Somes Prisoners

Chapter Four


After four years of prejudice against them, the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918 marked the point at which New Zealand’s German (and for that matter its Scandinavian and other northern European immigrant) population, began anticipating a return to normality. Of course, after years of propaganda and the return, or failure to return, of so many soldiers, they doubtless knew that the country’s anti-German sentiments would take time to heal.


The Internees

If newspapers of the day are to be believed, internees on Somes Island initially refused to accept that their homeland had lost the war. Some said they would only believe this “after they had been told so in Berlin”.[i] The Influenza Epidemic struck the island at the same time, one fatality being Lieutenant Jack, the Assistant Commandant. [ii]  Yet, only a few internees developed the flu and these were described as mild cases.[iii]

With so many people set to return from overseas, the Health Department required that Somes Island be reinstated as a quarantine facility. Thus, in December 1918, internees held there transferred to the former Featherston Military Camp. At the same time and for the same reason, internees from Motuihi Island transferred to Narrow Neck Camp.[iv]

Disposing of prisoners of war altogether became a concern at this time. In December 1918, the Attorney-General, Hon. Sir Francis Bell, advised Parliament that New Zealand had to be guided in this matter by the British Government and partly according to the terms of the proposed Peace Convention.[v]

The Paris Peace Conference began on 18 January 1919, its first priority being to draft the Covenant of the League of Nations. Germany was finally presented with the draft of the peace treaty on 7 May. Despite Germany’s largely ineffective protests against the treaty’s conditions, it signed on 28 June. Finally ratified by the German Government on 9 July, the Treaty of Versailles came into effect on 10 January 1920.[vi]

Part VI, Section I of the Treaty of Versailles dealt with the repatriation of German prisoners of war and interned civilians. This required that repatriation take place quickly and that the entire cost be borne by Germany. Once back in Germany, authorities there were to ensure that former prisoners reached their homes without delay. Where former prisoners did not wish to be repatriated, Allied Governments retained the right to repatriate them, send them to a neutral country or allow them to remain within their own territories.[vii]

Plans for repatriating the majority of internees were underway by February 1919. Finally, three months later, 410 German and Austrian prisoners of war, 242 being from Featherston and 168 from Narrow Neck, boarded the Willochra at Wellington. No doubt most were German Army reservists, but included in their number were prisoners from Western Samoa as well as Count von Luckner and his crew. The ship sailed for Plymouth, via Sydney, where they collected about 150 more prisoners from Holdsworthy Concentration Camp.[viii]

Despite their request to stay in New Zealand, supported by favourable reports from  Foxton police, the two Eder brothers were also repatriated. Possibly the model of the raider Seeadler that they made for Von Luckner, who gave them £3 for their trouble, may have gone against them at this point.[ix]

Remaining prisoners stayed at the Featherston Internment Camp. In February 1919, former Wellington consul Eberhard Focke had written to Sir James Allen on behalf of 60 men seeking parole for those who were to remain in New Zealand. Of these, 37 were aged 40 years or more, 26 were married, and only 11 had been in New Zealand less than 10 years. 16 were naturalised, although the Revocation of Naturalisation Act had since revoked these. [x] When questioned in the House in September 1919 about why these men were still held (despite the continuing hardship of some wives and children), Sir James Allen stated that they would be released once the Peace Treaty was finally ratified.[xi] By this, he presumably meant the date the Treaty came into effect.

With substantial quantities of military equipment arriving back in New Zealand in late 1919 and early 1920, the Defence Department faced a storage problem. Thus, the department decided that all buildings in the Featherston Camp and half in the Trentham Military Camp would become “great army stores.”[xii] As a result, in early December 1919, most internees still at Featherston were finally, if a little prematurely, freed to make room for equipment.

