Somes Prisoners

Chapter Three


Note: More information on some aspects of this chapter have been located since 1996 when it was written. While errors have now been removed, some new or corrected information has also been added, including to the associated footnotes. Other material has been shifted to Chapter IV. These changes relate to the 'Wimmera' sinking, the timing of the Feilding A & P Association’s July meeting and the Lutheran church fires.

The seeds of anti-Germanism in New Zealand appeared near the end of the Boer War. This developed in response to anti-British sentiments in Germany due to alleged British atrocities during that war. This indignation took the form of resolutions passed at public meetings and demands for boycotts of German goods.[i] Thus, by 1914, after an increasing preoccupation with defence issues and Germany established as the British Empire’s foremost potential enemy, New Zealanders, along with the rest of the Empire, already hated that country.[ii] Yet, evidence shows that in the earliest days of the war the Manawatu German community was at least acknowledged as perhaps being a little different in their attitudes to the ‘enemy’ back in Germany. However, as stories of alleged atrocities in Belgium began circulating, this tolerance quickly melted away.[iii] Anti-German violence and attacks on German property occurred around the country by the end of 1914, and the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 raised the intensity of the hatred a few more notches.[iv]

Contemporary Manawatu newspapers contain many examples of local anti-German reactions. These were in response to atrocity stories created as propaganda by the British and circulated around the world for morale and control purposes, although this, of course, was not realised at the time.[v] Thus, dislodging so-called ‘enemy aliens’ from any kind of security became a point of principle. For example, in January 1915 the Manawatu Daily Times wove a convincing tale around a rat that choked on Collinson & Cunningham’s Union Jack. This rat became a “quiet and retiring” man, seemingly of German descent, who lived in Broad Street, Palmerston North. The ‘man’ had hung himself on Anniversary Day using strips torn from the store’s flag. No doubt, the German and Scandinavian community at Terrace End fielded many inquiries into the well being of likely candidates because of this racist hoax.[vi]

The New Zealand Parliamentary Debates record many similar incidents, and reveal growing frustration about this by people such as Sir James Allen, Minister of Defence. Fed up with the number of names of New Zealanders (and even dead ones) given for investigation by the Anti-German League, Allen demanded to know whether his Department’s time should be wasted with these “wild suggestions.” He considered people were searching the New Zealand Army List for “any name that has a foreign sound.”[vii] Numerous reports and Parliamentary debates surrounding legislation, and unsuccessful Bills from the latter part of 1917 all indicate the extent of anti-Germanism by that time. Why aging German and Scandinavian-born immigrants registered as aliens in November 1917, despite being naturalised, remains a mystery, but based on often misleading and highly aggressive newspaper reports, it is clear that public sympathy for their plight was sadly lacking.[viii]

In early July 1918, the Feilding A. & P. Association unanimously passed a remit urging the Government to “conscript for national work at soldiers’ pay all eligible enemy aliens, and persons of alien descent.” They claimed young men such as those from Oroua (that is, Halcombe), whom the Government would not accept for military service, or who were excluded from service due to divided loyalties, were taking advantage of the labour shortage and demanding high wages.[ix] Then the sinking of the Wimmera on 26 June 1918, with the loss of 26 lives, added a great deal more impetus to the anti-German reaction. Bound from Auckland to Sydney with 76 passengers aboard, the liner hit a mine laid a year earlier by the German raider Wolf.[x]

In response to the increased agitation around this time – a result primarily of battlefield casualties - the July and August meetings of the Palmerston North Borough Council also passed resolutions to apply pressure to the Government on the enemy alien question. Their actions were in response to letters from the Gisborne and Hastings Borough Councils. One slightly more sympathetic Palmerston North councillor pointed out on the second occasion that they could pass resolutions until they were “black in the face,” but the Imperial Government’s views would still predominate.[xi]

