With 'Courtesy and Consideration': John Crawford Describes the Evacuation of German Diplomats from New Zealand in September 1939

By Crawford, John | New Zealand International Review, September-October 2009 | Go to article overview

With 'Courtesy and Consideration': John Crawford Describes the Evacuation of German Diplomats from New Zealand in September 1939


Crawford, John, New Zealand International Review


Following Germany's invasion of Poland, New Zealand declared a state of emergency on 1 September 1939 and the next day adopted the 'Precautionary Stage' for war against Germany and Italy. This involved putting into action a wide range of carefully planned measures that were set out in the New Zealand government War Book and elsewhere. Shortly before midnight on 3 September, the New Zealand government was informed by the United Kingdom that it had declared war on Germany, which had not acceded to a British ultimatum that it cease its aggression against Poland. New Zealand responded promptly, declaring war on Germany with effect from the time when the British ultimatum expired, which was 9:30 pm, 3 September, local time. Once this decision was made telegrams were dispatched by the Prime Minister's Office to senior political, military and government figures announcing the outbreak of war. (1)

One of these telegrams was sent to Joseph Heenan, the Under-Secretary of Internal Affairs, whose department was responsible for foreign diplomatic representatives. It reached him in the early hours of 4 September, and he almost immediately telephoned the German consul-general in Wellington, Ernst Ramm. Heenan read a letter from William Parry, the Minister of Internal Affairs, to Ramm, which began 'I have the honour to inform you that a state of war exists between His Majesty's Government in New Zealand and the German Government' and went on to tell him that the New Zealand government would facilitate his evacuation along with that of his staff and their dependants from the Dominion. (2) Party's letter had been drafted in accordance with an Organisation for National Security document that set out how enemy diplomats were to be dealt with in the event of war, which had been approved by the Council of Defence late in August 1939. (3)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Before the outbreak of war the Third Reich had significantly upgraded its representation in Wellington. In 1936 it replaced its honorary consul with a full-time consul de carriere, Dr Walter Hellenthal, who had previously been based at the consulate-general in Sydney. (4) Hellenthal played a significant part in the negotiation in 1937 of an agreement to facilitate trade between Germany and New Zealand. (5)

In 1938 New Zealand agreed to Germany upgrading its consulate in Wellington to the status of a consulate-general. (6) Ramm, whose previous postings including the German embassies in Tokyo, Moscow and Madrid, arrived in New Zealand to take up the position of consul-general in August 1938. (7) The consulate-general was housed in a building in Brandon Street in central Wellington. Its offices were notable only for the fact that they contained a very large safe. The staff of the consulate-general consisted of Ramm, his deputy Erwin Bunze and two female German secretaries. Both Ramm and Bunze brought their families with them to New Zealand. (8)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Anti-German feeling

Ramm's arrival coincided with the onset of the Munich crisis and he had to contend with a significant degree of anti-German feeling. On the night of 28/29 September the brass plaque identifying the consulate was stolen from the main entrance of the building housing its offices. Ramm immediately complained about the theft to the Prime Minister and an intensive police investigation was initiated. (9) Two university students were charged with the theft. They were eventually discharged without conviction and their names suppressed by a magistrate. Ramm was dissatisfied with the treatment the two men had received and raised the matter with the Prime Minister. (10) Savage assured him 'that the lads received severe reprimands from the Principal of the Training College, ... and the Principal of Victoria University College. This is the usual form of disciplinary measure in the case of first offenders, and has always proved very effective and an adequate warning against any repetition of the offences'. …

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