In 1918, from deep within the West Coast bush, a miner on the run from the military wrote a letter to his sweetheart. Two months later he was in jail. Like millions of others, his letter had been steamed open by a team of censors shrouded in secrecy.
Using their confiscated mail as a starting point, Dead Letters: Censorship and subversion in New Zealand 1914-1920 reveals the remarkable stories of people caught in the web of wartime surveillance. Among them were a feisty German-born socialist, a Norwegian watersider, an affectionate Irish nationalist, a love-struck miner, an aspiring Maxim Gorky, a cross-dressing doctor, a nameless rural labourer, an avid letter writer with a hatred of war, and two mystical dairy farmers with a poetic bent. Military censorship within New Zealand meant that their letters were stopped, confiscated and filed away, sealed and unread for over 100 years. Until now. Intimate and engaging, this dramatic narrative weaves together the personal and political, bringing to light the reality of wartime censorship.
In an age of growing state power, new forms of surveillance and control, and fragility of the right to privacy and freedom of opinion, Dead Letters is a startling reminder that we have been here before.
Longisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards - General Non-Fiction Award 2020
Winner of the 2020 Bert Roth Award for Labour History