Throughout the war numerous people came, some by surreptitious means, to the attention of the authorities. The increasingly skeptical police were then obliged to investigate.[xii] In July 1915, ‘British Flag’ of Christchurch advised the Prime Minister that the flaxmill-owning Seifert brothers were Germans and had been “to Germany on and off for years. What Has Been Thier [sic] Mission There Take This for Granted They are worth Watching.” As it happened, all six Seifert brothers were New Zealand-born, their late father having emigrated from Saxony some 60 years earlier.[xiii] The Seiferts’ Miranui Flaxmill, at Makerua near Shannon, was New Zealand’s largest, while Alfred Seifert served as chairman of the Manawatu Daily Times Company from 1915 to 1945.[xiv] Thus, it appears that resentment at their prominence, and not their behaviour, lay behind the letter.

In addition to businessmen and ‘tall poppies’, agitators also singled out the Lutheran Church, with its obvious prominence in German communities, for special ill treatment. For example, the Evening Standard of 12 April 1917, expressed surprise at the freedom of the German residents of Halcombe and Marton:

“(The) marvel is that the authorities permit Germans meeting en masse and holding services in German, as was done at Halcombe at Easter. The extraordinary and mysterious part of the business is that an advertisement was published stating that services would be held in German in the morning, and English in the afternoon, when intercessory prayers would be offered up for ‘our soldiers and the British army.’ In view of the fact that the participants of this service were Germans, the Halcombe Germans need not be surprised to learn that not a few people have interpreted the advertisement to mean that at the morning service the prayers would be for the German soldiers [the advertisement specified ‘our soldiers’], and in the afternoon, when the service was in English, the prayers would be for the British army.”[xv] (refer to footnote)

In 1920, an Member of Parliament described the Halcombe German community as having been “one seething mass of hostility” towards the wider community during the war. He suggested that instead of dealing with just a few of them, the whole lot should have been interned.[xvi] One can only speculate on how else the Halcombe German community might have felt given the pressure they were under.

The Lutheran school in Marton became a target of John Payne, M.P., in July 1916. At that time, he erroneously claimed that this “German” school taught its pupils in their native language, while the associated church did likewise. He understood that both had closed for a while, but were now back spreading German propaganda in full swing. The Minister of Defence pointed out that the German language had been used in the church since its inception. He felt it neither necessary nor desirable to attempt to restrict the use of the language in the church. The school had closed for a time in 1915, as instruction was inefficient, but reopened once another teacher was appointed. Allen added that no-one taught German language in the school.[xvii]

The Wanganui Education Board also attacked the Marton Lutheran School. The board previously handled this school, but by April 1917 “this power was now vested in the Minister (of Education). If the power lay with the Board the school would not have been recognised.” Although conducted satisfactorily, the Board “decided to make representations to the Department (of Education) urging the closing of the school and the prohibition of free rail passes” for the children.[xviii] In this latter respect, the Government did defer to popular opinion.[xix]

In the face of highly antagonistic attitudes such as the Anti-German League’s and public bodies such as Borough Councils and Wanganui Education Board, there is evidence that the Government did try to protect the German communities.[xx] Examples are the aforementioned tolerance and guidance[xxi] shown by Sir James Allen toward the Lutheran Church and his refusal to restrict its use of German. Another is the transfer of the Marton Lutheran School to the Minister of Education’s control, thus allowing it to remain open. In August 1918, in response to questions on the Government’s treatment of enemy aliens, Allen (then Acting-Prime Minister) issued a statement explaining that if a man were hostile, he would be treated as an enemy. However, “men of enemy alien origin who had been living in New Zealand for many years and were loyal should be left alone. He knew of many who had lost sons at the front, and of one who lost two sons in action on the same day, had had a third wounded, and whose fourth son was in the Public Service and was the subject of an agitation.”[xxii]

Based on the usual anti-Lutheran newspaper reports, Australian-born Pastor Heinrich Hoffman’s appeal to the Wellington Military Service Board, held at Marton in July 1918, must have created surprise. He trained in the United States, but was evidently in Germany when the war began. Thus, as an ‘enemy alien’ despite his ancestry, Hoffmann was interned there as a prisoner of war. The United States’ authorities obtained his release, via Holland, to come to New Zealand as a minister.[xxiii]

