflict. This book examines public, press and political responses to their presence, and describes how patriotic associations, trade organizations, xenophobic politicians and journalists undertook a vigorous anti-alien campaign resulting, in a number of instances, in anti-German riots.
Central to this book is an examination of the extent to which proimperial sentiment, concepts of citizenship and national identity, increasing European settlement and a progressively volatile European scene set the tone for the manner with which the dominion’s British settlers treated its enemy alien counterparts. Themes discussed include the public’s reaction to war; the government’s internment policy; the establishment of anti-German trade organizations; and the challenges facing Prime Minister William Massey, whose wish to remain fair and just towards enemy aliens often brought him into direct conflict with the more hostile anti-German elements within New Zealand society.


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Introduction 1


1 Chapter four examines the introduction and experience of intern- ment. Concentrating on Somes and Motuihi Islands, the two main camps based in Wellington and Auckland harbours respectively, this chapter also discusses the issues of class, privilege and social status as a means of cir- cumventing possible internment, and the problems such loopholes created within wider society. Somes Island, a former quarantine station for immi- grants and animals, was designated to house enemy aliens, receiving its first internees within a week of war’s declaration.26 By 1918 the island was home to over 300 internees, a mix of German and Austro-Hungarian military reservists, and civilians deemed dangerous to home security. Motuihi Island housed a substantially smaller number – on average sixty to eighty intern- ees at any one time – but they were categorized as higher status internees and therefore enjoyed greater privileges, comforts and liberty than those experienced on Somes. This chapter also discusses the visitor reports made by the American and Swiss Consuls to New Zealand, and the internees’ reactions to being incarcerated for the duration of the conf lict. Chapter five analyses the case of George von Zedlitz, professor of Modern Languages at Victoria College, who fell foul of a virulent press, public and, later, political campaign against him, which eventuated in the introduction of government legislation to dismiss him from his post.27 The focus on this one man is because his case provided the conduit for a wider series of anti-alien hysteria. The von Zedlitz af fair highlights the...

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