These men from all parts of Ireland including set up and funded an organisation that would take on the might of the New Zealand government to prevent them from being conscripted into the army. The men were forced to appear before courts in New Zealand to defend their stance and their organisation lobbied the Labour government of the day headed by Prime Minister Peter Fraser.
Peter Burke’s father Matthias Burke from Moycullen, Co Galway was one of the leaders of the organisation set up to oppose their conscription. His father came to New Zealand in 1930 to seek a better life but ended up in a battle with Britain.
The Irishmen’s reasons for refusing to be conscripted were based on the atrocities they personally witnessed British armed forces commit on their families, friends and the general Irish population during the Easter Rising and the War of Independence.
They saw themselves as citizens of Eire (not Britain) and wanted to be treated as neutrals given that the Irish Free State was neutral in WWII.
The book documents their struggles with officials and politicians to avoid conscription but at one stage 155 men, including Peter Burke’s own father, Matt Burke from Moycullen, Co Galway faced deportation back to Ireland for refusing to join the armed services. Their story was widely publicised in the newspapers in New Zealand and the men became known as ‘the Sons of Eire’. Eventually the men persuaded the government of the day to allow them to stay and work in New Zealand, without having to wear the British uniform that was a complete anathema to them.
One of the amazing facts revealed in the book is the discovery of the close relationship that developed between the New Zealand wartime Prime Minister, Peter Fraser and Eamon de Valera.
The pair first met in Dublin in 1935 and then in 1941 at the height of WWII, Peter Fraser who was in England for a meeting with Winston Churchill made a special trip to Dublin to spend five days de Valera. They met again in May 1948 when de Valera visited New Zealand and in December that year, Peter Fraser went to receive an Honorary Doctorate in Laws from the National University of Ireland of which Eamon de Valera was Chancellor at the time.
Peter Burke says as well as telling the story about the Irishmen’s struggle to stay in New Zealand and not join the kings army, the book shows the strong friendly relationship that has existed between the two nations over more than 80 years. He says the two small nations have always had much in common – be they economic social or cultural ties.
Peter Burke had made more than a dozen trips to Ireland in his capacity as an agricultural journalist and regards the country as his home away from home. He has relatives in many parts of Ireland but most live in Galway.
He says the book has taken him ten years to complete and has involved hundreds of hours of research. The President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins has written the foreword for the book and says he commends Peter Burke for not only recovering the memory of his father and his comrades, but for deepening the understanding of the shared history of Ireland and New Zealand.
The book will be launched in Dublin on the 11th of September and in Moycullen Co Galway on September 20.
About the Author.
Peter Burke was born in Wellington New Zealand and educated at St Patrick’s College Wellington. His father was from Moycullen, Co Galway and his mother was born on Denniston on the West Coast of the South Island.
He has worked for more than fifty years in the media as a journalist in television, radio, print and public relations. Peter is a specialist agricultural journalist and has travelled widely overseas in the course of his work covering major political and trade talks in Europe, Asia, North America and the Pacific.
Peter regards Ireland as his second home and made more than a dozen visits there. His visits there have led him to develop a love of Irish and family history – hence this book. He also has a strong interest in Maori culture and sees a lot of similarities between it and Irish culture. He is a keen, rather than good, golfer, loves Celtic and classical music and lives on a small farm north of Wellington.
For further information contact Peter Burke +64 -21 2242183