I once read somewhere that if a country is invaded then it takes over a hundred years for the wounds to fully heal. It is as if occupying forces can leave invisible scars on the towns, cities, roads, bridges and fields. Once lost, innocence is difficult to regain.
This banknote from my collection is Japanese occupation currency from the Second World War. It was printed for use in conquered territories and many believe that it was also intended for use in Australia and New Zealand. That assumption isn’t strictly correct as this banknote was actually issued for use in British Oceania (places like the Solomon Islands) but had the Japanese advance continued through to New Zealand then it is likely that similar banknotes would’ve been issued here too.
In early 1942 the outcome of the Second World War wasn’t a sure thing. Information was heavily censored but it was public knowledge that the Americans had suffered a devastating attack at Pearl Harbor and the impregnable British fortress at Singapore had been impregged. To the average New Zealander the possibility of Japanese invasion must have been very real.
To genuinely fear an invasion of well-armed hostile military forces is something that fortunately most of us have never had to experience – especially New Zealanders down here in the Hobbitville of the South Pacific. Most of my generation simply don’t even have a legitimate point of comparison.
How would you react if a foreign military force invaded your home country? What decisions would you make? How would you feel?
While working on a documentary some years ago I was fortunate to read a large number of personal letters and diaries written by New Zealanders in early 1942 when the Japanese expansion through the Pacific seemed all but unstoppable. It gave me a bit of an insight into what it must have been like to have to prepare to face an enemy invasion. One thing that struck me then seems pretty obvious – different people react to situations in different ways and that constant is true during even the most unlikely of events.
With the example of an enemy occupation of New Zealand it is easy to think that everyone would join a resistance movement, or hide in the hills until things settled down – and yes some planned to do exactly that, but the reality is a lot more complicated. There would’ve been conflicted pacifists, vulnerable elderly, desperate people doing anything to survive, greedy businessmen with no qualms about collaboration and desensitized adolescents with no qualms about executing greedy businessmen. People aren’t perfect and war has a habit of amplifying those imperfections as much as it amplifies admirable qualities. One of the more long-lasting and under-acknowledged side effects of enemy occupations is how they can divide a conquered people and turn them against each other.
Personally I think that this scenario is one where the gulf between the imagined and the actual is even larger than normal. We like to think we’d be brave and selfless; we like to think we’d fight off big bad invaders but I suspect the reality would be much more difficult to confront and many people might not react in the way they would like to think they would. What do you think?
© Lemuel Lyes
You can learn more about the Japanese Invasion Money here