The Letter Butcher

Soldiers' letters home were read and edited by the Government to remove details that might be useful to the enemy.

A humorous cartoon and poem printed in the troopship magazine Te Karere describes the work of the Government censor, also known as a butcher. He is a studious-looking man who wields a large pencil and ink pad.

Canterbury Museum 1986.80.2339

The New Zealand War Regulations Act 1914 listed a number of rules and regulations about wartime matters including censorship. Revealing details that might be useful for the enemy such as the movements of troopships, military operations or the condition of the armed forces was outlawed.

Information that might interfere with recruitment or cause alarm was also strictly controlled. As a result, soldier’s letters were read and edited by Government censors. 

WW346 180910

Canterbury Museum 2015.66.61, 2015.66.19

The Censor's Marks

Joseph Mercer wrote regularly to his mother throughout the War. This envelope from 1916 shows that his letter had passed the field censor’s inspection.

After Joseph was taken prisoner of war, the German Government wrote to his mother, telling her that he was alive and well and being held at the Friedrichsfeld camp. The label on the envelope indicates that it had passed through the censor’s hands.

WW030 180801

Canterbury Museum 1993.31.30

Canterbury Museum 1993.31.30

WW031 180802

The Censor's Card

Three days before the ANZAC attack on Gallipoli, John Leversedge sent a Field Service Post Card to his mother. These pre-printed cards enabled soldiers to send a basic message home that censors could quickly scan and approve.