By mid-1918, many believed that Lutheran Church bells were originally French cannons from the Franco-Prussian war. This led to the destruction of Christchurch’s Lutheran bells, while Marton’s bell (dated 1883) was also investigated.[xxiv] The most direct action, though, had occurred in July 1917, when fire consumed both the Lutheran parsonage at Rongotea and the Halcombe Lutheran Church[xxv] (refer to footnote). The Marton congregation also feared for their church.[xxvi]

Two weeks after the Rongotea fire, the Halcombe Lutheran Church succumbed to the third attempt to burn it down.[xxvii] Efforts – in 1996 - to locate reports on this fire in the three main Manawatu newspapers, failed to yield any result. This lack of publicity supported the remarks of an unknown elderly Halcombe man about 1980. Believing the fire occurred in 1918 (as recorded in the church’s history), he told members of a tour group how Pastor Christoph Dierks had, after hearing of arson threats, watched the church closely and sometimes even slept in it. When he assumed it would be safe again, he relaxed his guard. However, one night he heard sounds from the church, and it proved to be alight. The recently ill pastor saved items from the burning church, but the effort proved too much for him. Although his death on 11 December 1918 was officially attributed to the Influenza Epidemic, people felt that the strain of that night in July 1917 also played a part. This unnamed informant added that local people did not discuss this story often. It still caused too much bad feeling. The occupants of the tour bus left Halcombe shocked into silence by what they had just learned.[xxviii]


Some Reactions by the German Community

Clearly, with such negative attitudes surrounding them, the Manawatu-Rangitikei Germans would have dramatically lowered their public profile. Their descendants, and for that matter also those of the local Scandinavian community who were similarly affected, usually received only limited details of their forebears’ experiences at this time.[xxix]

The 1916 Census reveals that World War One also had a dramatic effect on the demographics of New Zealand’s German community. The median age for people of German birth at this time was 52 years, being 51 years for the 2,012 males and 53 years for the 987 females. In contrast, the median age for the overall population was only 25 years.[xxx] This advanced age in the case of the German population reflects the Vogel immigration scheme of the 1870s. It also highlights the vulnerability of these elderly people. The census also reveals that 1,875 (63%) of the 2,999 individuals of all ages claiming German birth were now naturalised British subjects. Another 1,049 (35%) still held German nationality. The remaining 2% obtained their British nationality through parentage, such as having been born in Germany to British parents, or at least to a British father.[xxxi]

In an unusual, but perhaps not unrealistic twist, the 1916 Census also reveals a dramatic reduction in the number of people claiming Germany as their birthplace since 1911 (See Appendix Table 2). Rather than simply inferring a remarkable increase in mortality rates or a mass exodus from the country since 1911, this drop of 1,016 people corresponds with a sudden increase in those claiming Russia as their birthplace. Russia’s total increased from 658 in 1911, to 1,242 in 1916. By 1921, it had dropped back to 494. Obviously, the creation of Finland and Poland (in 1917 and 1918 respectively) influenced this reduction (See Appendix Table 4). It seems likely that many ethnic Poles from the German-held portion of their former homeland preferred in 1916 to attach themselves to the Russian-held portion. By this means, they aligned themselves with an Allied country and theoretically ceased to be ‘enemy aliens’. Once Poland was re-formed, they could officially become Poles.[xxxii] It is noteworthy that almost identical rates of decline occurred in both the national figures and Manawatu-Rangitikei’s figures between 1911 and 1916. However, previous censuses reveal that the sharp national rate of decline was unusual while Manawatu-Rangitikei’s (reflecting an aging population) was not. (See Appendix Tables 2 and 3).

A further sharp reduction appears in the numbers of German-born males between the 1916 and 1921 censuses. By 1921, 634 males had ‘disappeared’ in contrast to only 177 females. While obviously in 1916 there was slightly more than twice the number of German-born men than women, this loss also highlights the demographic impact both of the repatriation of the former internees in 1919 and also of those who abandoned the country once free to do so[xxxiii] (See Appendix Table 2).

