CHAPTER 18 — Easing the Strain
Easing the Strain
WHEN the armed forces reached their peak strength, in September 1942, the civilian labour force had been depleted by well over a fifth. The services had taken mostly younger, fitter men; for part of 1942, over half of all males aged between 18 and 45 were serving.
The threat of Japanese invasion had seemed most ominous in the first nine months of 1942. Between November 1941 and September 1942, the numbers serving in New Zealand increased from 36,000 to 107,000. With some 50,000 men then serving overseas, there were at the peak mobilisation point 157,000 persons in the forces, out of a labour force estimated at the outbreak of war at 700,000 men and women.
But the limit had been reached. It was difficult enough to transfer so many people out of industry; quite impossible to keep the economy working efficiently without them. What had been achieved under stress of the threat of Japanese invasion could not be sustained for more than a few months.
From the middle of 1942 the increasing flow of American forces into the Pacific had stepped up the demands on New Zealand for food and services; but the depleted civilian work force was hard pressed even to maintain existing supplies.
In July 1942 the Director of National Service, writing to his Minister, had suggested that New Zealand was rapidly approaching the limit of its resources. His Department estimated that, by then, armed service recruitments had taken 14 per cent of all the male workers in primary industries, 25 per cent of those in secondary industries, and 37 per cent of those in other industries. He recommended that no further men be balloted for the armed services.
The Government, however, faced with commitments to maintain overseas forces on two fronts and still seized of the need to strengthen the home army, decided to continue with the ballots.page 482
It was already apparent that the demands of the armed services for more men could no longer be met without curtailing food production and essential services.
There was some pressure at this stage for a ‘total war effort’,1 with drastic reorganisation of industry to provide for the maximum use of every available man and woman in the interests of the war effort. Suggestions included a minimum working week of 48 hours for manual work, and 44 hours for shops and clerical work, the elimination of non-essential services and commodities, and the substitution of womanpower for manpower to the furthest possible extent. There would be rationalisation of industry based on the standardisation and simplification of products, pooling of plant and transport, and zoning of distribution. Of the proposal, the Director of National Service wrote, ‘… the Forces may be able to be supplied with the manpower they require, if the economy of the country as a whole is placed on a total war basis’.
In August 1942 an inter-departmental committee, the War Planning and Manpower Committee, started detailed work to this end. It is by no means certain that the proposal would have been adopted had a detailed scheme emerged. The Government had, so far, avoided major reversals of its labour legislation, except as required in essential industries. Wood writes:2
‘Administrative difficulties would have been immense, and unless the community had been confronted with an immediate threat of invasion or defeat, discontent at such drastic measures might well have been keen enough to cause that economic dislocation which they had been designed to avoid.’
In the event, the Pacific war situation improved later in the year. The Committee ceased to function and, though the demand for scarce manpower was still increasing, no more was heard of the ‘total war effort’.
We have seen, in Chapter 5, how men had been drawn out of the unemployment pool and from subsidised work, as wartime pressures for extra manpower increased. Of 19,000 men on unemployment benefit or in subsidised employment in September 1939, 13,000 remained in December 1940, and 6000 in December 1941. The year of peak mobilisation reduced this figure, by December 1942, to the then unbelievably low figure of 2000.
2 Wood, p. 248.
As late as mid-October 1942, the army was still calling for more men to serve in New Zealand. A summary presented to a secret session of Parliament estimated overall needs for the services at this time at 30,000 more people than at the peak mobilisation point.
Without further mobilisation of manpower and much more intensive use of the remaining industrial labour force, it was impossible to meet all demands.
Tension Reduces in the Pacific
The Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942, though this may not have been realised at the time, had been a turning point of the war in the Pacific. In early August 1942, United States forces had landed at Guadalcanal and Tulagi. Later in the same month the Japanese attack had been turned back in a large-scale sea battle off the East Solomons. On 30 November 1942 the naval battle off Guadalcanal stopped the southward drive of the Japanese. Of Guadalcanal, Admiral Halsey said:2
‘… This battle was a decisive American victory by any standard. It was also the third great turning point in the war in the Pacific. Midway stopped the Japanese advance in the Central Pacific; Coral Sea stopped it in the South West Pacific; Guadalcanal stopped it in the South Pacific…. If our ships and planes had been routed in this battle, if we had lost it, our troops on Guadalcanal would have been trapped as were our troops on Bataan. We could not have reinforced them or relieved them…. Unobstructed, the enemy would have driven south, cut our supply line to New Zealand and Australia and enveloped them.’
Much bitter fighting still remained, but War Cabinet's assessment of priorities changed and the home army was allowed to decline.
In November 1942 there were 104,000 persons serving in New Zealand, 3000 fewer than at peak mobilisation. Between November 1942 and August 1943 their numbers decreased by 31,000. However, while the home forces were decreasing, there was an increasing outflow of men for overseas service. The 3rd Division moved into page 484 the Pacific in the last months of 1942, and reached a strength of 12,600 in January 1943, which was raised to 17,700 by September and kept at about this level for the following six months. The number serving in all areas did not fall below 140,000 until after August 1943.
2 As quoted in The War, 1939–1945, p. 715; edited by D. Flower and J. Reeves.
The Strain on Civilian Manpower Worsens
Towards the end of 1942 the full effect of depletion of civilian manpower was being felt. This had been by far the most difficult year for many industries. Some had borne the strain well for a time, but were now beginning to reach the limit of their ability to produce with their reduced staffs. Meantime, demands for goods and services were still increasing.