Although some former internees still faced restrictions, many - including Max Bornhold - were released unconditionally. On 5 December, he received indefinite parole and a Railway Warrant to travel to Mangaweka.[xiii] His only requirement was to report to the Mangaweka Police when he reached the town, to learn how provisions of The Aliens’ Act applied to him. The next day saw Bornhold officially released from his brief parole. Prisoner releases reduced the need for guards at the camp. While Christmas Leave for guards was considered, the trauma of  readjustment likely to be experienced by many newly released internees was not.[xiv]

In August 1920,  Bornhold finally received notification that he was interned on the advice of the Crown Law Office for breaching War Regulations prohibiting the sending of money to Germany.[xv] Probably many repatriated or less determined internees never knew the official reason they were interned. The disillusioned Bornhold paid his own £40 fare to be repatriated back to his family in Germany, departing with two other former internees on the SS Dorset on 19 March 1921.[xvi]


The Rehabilitation of German communities

In March 1916, in response to a request from Lutheran leaders, Sir James Allen cautioned the church against holding their annual conference at Upper Moutere. He pointed to the wider population’s current preoccupation with Germans meeting for “evil purposes”. A Lutheran conference at this time would therefore “be looked upon with disfavour and cause a good deal of comment.”[xvii] Thus, in February 1919, after “an enforced vacation of five years,”[xviii] the Evangelical Lutheran Concordia Conference of New Zealand finally held its tenth annual meeting. During the proceedings those present unanimously passed a ‘Resolution of Loyalty’, copies of which were sent to the Acting Prime Minister (Sir James Allen) and the Governor-General. This read:

 We the ministers and delegates, officially representing the Evangelical Concordia Conference of New Zealand, assembled at Upper Moutere, do hereby place on record our thanks to almighty God for His mercies during the Great War and for the successful end to the same; and do furthermore gratefully acknowledge the fair treatment and protection we, British subjects of German descent, have received at the hands of the Government of New Zealand: finally do we reaffirm our undivided loyalty to our beloved Sovereign, His Majesty King George V, the British Empire and the Dominion of New Zealand. [xix]

By February 1919, the Rongotea Lutheran congregation had purchased a new parsonage and still hoped to open a church school in the town.[xx] However, strong anti-German attitudes lasted in Rongotea even after the war. Claims that local Germans had celebrated German victories in the town square led to persecution of many families. As a result, in late 1921 or early 1922, in order to prevent their children being tormented at school, the Lutherans relocated their old church away from the state school, and renovated it as a Lutheran day school. On Sunday, 5 February 1922, the evening before it was due to open, the building mysteriously burnt down.[xxi]

Responding to an anti-German report of the fire in the Manawatu Evening Standard, Pastor Hoffmann protested that the school was to have been a Lutheran, not a German, day school. He added that such mistaken impressions as those expressed in the paper, “created in the public mind cause only (for) strife and bitterness.” Contrary to the report, “no word (of) German would be taught (at the school).”[xxii] Allegedly, a £25 bet was the cause of this fire. The arsonist, although known by some locals, never faced justice.[xxiii]

L.L. Ziersch, Rongotea’s Lutheran teacher, advertised in the Manawatu Evening Standard that the new school would open on 21 May 1923. He took the precaution, though, of announcing that the Lutheran children’s education would be similar to that in state schools, and that the English language would be “the sole medium of education.”[xxiv] Even so, the school only operated until the end of 1924, its pupils being re-admitted to the roll of Rongotea (State) School in February 1925.[xxv]

Another part of the healing process was the freedom to act on knowledge that the German population had suffered terribly in the war and needed outside help. Thus, late in 1919, an unnamed group, apparently of women, sent a circular around the country announcing such an appeal. Its prime mover, Mrs A. Langguth of Auckland, was possibly the wife of Eugen A.E. Langguth, a merchant of Auckland, and the former consul to Austria-Hungary. He had been interned on Motuihi Island. The appeal’s Joint Secretaries were Mrs Julia Lutz, of Kilbirnie, and Miss E. Ingeborg Joosten, of Karori, the sister of prominent Somes Island internees, Karl and Henry Joosten. The circular drew attention to the situation back in Germany:

It cannot be unknown to you that dire distress, misery and suffering are stalking though our Homeland, and all, in particular the middle and poorer classes, are the greatest sufferers. Among the most helpless are the innocent women and children. Thousands of these have died for want of food and clothing, thousands of Babies for want of Milk.

These are unfortunate facts which have been fully borne out by various cables appearing in the Daily Papers, no less than by private communications from Home.

