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'He got a letter out to us somehow'

Audio file

Marjorie Browne remembers the war at home

Marjorie Browne was born in Napier in 1924. In her teens, at a Methodist Bible class, she was drawn to the writing of people such as Mahatma Gandhi, who advocated non-violent resistance to conflict. By the time war came Marjorie was committed to pacifism and regularly went to meetings of the Christian Pacifist Society in Whanganui. During the war Marjorie and fellow pacifists made every effort to support conscientious objectors who were in detention. Restricted letters and parcels were allowed and some supervised visiting. The camps were built in remote places, and wartime petrol rationing ruled out long-distance driving, but that did not stop determined friends and relatives of inmates. Marjorie made several trips to camps like Whitanui Detention Camp in Manawatū and Hautu Detention Camp, near Tūrangi. Marjorie became engaged and eventually married Merv Browne, one the Whanganui men with whom she had corresponded and visited in detention. Read more about Merv Browne and listen to him speak about this period.

Here Marjorie talks about how Merv passed messages to her and other friends and family, and meeting with him when he escaped from detention:


Majorie Brown: The COs [conscientious objectors] had ways and means of getting information out. He'd sent the reference sometime and it might have been in a letter that had come out clandestinely that he, he and Chris Palmer had decided they could no longer cooperate. They also wanted to, they needed to speak out what the camps were about and challenge the continuation of the war so we hoped that we would understand. He got a letter out to us somehow. I've got one letter somewhere and I can't find it, written on cigarette paper, three pieces of cigarette paper on the tiniest, tiniest writing – Merv was able to write very, very finely – that came out. That would give us the basics, that soon you will hear and the message came out that Merv has gone from probably Jack Rogers, a Whanganui boy, and so we knew in general terms that he'd gone and then a message came to say that he was actually in Wellington and we knew that he would be with one of the pacifists down there and didn't know exactly where. They would be separated somewhere staying in two different places delivering the pamphlets that they had published. 

And so his mother went down to see him and stayed at the French embassy because she had a very good friend in the French embassy. And in this most unlikely place, ostentasious place Mrs Browne, Martha, and Blanche Clemenceau went out on the streets together and met Merv out on the street and then he went back with them or turned up at their place later and was entertained in the kitchen of the French embassy. 

So, and I went down on a different occasion at Queen's Birthday weekend and stayed with Arch Barrington's family. Arch was in prison, and I stayed with his wife and their three children and Merv was out at Linden staying with Arthur Carman and his family. Arthur and Edith Carman and travelling in on the train to deliver these pamphlets. Meeting up with Chris during the daytime, at night time and delivering these pamphlets. But I didn't tell my mother where I was going. I said I think, she didn’t know I don't think that Merv had escaped. I thought there was no need to involve her, he told his mother and I thought there's no need to involve her but I was being followed by the police and they knew I'd gone to Wellington. Well they suspected I'd gone, they knew I'd gone on the train.

Interviewer: How do you know that you were being followed?

Majorie Brown: Well the police visited Mum. And I came home and I was really angry because they had tried to question her but fortunately she knew nothing. She said oh I don't know, she's gone for the weekend, I don't know. And they tried but the constable in Whanganui East was a very gentlemanly person and a gentle one really he was. And then I got, when I came home I found that mum wanted to know what it was all about so I told her and I said he no right to come and see you so I phoned up the police aggressively and said what right had you to go and see my mother, it's not her it's me you want to see, not my mother. And if you want me to come and see you I'll make an appointment right now but I don't want to ever go and see my mother again it's just not fair to put this onto her. And he said right can you come around tomorrow night, I'll see after your work time tomorrow night. And Myrtle went round with me and stayed outside just to give me some moral support and I went in and was interviewed by the constable and I knew that I didn't have to answer anything. I felt I couldn't tell any lies. I couldn't – so I just said I'm not prepared to give you a statement and I know that I don't have to.

Marjorie and Merv Browne

Marjorie and Merv Browne at St Heliers, 1947 and at home in 2007.


Sound file: Interviewed by Alison Parr, 23 March 2007. From the Civilian New Zealanders in the Second World War Oral History Project, Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
Original interview held in Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Not to be reproduced.

Images: Marjorie Browne collection; Alison Parr

How to cite this page

'He got a letter out to us somehow', URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated