Printing Bible Literature While Under Ban
AS TOLD BY MALCOLM G. VALE
“Print the Children book.” I received this surprising directive from the branch overseer of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia during World War II, shortly after the release of the book at the St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A., convention on August 10, 1941. Why was the directive surprising?
WELL, our preaching work had been outlawed in January 1941, so continued printing even in a limited way would be a challenge. Besides, Children was a 384-page book with full-color pictures. Our printing equipment needed upgrading, paper was scarce, and the personnel were untrained for producing bound books.
Before describing how we succeeded in printing while under ban, let me tell you how I came to serve in connection with the Australia branch office as overseer of printing operations.
My father owned a printing business in the prosperous city of Ballarat, Victoria, where I was born in 1914. So I learned the printing business working in Dad’s printery. I was also involved in the activities of the Church of England, singing in the church choir and ringing the church bells. I even came in line for teaching Sunday school, but I was uneasy about this.
The reason was that I had serious questions about certain church teachings. These included the Trinity, hellfire, and the immortality of the human soul, and no one gave me satisfactory answers. It also puzzled me that from time to time, our minister spoke out angrily about a small religious group who called themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses. I wondered why such an insignificant group would be of such concern to a city of 40,000 people.
One Sunday, I was standing outside the church after evening service when a group of girls from the nearby Methodist Church walked past. I struck up a friendship with one of them. Her name was Lucy, and in due course she invited me to her home to meet her parents. Imagine my surprise when I learned that her mother, Vera Clogan, was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We had many animated Bible discussions, and what she said really made sense.
Shortly, Lucy and I married, and by 1939 we were living in Melbourne, Victoria’s capital. Although Lucy had become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I had still not made up my mind. However, when World War II broke out in September of that year, I began to think seriously about what I had learned from the Scriptures. The banning of the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in January 1941 really helped me make up my mind. I dedicated my life to Jehovah God and was baptized soon afterward.
Dramatic Changes in Our Lives
At the time, we were renting a comfortable apartment in Melbourne. Before long, however, we were invited to move into a house with several other Witnesses. We sold all our furniture except the bedroom suite and moved into what was called a pioneer home. I continued to work as a printer and thus was able to contribute toward the expenses of operating the home. The other husbands did the same. Our wives, as a result, could share in the preaching activity full-time, and we men joined them in the evangelizing work and at Christian meetings during the evenings and on weekends.
Shortly thereafter, my wife and I received a letter from the branch office of the Watch Tower Society inviting us to come to Sydney. We sold our bedroom suite and paid off a few debts we had, but to get money for our rail fare to Sydney, we had to sell Lucy’s engagement ring!
Because of wartime restrictions and the recently enacted ban, no Bibles or Bible literature could be imported from overseas. For this reason the Australia branch office decided to establish an underground printing operation to keep up the flow of spiritual food, and I was invited to oversee the work. I was privileged to work alongside a Scotsman, George Gibb, who served in the Australia branch printery for some 60 years.* That was when I received the directive: “Print the Children book.”
Recovering Printing Equipment
Many were the exciting, sometimes hair-raising, experiences we had in those eventful war years. For example, to get started in our printing operations, we needed equipment. What we previously used to do the limited printing in prewar years had been seized by government authorities, and now the Society’s small printery was locked up and guarded. How could we get the equipment out to locations suitable for underground printing?
Armed guards, working in shifts, policed the Society’s property 24 hours a day. However, one of the back walls bordered on a little-used railway siding. So at night, using methods reminiscent of Ezekiel 12:5-7, some enterprising Bethel workers entered through the wall by removing some brickwork. Once inside, they put the loose bricks back in the wall to avoid detection. By making these nighttime raids over a period of about two weeks, they carefully dismantled a small printing press, a Linotype, and a few other machines. Then they quietly passed the pieces out, right under the eyes of the guards on duty!
In time we obtained additional equipment from other sources, and soon we had underground printing operations going full swing in various locations throughout Sydney. Thus, we were able to print and bind not only the Children book but also the full-size books The New World, “The Truth Shall Make You Free,” and The Kingdom Is At Hand, as well as the Yearbooks of Jehovah’s Witnesses for 1942, 1943, 1944, and 1945. In addition, during the ban of those war years, Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout Australia never missed one issue of The Watchtower. This reassured us in a very personal way that Jehovah’s hand is never short.—Isaiah 59:1.
Coping With Unexpected Visits
During the period of heavy wartime censorship, commercial printeries were often visited unexpectedly by government officials who inspected what was being printed. Therefore, one of our undercover printeries was equipped with a warning device, a button on the floor that was within easy reach of the receptionist. Whenever anyone whom she did not recognize or who was suspected of being an inspector came up the stairs, she would press the button.
When the button was pressed, it was quite a sight to see bodies going through windows in all directions! The workers who were registered as employees remained behind to cover up quickly any printed sheets of Watchtower magazines or other Bible literature being worked on. To do this, they would use printed sheets of the same size as other publications that were being prepared for commercial customers.