Although obtained by quite dubious and certainly ‘anti-German’ means, the Register of Aliens, collected in late November 1917, is another indicator of demographic trends regarding Germans in New Zealand. Perhaps thousands of naturalised people felt pressured to register, in addition to those required to do so.          

Appendix Table 6 indicates that in 1916, 279 people, or 9% of all people in New Zealand who gave Germany or Prussia as their birthplace in that year’s Census, lived in the four boroughs and six counties that comprised Manawatu-Rangitikei. At that time, they also made up less than 1% of the total population of Manawatu-Rangitikei.[xxxiv] Appendix Table 7 reveals that in 1917, 251 German people (aged 15 and over) registered as aliens in Manawatu-Rangitikei. They comprised 25% of  the 994 people living in Manawatu-Rangitikei who registered. Of these 251 people, at least 83% were naturalised and therefore should not have registered. Another 457 people, or 46% of the total number registered in the district, were of Scandinavian birth (Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish immigrants in this instance). At least 262 (57%) of the Scandinavians listed were naturalised. As 83% of the German registrations in Manawatu-Rangitikei were unnecessary, it seems these people felt a very strong compulsion to register. In addition, when comparing people on the Alien Register with their own naturalisation records, it is clear that numerous errors are present. In 1917, some obviously felt confused (deliberately or otherwise) about whether they were naturalised or not. 


Descendants of Germans in the NZEF       

Descendants of Germans could serve in the New Zealand Armed Forces. In fact, it became advantageous for families both during and after the war for if their son took this step.[xxxv] These soldiers had to be born after their father’s naturalisation, although those born before that time could enter service if the Minister of Defence approved.[xxxvi]

The Alien Enemy Commission held inquiries on a number of people in the services to report on their suitability for such roles. For example, in October 1915, Lieutenant Herman Wollerman of Palmerston North, Censor to the New Zealand Forces in Western Samoa, came to the attention of the House courtesy of John Payne, M.P., and mouthpiece for the Anti-German League. Wollerman was New Zealand-born and had held a commission in the 5th (Wellington) Regiment since February 1912.[xxxvii]

Colonel R. Logan, Administrator of Samoa, also submitted a report on Lieutenant Wollerman to the Alien Enemies Commission. Wollerman, who studied languages at college in Wellington and spoke German[xxxviii], discovered how Germans in Western Samoan communicated with Germany. His work led to the conviction of Mr Hanson, Manager of the Deutsche Handels-unt Plantagen-Gesellschaft, the German firm that dominated the copra planting and trading business in Western Samoa.[xxxix] Colonel Logan, if not the people dependent on that and other German companies which ceased to operate around this time, was therefore well satisfied with the abilities and the loyalty of his censor.[xl] Wollerman’s father, prominent wine and spirit merchant Herman Wollerman senior, was a decorated Franco-Prussian War veteran. He must have felt divided over his German heritage and his role as a parent in this later war,[xli] especially when forced to retire in 1916 due to wartime prejudices.[xlii]

Some of those investigated for the Anti-German League were men with pre-war careers in the New Zealand Forces. Thus, when war broke out their experience was essential, even if not necessarily in the front lines.[xliii] Lieutenant William Setter of Palmerston North served in the Middle East with the 6th (Manawatu) Mounted Rifles, yet no evidence exists showing his loyalty was ever investigated. Ironically, of the eighteen men whose portraits appear in the Kelvin Grove First World War Roll of Honour, only Setter was either an officer or of German descent.[xliv] Lance Corporal Albert Zeinert, first cousin to Lieutenant Wollerman, served on the Western Front. A volunteer, despite family concerns that he would be fighting his cousins, he won the Military Medal by capturing a gun behind German lines.[xlv]

[i]  Johnson, p.11.

[ii]  Ibid., p.13.

[iii]  For example, contrast the Manawatu Daily Times editorials of  31 October 1914 p.4 and 13 May 1915 p.4.

