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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III

Appendix III — Visit of Ministers from Dominions and of a Representative from India — ANNEX

page 538

Appendix III
Visit of Ministers from Dominions and of a Representative from India


Note of Mr Fraser's Views

New Zealand's concern regarding possible developments in the Far East, is, we believe, very much the same as that of Australia. The matter was discussed in considerable detail at the Pacific Defence Conference1 in Wellington this year and the general conclusion arrived at was that the most probable scale of attack in any likely contingency would be that of sporadic raids. At the same time a saving clause was unanimously agreed upon that, while this would appear to be the most probable scale of attack, Australia and New Zealand would be well advised to consider preparations against a greater scale of attack.

The present situation as it has in fact now developed is much more favourable than the worst contingencies contemplated in Wellington. To that extent, and from the narrower point of view of the defence of New Zealand and Australia, the problem is at the moment simpler than it might have been. In the light of present circumstances and of Paper No. DMV (39) 32 we have no immediate fear of serious delay or difficulty in despatching a substantial British fleet to Singapore, should hostilities develop in the Far East, nor indeed have we any immediate fear of any such hostilities in the Far East. It is for this reason that the New Zealand Government have decided (of course in the absence of any serious deterioration in the meantime) to despatch by mid-January the first echelon, consisting of some 6700 men, of the contemplated Division. This decision was taken in the light of the present situation, after consideration of the information supplied to the Honourable Mr Fraser during his present visit to this country, and in the light of the considerations set out in the British Government's summary of the situation on the outbreak of war, in which, it will be remembered, the possibility of despatch of forces from New Zealand was considered under two headings (a) Japan definitely not hostile, and (b) Japan either hostile or adopting an attitude of reserve.3

At the same time, just as facts have proved that it was not possible accurately to predict the parties to the present war or the course of hostilities, so the future is no doubt equally unpredictable. Quite apart from the position that might develop were Germany to invade Holland, and Japan to consider the time opportune for a forward move against Dutch possessions in the East, we feel that we also have to consider other possibilities. At the moment, from the narrower point of view of the defence of New Zealand, the German-Russian pact and the entanglement of Japan

2 This paper on Australian Naval Defence was replaced by DMV (39) 4—see Appendix II.

3 See Vol. I, Negotiations regarding Participation of New Zealand's Armed Forces, No. 24.

page 539 in the ‘China incident’ would seem to render an attack on New Zealand on any large scale extremely improbable, but it is the part of prudence to consider all the possibilities of the future, and the New Zealand Government must obviously pay special attention to the defence of New Zealand (in consonance with the resolutions of successive Imperial Conferences) not only because of its paramount duty of protecting the people of New Zealand but also as a necessary preliminary to playing its full part in the wider sphere of hostilities. Japan may not always be involved in China; Japan may not always be suspicious of Russia; the United States may not prove a sufficient deterrent to Japanese action southwards and, indeed, if the Commonwealth and its Allies were to receive a serious knock in the course of hostilities, the whole international situation might become entirely liquid again. These considerations are not absent from the mind of the New Zealand Government, who will be guided in their war measures, in the first place, by their desire to play the fullest possible part in the common effort and, secondly, by circumstances as they arise and by the advice from time to time of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom (which they greatly value), endeavouring at all times to keep a prudent balance between the forces available in New Zealand for the actual defence of the Dominion and a reasonable estimate of the potentialities of the situation from time to time.

Finally, may we take it that the undertaking given to Australia in paragraph 4 of the First Lord's Paper (No. DMV (39) 3) may definitely be regarded as applicable to New Zealand also?1

Richmond Terrace, SW 1,

20 November 1939

1 The paper was amended to include the naval defence of New Zealand as well as of Australia. See Appendix II, paragraph 4.