Graeme Hunt's Book on New Zealand Spies and Revolutionaries – Chapter Four: Lenin's Lieutenants
Scoop is serializing the first 1000 words of each chapter of author Graeme Hunt's latest book: Spies And Revolutionaries – A History of New Zealand Subversion. Click here for Chapter Four: Lenin's Lieutenants
The history of New Zealand's intelligence agencies and those it has spied on have been laid bare in a book by Auckland-based journalist, author, and historian Graeme Hunt.
Spies And Revolutionaries – A History of New Zealand Subversion details how several prominent New Zealanders, all of whom are dead, spied for the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. Accusations and suspicions are laid bare before files and information that has never before been made public. This book will clearly recharge debate as to whether Dr Bill Sutch, diplomat Paddy Costello, and public servant Ian Milner were spies acting against New Zealand's national interest.
The first reports of the 1917 Russian Revolution reaching New Zealand portrayed the Petrograd turmoil as positive for the Allies and for the war effort against Germany. The New Zealand Herald of 17 March described the revolution as ‘anti-German in origin’, sweeping away the ‘reactionary Ministry’. It reported that Tsar Nicholas II had abdicated after the parliament, the Duma, had continued to sit in defiance of an imperial order, troops had revolted and political prisoners freed from Petrograd’s notorious Litovsky Prison. The newspaper blamed the food shortages, which had brought the revolution to a head, on ‘German influences’, noting that ‘patriotic determination to exterminate these influences was fired by the recent killing of the pro-German monk Rasputin’.
In fact, Grigori Rasputin was not a monk or priest or officially connected with the Russian Orthodox Church but a mouhik (Siberian peasant) with alleged healing and hypnotic powers. From 1911 until his celebrated murder on 29 December 1916, he exerted an unholy influence on the royal family, especially Tsarina Alexandra, and damaged the Romanovs’ standing far more than the actions of the myriad of revolutionaries who sought to bring the imperial order down. Rasputin was not infrequently portrayed by enemies as pro-German as was the German-born tsarina. The revolution gave these conspiracy theorists public licence to vilify his memory and attack the loyalty of the tsarina. Similar views were held in the West.
In New Zealand, anti-German feeling had been strong from the start of the war. Historian Christopher Pugsley records that there were several cases of people with German-sounding names being attacked or having their property damaged. New Zealand soldiers of German parentage were also stigmatised or discriminated against on active service.1 Yet examples of disloyalty by Kiwis of German or other alien extraction were rare. William Nimot, a New Zealand-born farmworker of naturalised German parents in the Wairarapa, deserted to the German side when he was serving in France in 1916 but for whatever reason no one ever found out. The obsessively anti-German Labour MP John Payne accused Lieutenant A.H. Grierson of being a German spy because he had worked for the German consul in Wellington but Grierson was cleared by a royal commission.
The loyalty of returned soldier George Bollinger, a regimental sergeant-major who had served at Gallipoli, was questioned after the Defence Department received ‘patriotic’ letters suggesting his German father was pro-German and his Irish mother ‘disloyal’. Even suggesting the Germans were superior to the Allies exposed people to prosecution as a Catholic priest visiting from Australia, John Roche, found to his cost. His remark in the Waverley Hotel, Auckland, in February 1917 –– overheard by a soldier –– that ‘the Germans are a better civilised nation than the British; you are a fool to go on with the war’ earned him a £5 fine with 7s costs.
For German-born New Zealanders in public positions, the war had nasty consequences and many lost their jobs. George von Zedlitz, professor of modern languages at Victoria University College, Wellington, was one such casualty. He was sacked reluctantly by the university council after the government passed the Alien Enemy Teachers Act in 1915, despite the lack of evidence that he was a German agent or German supporter. He did not get his job back after the war.
For those who had traded with the Germans, the conflict also brought problems. In German Samoa, the first territory occupied in the name of the British Empire, a 44-year-old Aucklander, F.E.N. Gaudin, was sentenced in January 1915 to five years’ jail with hard labour after being convicted of ‘war treason’ by a military court. His offence stemmed from accepting gold in part-payment for outstanding bills instead of German paper money, which was worthless after the occupation, and for carrying innocuous parcels and letters to Germans interned on Motuihe Island in the Hauraki Gulf and Somes Island, Wellington Harbour. There was no right of appeal and although Gaudin was released after six months, he was still regarded by some as a traitor. It cost him his business interests in Samoa and his seat on Auckland City Council, where he had served since 1910. He was also asked not to use the Carlton Bowling Club, Remuera, of which he was a committee member
The anti-German feeling became so strong in New Zealand, as it did in Australia and Britain, that prominent families of Germanic origin felt obliged to anglicise their names. The British royal family led by example in June 1917, renouncing their German titles and changing their surname from the Teutonic Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the genteel Windsor. Some members of Dunedin’s Hallenstein retailing family took a similar course, changing their name to Halstead. Younger members of the Kühtze brewing family which, like the Hallensteins, had been in New Zealand since the 1860s, adopted the Coutts surname. In Auckland, Coburg Street became Kitchener Street. In South Australia, where many Germans had settled in the nineteenth century, German town names were changed. Throughout the empire, German Shepherd dogs became Alsatians and German biscuits became Belgian biscuits or empire biscuits.
It was hardly surprising, then, that New Zealanders should accept the propagandist view that the fall of tsarism was brought about by an ‘anti-German movement’. They saw the tsar and his government as a reflection of Russia itself –– repressive, backward and an unfit ally in the war against Germany. Russophobia, never far from the surface in New Zealand, was contained only by the eloquence and confidence of the emerging Russian leader, Alexander Kerensky, who committed his country to the twin aims of democracy and defeating the Germans. He achieved neither. Russia became ungovernable and in November 1917,2 the Bolshevik Party, led by Vladimir Lenin, seized power. Lenin moved quickly to end the war with Germany by agreeing to humiliating peace terms. He then set about subverting the aims of the original revolution by dissolving the newly elected Constituent Assembly, where the Bolsheviks were well outnumbered, and replacing it with an all-Bolshevik Council of People’s Commissars –– the start of a centralised dictatorship that would rule Russia for most of the twentieth century.
New Zealand’s hard left could see only joy in Lenin’s master plan and they were attacked by the government for it. Anti-conscriptionist Bob Semple, campaigning in a parliamentary byelection in 1918, said: ‘They call us “Bolsheviks”. I accept the term. I glory in the Russian workingman’s pluck, and I am sorry that there is not more of it in New Zealand. If I were in Russia, I would be with [Leon] Trotsky and Lenin.’
Scoop is serializing the first 1000 words of each chapter of author Graeme Hunt's latest book: Spies And Revolutionaries – A History of New Zealand Subversion.