(Compiled by Dennis B. Horne)
On the 15th of October 1940 a cable was sent from Church headquarters to President Matthew Cowley. The cable instructed him to send all missionaries home on the next possible ship leaving the country. For almost fourteen months, New Zealand had been at war.
The government allowed sixty-five missionaries from out of the country to labor there. This number included President and Sister Cowley and their daughter, so the most we could ever have in the mission at any one time was sixty-two missionaries. After war was declared, we received fewer and fewer new missionaries, and almost monthly one or two elders would return home. Consequently, the missionary work was gradually being curtailed. Fortunately, there was excellent local priesthood leadership in the thirteen districts and eighty-four branches of the mission.
During the months after New Zealand went to war, all sorts of defense measures were taken. The missionaries laboring at the mission home became air raid wardens and we were instructed what to do in case of a raid.
All of the harbors of New Zealand were mined so that ships were not able to come and go unless they were assisted by a pilot boat. As a result, the number of ships coming from around the world greatly decreased and when a ship did come to either Auckland or Wellington, it would generally come at night and always unannounced. However, we were reasonably certain (or maybe hopeful) that at least one ship would make it in each month from either Canada or America with our mail.
Elder James V. Haslam and I were the secretaries of the mission at the time the cable to President Cowley arrived. We went to the post office, reached in our postal box and retrieved a large, fat envelope containing the cable. We caught the tram up Queen Street and rushed back to the mission home. We gave President Cowley the cable and then went into our office. The other elders around the mission home came in and we stood there discussing our future. After about ten minutes, President Cowley, accompanied by Sister Cowley, came in. He was visibly shaken and announced in a loud voice that we were all going home. The cable contained 184 words and stated that all Zion Elders were to return home at the earliest possible occasion.
The cable also directed that the mission president's wife and family should decide whether they would stay with the presi dent or return home with the elders. I will never forget Sister Cowley when he turned to her and said, "What do you want to do?" I think it was her greatest moment, even though she had always been a wonderful and excellent mission mother and mission president's wife. She immediately, without any hesitation, said, "I wouldn't leave you now for anything. If you ever needed me, you will need me now." She wouldn't even think of the possibility of leaving him alone there in New Zealand. He was delighted with her attitude and loyalty.
We all began our preparations to leave. Elder Haslam and I were instructed to obtain the necessary permits to leave the country. We also had to get other permits to take money out of the country. We bought tickets on the SS Mariposa, a Matson ocean liner that had just left New Zealand and was on its way to Australia. It was due back in Auckland on Tuesday, October 22, and we had instructions to be on it.
Because of the various statistical and financial reports that we sent to Salt Lake each month, Elder Haslam and I were sure that we wouldn't be able to get all of the office work done in time to board the ship. We explained this to President Cowley. He granted us permission to stay one extra month in order to help him train local members to take over the duties of the office. At the same time, the missionaries, Elders Barry T. Wride and Warren S. Ottley, who published the magazine TeKarere for the mission, got permission to stay also. Of course, we thought we were extra clever in maneuvering the president into giving us an extra month to stay.
That afternoon I went to the Matson Line office and purchased thirty tickets. I next got thirty permits for the missionaries to leave the country and take out money. The next morning in the newspaper we noticed that there would be no more ships leaving New Zealand for three and maybe up to six months. With that information, the mission president withdrew from us the privilege of staying on an extra month.
During the week, Elder Haslam and I, having the bulk of the work to do, labored almost night and day to get all the reports up to date. We then had to explain them to President Cowley so he could train local members to help him in the management of the financial and statistical affairs of the mission. It was difficult to locate all the other elders in those first two or three days, but we succeeded and they were all in Auckland by Saturday night.
Sunday was a day of sober activities. President Cowley held a special priesthood meeting with all of the missionaries plus some of the local priesthood leaders. A few priesthood leaders from outside the mission also came to be with us on that Sunday. A special Sunday School meeting was held in the afternoon. Then in the evening a big meeting was held down town in one of the theaters. All of the missionaries had an opportunity to speak briefly and it was a great day for all of us. Incidentally, Elder Ottley and I took care of a baptismal service for five or six persons on that day also.
Elder Haslam and I managed only three to four hours sleep each night during that last week. On the last night, we didn't go to bed at all. When daylight came we were sad. I will never forget President Cowley as he talked to each of us and gave us our releases. He was broken hearted because he thoroughly enjoyed his association with the missionaries.
Elder Haslam and I and the staff elders, were the last to leave the mission home. President Cowley was vacuuming the floor to keep busy. I think he must have vacuumed for two hours, and he was too busy doing that to be able to go to the dock to see us off. However, Sister Cowley and Jewell, their daughter, as well as a large group of the Saints from throughout the whole mission were there to see us leave.
When the SS Mariposa docked, there were thirty-three elders from Australia on board. Thirty-four of us who were leaving New Zealand joined them. We sailed to Samoa where we spent a whole day in Pago Pago. I think the sixty-seven of us elders completely destroyed the morale of the Samoan mission that day.
Before the ship left, the missionaries from Samoa as well as those from Tonga who had been able to secure passage into Pago Pago joined our group. When we left Samoa, we had a total of ninety missionaries on board. We had gathered all of the missionaries from that part of the world except the few who may have been in Tahiti.
When we arrived in San Francisco, we were each welcomed personally by President David 0. McKay, then a counselor in the First Presidency. He was in charge of reassigning the missionaries to their respective missions.
All missionaries who had served twenty-two months or longer were honorably released to return home. Those who had not been out that long were reassigned to the California mission or to the Northwestern States mission where they finished out their time of service.
This large evacuation of ninety missionaries from the South Pacific was handled in an orderly manner. Ships had been traveling monthly from the United States to Australia and back, but since the beginning of the war, they carried very few passengers. The only real problem we had was that instead of eating three and four desserts at every meal like missionaries usually did, we were asked to cut down to just one so that they wouldn't run out entirely before our journey was through. This was a great hardship on some of the missionaries.