It is especially on the behalf of these Babies, Children and Women that we now appeal to you for your help and assistance to alleviate in some measure this terrible distress and suffering.[xxvi]

A copy of the request list arrived at the Marton home of Rev. Hoffmann, but for fear of breaking the law, he reacted by contacting the Marton police. In due course, the police advised him that official permission had been obtained to run the appeal. Food and clothing could be collected from anyone, but only the German community could be canvassed for money. Lutheran ministers were also free to appeal to their congregations.[xxvii]


The fate of the Anti-Alien Legislation

Although reasons for the enactment of anti-alien legislation had disappeared, corresponding will to revoke or modify these Acts took longer to develop. In fact, amendments to some key Acts strengthened them by closing loop-holes in the immediate post-war period.

Passed in 1919, the Undesirable Immigrants Exclusion Act included a clause preventing German or Austria-Hungarian subjects and former subjects from landing in New Zealand without permission from the Attorney-General. State borders under this Act were those in force on 4 August 1914.[xxviii] The 1917 Registration of Aliens Act dealt only with aliens already in the country or who might come in the future. It overlooked those in New Zealand in 1917 but yet to become aliens. This category included women married to an alien who thereby lost their British nationality, those who had turned 15 since the original Act was passed, and, ironically, those whose naturalisation was revoked under the Revocation of Naturalisation Act. Until the passing of an amendment in 1920, there was no means to compel such people to register. [xxix] The Revocation of Naturalisation Amendment Act, 1920, dealt with the problem of retrieving naturalisation papers from people whose naturalisation papers had been revoked.[xxx] The Somes Island internees became particularly adept at misplacing theirs after they were denaturalised en masse.[xxxi] In 1923, the British Nationality and Status of Aliens (in New Zealand) Act repealed and replaced the Revocation of Naturalisation Act and its amendment.[xxxii] The same year, the Registration of Aliens Suspension Act suspended rather than revoked that Act and its amendment. ‘Friendly’ aliens visiting the country for business or pleasure had considered them an irritant.[xxxiii] The Aliens Act repealed those Acts in 1948, alternative regulations to control aliens having been used during World War Two.[xxxiv]

Ludwig Eder of Foxton attempted to have his family naturalised in February 1923, but  regulations still in force to prevented the naturalisation of people of enemy origin. If near relatives had served overseas in the Allied Forces, this could have helped their case. By 1925, the rules had relaxed enough to permit their naturalisation.[xxxv]


The German Consular Archives

The New Zealand Government finally offered in 1923 to return the documents unlawfully seized in 1914, requesting that an appropriate representative of the German government take possession of them. As German Consulates were still not permitted in New Zealand and Australia, the German Government postponed receiving the material until consular relations were re-established. In 1926, an honorary Consulate opened at Wellington, thereafter changing to a professional Consulate ten years later. As the relevant documentation in Germany became lost during World War Two, there is now no evidence indicating what became of these archives. The New Zealand Government again seized the archives of the Wellington Consulate General “after” 1939, returning them in 1954.[xxxvi]

[i]  Feilding Star 15 November 1918 p. 2(3)

[ii]  Ibid., 16 November 1918 p. 2(3).

[iii]  Ibid., 22 November 1918 p.2(4).

[iv]  Ibid., 13 December 1918 p.3(5), 17 December 1918 p.2(7).

[v]  NZPD, Vol. 183 (1918), p.1042.

[vi]  Encyclopedia Britannica, (15th Edition, Chicago, 1987) Vol. 21, p.753.

[vii]  British and Foreign State Papers, Vol. 112 (1919), pp.100-2; also Evening Post, 9 May 1919 p.7(7).

[viii]  Evening Post, 13 May 1919 p.7(7), 14 May 1919 p.7(8), 15 May 1919 p.7(3), 20 May 1919 p.7(4).

[ix]  Carl Kircheiss, Narrow Neck Internment Camp to Commandant, Featherston Internment Camp, 22 December 1918, AAAB 482/1d Eder, Michael, NA.

[x]  Eberhard Focke to  Sir James Allen, 14 February 1919, AAAB 482/60q 603, A.M.A. Bornhold, NA.

[xi]   NZPD., Vol. 184 (1919) p.600.

[xii]  Evening Post, 11 December 1919 p.8(5).

[xiii]  Commander, P.O.W. Internment Camp, Featherston, to General Officer in Command, Administration, Defence H.Q., Wellington, 5 December 1919, AAAB 482/60q 603 A.M.A. Bornhold, NA.

[xiv]  Ibid., Brigadier-General G.S. Richardson to Commandant, Featherston P.O.W. Camp, 6 December 1919; Major J.W. Brunt to General Officer, Administration, H.Q., Wellington, 11 December 1919.