[iv]  Johnson, pp.89-90.

[v]  Michael Sanders & Philip M. Taylor, British Propaganda during the First World War, 1914 -18 (London, 1982). Particular reference here is to the Corpse Conversion Factory stories on pages 146-8. These appeared in the Manawatu Daily Times on 18 April 1917 p.6(4) and 23 April 1917 5(3). This story, but not its origin or even the war, remained well-known to the present in my own family.

[vi]  Manawatu Evening Standard, 23 January 1915, p.5; Manawatu Daily Times, 25 January 1915,       p.4; also Johnson, p.102.

[vii]  NZPD., Vol. 175 (1916), p.273, 276.

[viii]  Burr (1995), p.140-6.

[ix]  Manawatu Daily Times, 9 July 1918 p.6(3).

[x]  Note: Correction – 1999:  C.W.N. Ingram, New Zealand Shipwrecks, 1795-1970 (Wellington, 1971), p. 331-2; also for example, Manawatu Daily Times 27 July 1918, p. 5(6). The original source used proved incorrect. That was Robin Bromby, German Raiders of the South Seas: The naval threat to Australia/New Zealand 1914-1917 (Lane Cove, New South Wales, 1985), p.143.     

[xi]  Ibid., 17 July 1918 p.5(7); 25 July 1918 p.6(4), 21 August 1918 p.5(7).

[xii]  Johnson, p.87.

[xiii]  Report of Detective Sergeant Quirke, 1 September 1915, AAAB 478/10d Seifert Brothers, NA.

[xiv]  Burr (1995), p.143; also Bob Ayson, Miranui - The story of New Zealand’s largest flax mill (Wellington, 1977), p.2.

[xv]  Manawatu Evening Standard, 12 April 1917 p.5(6). Note: Additional Information - 1999: On 12 August 1914, the German population of Halcombe were invited to a meeting, held in the town’s German schoolroom, “to consider the advisability of helping the British Empire in its time of trouble.” At this meeting, the “members of the Lutheran faith” who attended, decided unanimously to declare their loyalty and to support the Empire both directly and indirectly. They also decided to take up a special collection for the War fund, in which they raised £5/12/-. Feilding Star: 12/8/1914 3(3), 13/8/1914 3(3), 27/8/1914 3(2).

[xvi]  NZPD., Vol. 186 (1920), p.587.

[xvii]  NZPD., Vol. 177 (1916), p.27.

[xviii]  Manawatu Evening Standard, 20 April 1917 p.5(3).

[xix]  Johnson, p.99.

[xx]  For example, see NZPD, Vol. 186 (1920), p.456.

[xxi]  See  Chapter IV, subtitle ‘The Rehabilitation of the German Communities’; also Johnson, p.99.

[xxii]  Manawatu Evening Standard 9 August 1918 p.2(3). Sir James Allen gave a similar interview published in the Manawatu Daily Times, 27 July 1918 p.5(6-7).

[xxiii] Manawatu Daily Times, 26 July 1918 p.8(6); also         Jean A. King, The Lutheran Story: A Brief History of the Lutheran Church in New Zealand 1843-1993 (Palmerston North, 1994), p.53.

[xxiv]  Johnson, p.98; also Manawatu Daily Times, 17 July 1918 p.5(7).

[xxv]  Note: Additional Information – 1999:  The oral history on this subject suffered the effects of time, with the Halcombe fire described as have occurred in 1918. Due to the circumstances, information was also kept to a minimum at the time. The Rongotea parsonage was burnt down just after 1:00 am. on Monday morning, 2 July 1917. The parsonage had consisted of a four-room cottage, but the church trustees had pulled down two rooms and were having it converted to a five-room house for the pastor, Mr Hassold. Work was to have been completed on the day of the fire. Lost also were Mr Hassold’s furniture and library, and the builders’ uninsured tools. Details were published in the Evening Standard 2/7/1917 4(7); Feilding Star 3/7/1917 4(2) and the Manawatu Daily Times 3/7/1917 5(5), although the Times erroneously stated that the fire occurred on the Sunday morning. The Halcombe Lutheran Church was burnt down at around 2:00 am. On Monday, 16 July 1917. This event warranted only a tiny item in the Feilding Star of 16/7/1917 3(3), which added that no particulars were then known.

