Although a sergeant, John Walcot Wilder was not allowed to report any combat action when writing home. "I went around to Canterbury Camp and got their censor to pass my letters," Sergeant Wilder wrote in August 1915, three weeks before he died, "because [deleted] is too d - lazy and was going to leave ours until next mail." Canterbury Camp's censor had prioritised censorship of the officers' correspondence; the delay meant Wilder's letters arrived after he was already dead.
New Zealanders from different points on the political spectrum hated censorship. Pamphlets mailed out by the Protestant Political Association were delivered with the envelopes mysteriously empty.
The censor didn't have to justify his actions. "A censor can give [ ... ] no reason for censoring any documents or correspondence in New Zealand" because "the most vital interests of the Empire" are in the chief censor's hands, a Royal Commission was told.
In February 1917, a priest in Auckland, John Roche, was convicted for remarking: "The Germans are a better civilised nation than the British and you are a fool to go to war."
On the far left, the Maoriland Worker newspaper complained military censors had redacted newspaper columns in Marxist publications.
In March 1916 the military's right to ban films was extended to the chief censor. The regulations were "aimed at films which might discourage army recruitment by showing the conditions under which the war was being fought".
When a letter writer complained to the censor that he could see the name of the hospital ship NZHS Marama in the subtitle of a film showing in a Timaru theatre, the film was banned. The explanation? Ships were not allowed to be named.
The NZHS Marama, a World War I hospital ship.
"In one case a short picture was submitted which showed decided evidence of pro-German influence," censor William Jolliffe told an interviewer in November 1916. "Some of the accompanying printed matter was distinctly pro-German. I had the objectionable matter cut out."
While the image of the hospital ship was suppressed, the film Birth of a Nation, which reinvigorated the Ku Klux Klan, was screened in 1917 to applauding audiences. Some censorship was hardly unreasonable. "Orders were issued ... forbidding the posting home of shells, grenades, cartridges, fuses and detonators," researcher Terry Kinloch writes.
Other censorship was questionable. Leslie Baldwin, for example, received a week's punishment for popping a letter in a French mailbox in 1916 without running it past the censor.
John Walcot Wilder is buried on Hill 60, Gallipoli, and is commemorated at Auckland War Memorial Museum.