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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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Conclusion 261


Conclusion The Great War had a significant ef fect on New Zealand society. The deaths of over 18,000 servicemen, and another 40,000 wounded, left an indelible mark on the Dominion. The repatriation of 53,000 men and women wait- ing in Britain and the Middle East to be shipped home proved a logistical nightmare. Once service personnel did return home, the state was charged with the responsibility of providing pensions, employment and a secure future. The inf luenza pandemic devastated New Zealand society, killing 8,600 civilians and military personnel. Hardest hit were Maori whose death-rate was seven times higher than that of Pakeha – New Zealand’s European settlers – and it remains by far the nation’s greatest natural dis- aster.1 As with other nations, the post-war economic downturn heaped extra pressure on the New Zealand public.2 In this atmosphere, anti-alien antagonism lost its bite. The New Zealand government’s response at the end of the war to its enemy alien problem was not surprising. It was felt that the mass release of prisoners from internment would overburden the public purse, given that many internees had no way of financially supporting themselves, and certainly no immediate employment prospects. Though the revocation of naturalization and repatriation of over 400 internees and their families was harsh, it was in keeping with the prevailing climate. Britain’s mass repatriation of 35,000 former enemy aliens provided the justification for virulent anti-alien figures such as Major Matheson to press for similar meas- ures. The deportation of...

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