Censored letters and loyalty


September 6,  1941

Let’s Censor our conversation About the War.

Seventy eight (78) years ago this week the Second World War broke out. An Act for the Defence of Newfoundland came into effect giving the Governor in Commission sweeping powers to regulate social and economic life and to appropriate whatever was needed to defend the country. They also issued the Newfoundland Defence Regulations the same day

On September 3, 1939, Great Britain declared war on Germany. With this declaration, Newfoundland was also at war.

During WWII all correspondence leaving Newfoundlandand Labrador was intercepted by an official censor from the Office of the Commissioner for Justice and Defence that was under the direction of L.E.  Emerson of the Newfoundland Department of Defence.

Most governments of the day, throughout the world, argued that censorship was necessary to prevent valuable information getting into enemy hands and to maintain high morale on the home front.

In order to meet these goals every letter leaving the province was read to insure that individuals were not wittingly or unwittingly giving information to the enemy.

On September 20, 1941 Commissioner Emerson was particularly  disturbed by the contents of a letter that the censor board had intercepted that was written by a young Irish born teacher  (Brother)  E.P. O’Farrell on staff at St. Patrick’s Hall School, St. John’s.  Emerson found the letter to be very suspect.  He described the views held by the young teacher,  O’Farrell,  to be “positively dangerous.”

The letter dated September 6, 1941 written by Brother O’Farrell to his parents in County Kerry, Ireland was considered dangerous on a number of grounds.

Brother O’Farrell in his letter applauded the fact that Ireland had declared itself neutral during the war.  Neutrality was overwhelmingly supported by the population of Ireland; a minority of Irish Republicans sided with Germany, believing that a German victory might bring about a United Ireland.

Moreover, in a war in which the United Kingdom was involved, neutrality was perceived as the clearest expression of Irish sovereignty, something the Irish Prime Minister Éamon de Valera fervently sought.

In his letter, the young teacher O’Farrell speculated that:

 “I don’t think (President) Roosevelt will succeed in getting the States to fight and that all Catholics and all the Bishops are determined to stay out of the war.”

The ‘neutral’ position taken by the Irish during the war, lead many to be suspicious of the Irish and their intentions.  Given that O’Farrell was Irish born and a teacher Emerson insisted his letter did “raise considerable alarm”.  He felt strongly also that:

 “teachers needed to maintain an atmosphere of loyalty and optimism in the schools.”

The letter never reached O’Farrell’s parents.

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Provincial Archives Division at The Rooms see GN 38.3 ; Home Affairs and Education. This file consists of memorandum relating to the appointments to the censorship staff, modifications to the censorship process, Appointment of Chief Censor

Recommended Publication:  High, Steven. Occupied St. John’s: a Social History of a City at War 1939-1945. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.   336 pages, illustrated.