[xxvi]  Minutes of 10th Conference, 25-27 February 1919, MS Papers 2200 CR 1/1, Lutheran Church of N.Z. Annual Convention Minutes 1907-1920, pp.149-150, WTU.

[xxvii]  Minutes of conference 25-27 February 1919, MS Papers 2200 CR 1/1, Lutheran Church of N.Z. Annual Convention Minutes 1907-1920: 149, WTU.

[xxviii]  Halcombe Lutheran Church, 1875-1953, 75th Anniversary Booklet, MS Papers 2200, Folder PR 100/2, WTU; also Burial 56 ‘Pastor C. Dierks’, Marton Lutheran Cemetery Records, (On N.Z. Society of Genealogists’ microfiche); Oral Source: Jim Lundy, Pohangina (the tour bus organiser), September 1996.

[xxix]  For example, see Burr (1995), pp.140-6.

[xxx]  Census of N.Z., 1916, ‘Birthplaces’: 4-8.

[xxxi]  Ibid., pp.14-5.

[xxxii]  Ibid., 1911, ‘Birthplaces of the People’, p.14; 1916 ‘Birthplaces’, p.3; 1921                 ‘Birthplaces’, p.12.

[xxxiii]  Ibid., 1921, ‘Birthplaces’, p.12.

[xxxiv]   Ibid., 1916, ‘Birthplaces’, pp.21-2, 27-8, 39-40, 45-6.

[xxxv]   For example, Under-Secretary, Internal Affairs, to Messrs. Moore & Bergin, Foxton, 22 February 1923 and 13 March 1924, re naturalisation, IA 20/1/787, L. Eder, NA; also Mounted Constable J. Droblenski to Sub-Inspector Hutton, 24 September 1919, re employment on wharves, AAAB 478/5bf d24/21/1748, O. Huse, NA.

[xxxvi]  Major-General A.W. Robin to Minister of Defence, 7 July 1917, AAAR 477/ad, Procedure regarding aliens, NA.

[xxxvii]  NZPD, Vol. 174 (1915), p.673.

[xxxviii]  Oral Source, Olga Zeinert, Palmerston North, daughter of Lieutenant Wollerman’s cousin, Albert Zeinert, 16 October 1996.

[xxxix]   Mary Boyd, ‘The Record in Western Samoa to 1945’, in Angus Ross (ed.), New Zealand’s Record in the Pacific Islands in the Twentieth Century (Wellington, 1969), pp.116-7.

[xl]  Col. R. Logan to The General Officer Commanding N.Z. Forces, 26 January 1916, AAAR 472/3ab H.F.A. Wollerman, NA.

[xli]  Report by Chairman of the Alien Enemies Commission, 31 January 1916, AAAB 472/30b Record No. 42 H.F.A. Wollerman, NA.

[xlii]  The Australian Brewer’s Journal, 20 September 1907, pp.815-6; Manawatu Evening Standard, 20 October 1921 ‘Obituary’.

[xliii]  For example: NZPD, Vol. 175 (1916), p.275 (Captain Rockstrow) and Vol. 177 (1916), p.260 (Lieutenant Just).

[xliv]  Burr (1995), p.141; also despite a search at National Archives, no file reference for Setter was found.

[xlv]  Oral Source, Olga Zeinert, Palmerston North, the daughter of No. 47495 Lance-Corporal Albert Zeinert M.M., 4 September 1996 and 16 October 1996; also W.H. Cunningham, C.A.L. Treadwell & J.S. Hanna, The Wellington Regiment, NZEF 1914-1919 (Wellington, 1928), p.342. In fact, Zeinert won a second Military Medal for a similar action only to have the papers blown up before arrangements were complete. After the war, he had no interest in taking the steps to collect it.

© Val Burr, 2003