During one such visit, two inspectors sat on comics, which were still in large-size sheets, but beneath were sheets of Watchtower magazines that had been printed the previous night. In a printery in another part of the city, we did commercial printing in the daytime and printed Watchtower publications at night and on weekends.
Filling Our Paper Needs
Obtaining paper for printing was a major problem. However, some large printeries that did not need their full paper quotas because of reduced business during the war were willing to sell their surplus—always at an inflated price, of course. On one occasion, though, we received paper from another source.
A cargo vessel coming to Australia had a large consignment of brown paper on board, but the ship was damaged at sea and water seeped into much of the paper. The whole consignment was put up for auction, and to our surprise we were the only bidders. This enabled us to buy it at a rock-bottom price. We dried the paper in the sun, thus salvaging most of it, and then we cut it into sheets suitable for our printing press.
How would we use the brown paper? We figured, and correctly so, that comic-book readers would still enjoy their comics on colored paper. Thus, we used the white paper that we had been allotted for comic books to print The Watchtower and other Society material.
The Important Role of Women
During the war years, many Christian women in Australia learned the bindery operations. One extremely hot summer afternoon, some of them were working alone in a small garage that we had rented in a back street of a Sydney suburb. For security reasons, they kept every window and door shut. The glue pots gave off hot, smelly fumes, and the heat was almost unbearable. So they stripped to their undergarments.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. The Christian sisters called out asking who was there, and a government labor officer answered. He was from a department that had wartime powers to direct individuals to any area where labor was needed. The sisters replied loudly that they could not let him in just now as they were working in their undergarments because of the heat.
The officer was quiet for a moment; then he called out that he had another appointment in the area. He said he would come back the next day to make his inspection. Immediately these Christian women telephoned us, and we sent a truck that night to pick up everything the bindery was working on, moving it to another location.
Most of those involved in our underground printing had no previous work experience in the printing trade, so what was accomplished left no doubt in my mind that Jehovah’s spirit provided the needed help and direction. It was a great privilege for me and my wife, Lucy, who worked in the bindery, to be a part of it all.
How was our work administered in those trying times? The acting branch overseer of Jehovah’s Witnesses had received a restriction order from the government, requiring him to live in a town about 60 miles [100 km] out of Sydney. The order forbade him to move outside a five-mile [8 km] radius of the center of the town. Gasoline was rationed to one gallon [4 L] per car per month. But the brothers invented an ingenious unit known as a gas producer—a cylindrical sheet-metal container weighing about half a ton, mounted at the rear of the car. Charcoal was burned in this, producing carbon monoxide as fuel. Several nights each week, other responsible brothers and I traveled by this means to meet the overseer in a dry creek bed close to the town of his exile. Thus, we could discuss many matters before stoking up the gas producer again and driving back to Sydney in the early morning hours.
Finally, the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses came before the High Court of Australia. The judge declared the ban “arbitrary, capricious, and oppressive” and completely exonerated Jehovah’s Witnesses of any seditious activity. The full High Court supported this decision, so that we were able to come aboveground to continue our lawful Kingdom activities.
Further Assignments and Blessings
After the war many who had worked in our underground printing operations entered the pioneer ministry. Some of them later went on to the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in New York. Lucy and I also had that goal in mind, but then a baby daughter arrived on the scene and I decided to go back into the printing trade. We prayed that Jehovah would help us always to put Kingdom interests first, and he has. I became involved in another ministerial assignment in the following way.
I received a phone call from Lloyd Barry, who now serves as a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Brooklyn, New York. At that time he was a traveling overseer in Sydney. He asked if I was aware of the date of our next assembly. When I replied that I was, he said: “We want you to look after the food arrangements.”
Taken aback for a moment, I said rather weakly: “But I’ve never done anything like that in my life.”
“Well, Brother,” he replied rather impishly, “it’s about time you learned!” Learn I did, and I continued to have the privilege of overseeing food service, even at large conventions, for more than 40 years.
Over the years, our commercial printing firm expanded, and this necessitated several overseas business trips. I always fitted these in with the international conventions held in New York City and elsewhere in the United States. This gave me the opportunity to spend time with those who had oversight of various convention departments, particularly food service. Thus, back in Australia, I was better able to serve the needs at our conventions.
With our advancing years, Lucy and I sometimes wonder whether we could have achieved more if we had been born a little later. On the other hand, having been born in 1916 and 1914 respectively, we consider it a wonderful privilege to have seen Bible prophecies unfold before our eyes. And we thank Jehovah for the blessing we have had in studying with many people and helping them to learn the truth and to see them now serving him as baptized ministers. Our prayer is that we can continue to serve him on into eternity, acknowledging him forever as the great Sovereign Ruler of the universe.
[Pictures on page 29]
Printing establishment at Strathfield Bethel, 1929-73
George Gibb standing beside one of the presses that were taken out of the printery through the rear wall