True to Ireland
True to Ireland
Burke, Peter
True to Ireland is about a group of Irishmen who came to New Zealand in the 1930’s in the hope of making a new life. They had seen and experienced the 1916 Rising and The Troubles of 1919 – 22. In 1941 New Zealand introduced conscription for WWII and because the Irishmen were classed as ‘ British subjects’ they were called up for national service. A group in Wellington formed the Eire National Association (ENA) to lobby the New Zealand government to not conscript them and allow them to stay in the country of their adoption and undertaken non-combatant work. The main pathway to oppose conscription was to claim to be conscientious objectors, which the Irishmen sought. However conscientious objectors were usually opposed to fighting in any war on religious or moral grounds. The ENA selected six men as a ‘test case’ for the appeal, with these men called the ‘Sons of Eire’ in newspapers at the time. Their appeal to the Armed Forces Appeal Board in Wellington (designed to hear appeals from conscientious objectors) was based on the fact that the men were citizens of Eire, not British subjects, they were citizens of a neutral country, and that regardless of this they could not in all conscience wear the uniform of the ‘British’ army given what they has seen in Ireland. Their appeal to the Armed Forces Appeal Board was rejected on the grounds that they were not conscientious objectors as they were not opposed to fighting – rather opposed to fighting for Britain. As a result 155 Irishmen were advised they either had a choice of fighting, being deported back to Ireland or being imprisoned. The ENA protested about this and in 1942, after many interactions, the Prime Minister, Peter Fraser persuaded the British government to allow the Irishmen to stay in New Zealand and work, but at ‘soldiers rates’ – the same money earned by a private in the army. As well as telling the story about the ‘Sons of Eire’ , the book also highlights the close relationship that developed between Eamon de Valera and Peter Fraser. It documents their four meetings in 1935, 1941 and twice in 1948. The decision to allow the Irishmen to stay in New Zealand was largely due to Peter Fraser’s relationship with, and support for, the Irish and his strong friendship with Eamon de Valera. The story is a deeply personal one because my father Matthias Burke was one of the six men chosen to be a part of the ‘test case’. As well he was also a member of the executive of the Eire National Association.
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