[xv]  Ibid., J.D. Gray to A.M.A. Bornhold, 26 August 1920.

[xvi]  Ibid., Lieut.-Col. N.W.B.B. Thomas to Secretary, Dept. of External Affairs, 21 January 1921; Major E. Puttick to Secretary Dept. of External Affairs c19/3/1921. 

[xvii]  Johnson, p.99.

[xviii] Chairman’s Report, Minutes of 10th Conference 25-27 February 1919, MS Papers 2200, CR 1/1, Lutheran Church of  N.Z., Annual Convention Minutes, 1907-1920, p.145, WTU.

[xix]  Ibid., Resolution of Loyalty, p.142.

[xx]  Ibid., Conference Report, p.149.

[xxi]  Note: Additional Information – 1999:  Although the undated clipping describing the burning of a German school at Rongotea was known, only one fire was recorded in the local history. Further research on the subject by Gordon Simonsen, who is researching Lutherans in Rongotea, and myself, revealed details of the second fire. The church had recently been moved from the Palmerston North-Kairanga road, to Avon Street, Rongotea. Work transforming it into a school was completed on the Saturday and at 9:30 pm. on the Sunday, it was destroyed with the cause unknown. The building was valued at £400 to £500. Feilding Star, 7/2/1922 3(2)

[xxii]  Note: Additional Information – 1999: Originally the source of this clipping was unknown, however, it is probably Evening Standard 8/2/1922 6(2) or Feilding Star 9/2/1922 4(3).

[xxiii]  Pamela Benson, History of Rongotea (Palmerston North, 1981), pp.56-7.

[xxiv]  Manawatu Evening Standard, 19 May 1923 p.5(3).

[xxv] Note: Additional Information – 1996: Details of moving the church, on rollers and aided by stumping jacks, is based on research by Gordon Simonsen. His interviewees included Vera Stern (1992), Mrs Doug Yarrell (c1992) and Horace Simonsen (before his death in 1992). He also conducted research in the Rongotea School roll. The original footnote was to Pamela Benson, History of Rongotea (Palmerston North, 1981), p.57. Benson erroneously cites 1918 as the year in which the school operated.

[xxvi]  Copy of Appeal circular, AAAB 478/5b German Distress 1919.

[xxvii]  Ibid., Including report of Constable E. Manley, Marton, 11 October 1919.

[xxviii]  N.Z. Statutes, 1919, pp.160-4.

[xxix]  NZPD., Vol. 186 (1920), pp.461-71; N.Z. Statutes, 1920, pp.13-6.

[xxx]  NZPD, Vol. 186 (1920), pp.382-9; N.Z. Statutes, 1920, pp.15-6.

[xxxi]  J. Hislop to Chief of General Staff, Defence H.Q., Wellington, 13 August 1919, AAAB 482/60q 603 A.M.A. Bornhold, NA; also Major J. Osborne Lilly to Under-Secretary, Dept. of Internal Affairs, 14 August 1918, in David Murie, ‘Henry Nicolai Christian Joosten’, (Heretaunga, 1995). Unpublished typescript. This reference is to a letter in one of at least eleven Joosten family files (four applicable to Henry Joosten) held in the Internal Affairs alien files at National Archives, Wellington. It states that “ is evident that the prisoners will do all in their power to retain (their naturalisation papers), Some have refused to hand (them over) when requested”. Major J. Osborne Lilly to Under Secretary, Dept. of Internal Affairs, 27 August 1918, IA 1 20/7/18, A.M.A. Bornhold, NA.

[xxxii]  N.Z. Statutes, 1923, pp.403-9.

[xxxiii]  NZPD, Vol. 201 (1923) pp.240-1; N.Z. Statutes, 1923, p.13.

[xxxiv]  NZPD, Vol. 283 (1948), pp.3108-15, 3321-5.

[xxxv]   For example, J. Hislop to Messrs. Moore & Bergin, Foxton, 6 November 1923, IA 1 20/1/787 L. Eder, NA; also Naturalisation records, 29 October 1925, IA 1 117/209 L. Eder, NA.

[xxxvi]   Information supplied by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and forwarded by Günter Haselier, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Wellington, to Val Burr, 14 October 1996.

© Val Burr, 2003