1940–41 • Blade and ruler

In May 1940 Madeline first mentions censorship of mail. “By the way,” she writes to Fred and his wife Joan, “your letters have been opened by the Censor and a chunk of Joan’s cut out. She was speaking of your friends [Jewish refugees] from overseas. Perhaps in future it might be as well to avoid writing their names in full. [RED, page 149]

This episode is about two kinds of censorship—of the mail and of the Press. Censoring of letters was mostly limited to cutting out references to troop movements and weapons which might “aid the enemy”. Political comment, including anti-war comment, in Madeline Wood’s letters passed untouched.

She runs her finger down the edge, where the envelope is neatly slit and later sealed up with a sticker printed “opened by censor” then stamped “passed by censor” with a section number. [RED, page 150]

Censor envelope 13-07-1940 front NO-NAME SMALL

In 1940 all Australian mail was opened and read, then resealed, as a wartime precaution. (Name and address omitted.)

Madge can admit the neatness of his work, suggesting care. Nothing unnecessary is deleted, at least once she has realised what’s happening and stops writing on both sides of the sheet. [RED, page 152]

Here’s an example of the mail censor’s work—

EMW 1941-12-26 censored

—which is from Madeline’s letter of 26 December 1941. The censor apparently has cut out details of Bill’s campaign to have suburban volunteers issued with weapons, to resist the Japanese if they invade. At the time volunteers were issued with wooden sticks instead of rifles.

Madeline, however, assumed that her letters were being censored for political reasons, as left-wing newspapers were. Her concern about mail censorship coincided with the announcement in the previous month (April 1940) of a regulation to prohibit left-wing newspapers from reporting the war news. Not unreasonably (but wrongly) she assumed that the two regimes (mail censors and Press censors) were acting on the same rules.

In announcing the censorship of nine Communist newspapers, the Minister for Information, Sir Henry Gullett, explained that the new regulations were “designed to stamp out subversive literature”. (Canberra Times, 24-04-40, p. 4)

Then in May the nine Communist newspapers were closed down altogether by the Menzies Government, and their printing presses seized and destroyed. The Deputy Prime Minister, Archie Cameron, explained that “There comes a time in every war when a government must give orders and commands which must be obeyed unquestioningly. There must be no opposition and no debate.” (Daily News, 24 May 1940, p. 4)

Although all nine journals were anti-Hitler, Gullett was “resolved that the censorship will treat them as enemy publications.” The Minister expected his rules would force these papers to close. “It is now in the interest of every loyal and decent Australian that the foul enemy mouth of the Communist should be closed.”

But this is odd: Gullett calls Communists the “enemy”, yet Australia was not at war with the Soviet Union, but with Fascist Germany and Italy. The Soviets were neutral in May 1940 and a year later would be fighting on Australia’s side.

Meanwhile Gullett does not prohibit the Fascist paper, the Publicist, the voice of the Australia First movement. Gullett says that all other media are free from censorship. “Apart from the Communists, censorship will continue in a co-operative, friendly spirit …” (Canberra Times, 20-04-40, p. 2)

More about the Publicist is HERE.