Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III
373 — The Governor of Fiji to the Prime Minister of New Zealand1
Reference telegram of 29 June [No. 371], Fiji Infantry Battalion as scouts for the 3rd New Zealand Division.
Have now given the matter full consideration and feel the greatest difficulty in agreeing to the proposal by Army Headquarters for the following reasons:
2. In the circumstances known to you at present it was decided last autumn to raise in Fiji a mobile brigade group. One of my reasons was to improve the morale of the Fijians. Accordingly every opportunity has been taken to emphasise in propaganda and by parades, etc., the creation of the Fijian Brigade. The Council of Chiefs unanimously expressed the wish in September that the Fijian Force should be sent abroad to assist in actual fighting in Africa or Egypt, and this was repeated to the Secretary of State, who gratefully acknowledged it and encouraged them. We have proceeded throughout on the assumption that our contribution for service abroad would be a Fijian Mobile Brigade Group, and the recent agreement come to with Stewart and approved in your telegram of 19 June [No. 362] was based on that. See especially paragraph 4. We have been to great pains and expense to raise and train the Brigade Group which is now ready for service, and have had extensive and expensive help from you in personnel and equipment. We have strained our manpower position to the limit, if not beyond it. When one Commando and the 1st Battalion was sent to the Solomons we regarded them as an advance party and hoped the rest of the Brigade would follow. But Army Headquarters' proposals now amount to the breaking up of the Brigade Group except the infantry battalions and the despatch of a single battalion of fully trained regular infantry to the 3rd New Zealand Division as scouts and raiders. I have a life-long experience of native troops, including language and family difficulties and other matters, and I am sure it would be most unwise to subject Fijians to such treatment in a page 395 strange environment. Moreover, it would end in Fijian sick and [group mutilated—wounded ?], unable to speak any language but their own, being scattered all over the place with no one to look after them, and will create great difficulties of supply and reinforcement.
The Brigade is organised and trained as such and has a strong Brigade esprit de corps, besides being to the Fijian people what your 2nd Division is to the people of New Zealand. It would be heartbreaking now to abandon the project of participation in the fight as a Brigade, besides creating for me an exceedingly difficult position with public opinion here, especially Fijian.
3. Accordingly, while re-affirming the agreement made with Stewart and accepted by you, I feel obliged to say that I regard the proposal in Army Headquarters' telegram of 28 June [No. 370] as being excluded by the qualifying words in paragraph 4 of the text of the agreement, and must regretfully decline the request for detaching a single battalion for use as a scouting and raiding unit. But the Brigade remains at your disposal in accordance with the terms of the agreement for employment as such in any theatre of war as to which you may be able to come to agreement with comsopac and, if you wish, as part of the New Zealand Division. My personal feeling is that the question of the garrison of Fiji will be settled shortly when the enemy is pushed back probably to Rabaul, if not further, since the United States Command intend to use this malaria-free island for some time to come as a recuperating station for a Division which, together with fixed defences, will at the next phase be more than sufficient a garrison for Fiji, thus releasing the Brigade for service abroad. I feel that when the present offensive is completed the United States Command will readily accept this view.
4. I much regret the inability to agree with the present request by Army Headquarters, but I believe on reflection you will agree with me that for the reasons given above I cannot send the Fijians off in single battalions and abandon now the rest of the Brigade units.
5. Wales has returned and has seen the above and agrees with it. He adds that if the proposal to employ the Brigade in Burma is pursued in London he considers that it would be admirably suited for that employment, and this could be borne in mind after the present operations are concluded. The Burma proposal is not yet known to the United States Command. If it would help you at all I should be happy to send Wales to New Zealand now to discuss all these matters with you and the New Zealand General Staff.