Writing to Mr Churchill in November 1942,1 Mr Fraser stressed that the limit of New Zealand's manpower resources had been reached, and that it was not possible to build up the establishments which the Chiefs of Staff regarded as a minimum for the defence of the Dominion. Mr Fraser went on: ‘The question of production of food and other supplies, both for the United Kingdom and the South Pacific Area, also arises. The United States Forces are becoming increasingly dependent on New Zealand's resources for those essential supplies and services which we must endeavour to provide under the Mutual Aid Agreement.’
From 72,000, in August 1943, the strength of the home forces fell to 66,000 in November, but by this time overseas forces had reached their peak figure of over 70,000. The total serving in New Zealand and overseas had now fallen from the September 1942 level of 157,000 to a little over 136,000.
2 Southland Daily News, 26 January 1943.
3 NZPD, Vol. 262, p. 66, 3 March 1943
The following month Mr Fraser warned Mr Churchill,1 ‘… it will not be possible for New Zealand to maintain divisions both in the Mediterranean and in the Pacific beyond the end of the present year…. Despite every effort to comb out industry, sufficient key men must be retained to maintain essential production, and especially primary production, at a time when the target programme is being set at increasingly higher levels and when there is, moreover, every prospect that we will be supplying our own men actively engaged in the Pacific area, while demands for foodstuffs and services of all kinds under reciprocal aid are continually increasing.’
In an endeavour to plug gaps in essential industries, direction of civilian labour was intensified in 1943; but labour shortages continued to slow up production in many industries. With the faster tempo of allied military action, the need for further increases in production, especially food production, was becoming more pressing.
The strength of the army in the Pacific reached its peak in September 1943.2 By this time the home forces were down to 72,000, but in the opinion of many they were unnecessarily large, so long after the real threat of invasion had passed.
In November 1943, when the home forces numbered 66,000, the Council of the Manufacturers' Federation decided to take up the question of manpower ‘strongly’ with the Government. It said:3 ‘In the meantime, certain detailed information regarding losses in production in factories through shortage of manpower, and information which is becoming increasingly available regarding the wastage of manpower and womanpower in the armed services, is being collected from the district associations and other affiliated organisations.’
The Manpower Dilemma
The urgency of the need to reduce the strain on civilian manpower was matched only by the Government's reluctance to withdraw from either of the overseas theatres in which New Zealand forces were engaged. To maintain a division on both fronts, and to keep up food production, was obviously impossible, but, while the production of food was coming to be seen as New Zealand's main war contribution, neither Churchill nor Roosevelt could be induced to condone the withdrawal of New Zealand forces. Churchill wanted 2 Division to take its place at the fall of Rome1 and, with him, many in New Zealand looked forward to this fitting climax to the achievements of the Division. Roosevelt wanted 3 Division to remain active in the Pacific until the fall of Tokyo,2 and here again there was a strong body of New Zealand opinion to advocate that New Zealand should take its proper place in Pacific affairs.
To place the flow of food in jeopardy was out of the question. The decision had to be made between the withdrawal of 2 Division or 3 Division. New Zealand had to make the decision; her allies would not make it for her. As with all difficult decisions, it tended to be deferred.
By the end of 1943 the problem of staffing for the peak of the 1943–44 food production season had become critical. On 4 December the Deputy Prime Minister wrote to Admiral Halsey:3
‘From a survey of the manpower situation undertaken by War Cabinet it is apparent that New Zealand is faced with a most serious crisis, particularly in regard to the production of foodstuffs. Accordingly every effort is being made to effect the temporary release of any further men from the Armed Services, and it is most earnestly desired that men who are to be relieved of garrison duties in the Pacific should be brought back to New Zealand, if possible before the end of the year. Indeed, unless these men in the Pacific can be made available for employment in the freezing works before the peak of the season in January, it will not be possible to fulfil the commitments in respect of meat, either for the United States Forces in the Pacific or for the urgent needs of the United Kingdom.’
3 Documents, Vol. III, p. 430.
The number of men serving with the Army in the Pacific was reduced from 20,900 in December 1943 to 18,600 in March 1944, mostly by withdrawals from Fiji, Tonga and Norfolk Islands. However, Government efforts to tide over the 1943–44 season were concentrated on reductions in the numbers in the armed services in New Zealand, use of services personnel under the Army and Air Force harvesting scheme, and recruitment of holiday workers.
Between November 1943 and February 1944, the strength of the home forces was reduced by 9000 men. The Army and Air Force under the harvesting scheme supplied 6900 men on a temporary basis.
A statement by the Minister of Industrial Manpower on the 1943–44 season gives some indication of the expedients to which the Government was driven to tide over the seasonal peak:1
‘The services of almost ten thousand teachers, students, and schoolchildren had been used by the National Service Department during the recent summer vacation period to assist in various forms of nationally urgent work, stated the Minister of Industrial Manpower, Mr McLagan, yesterday. In paying a tribute to these people, and to the University authorities and educational bodies for their assistance, the Minister said it looked as though New Zealand would have obligations just as great, if not greater, in respect of seasonal industries this coming season, and it might be necessary to seek similar assistance again.
‘“The response from all concerned last season was most willing,” the Minister said. “From the University and Training Colleges we brought under direction 2099 men students and 1720 women. In addition, 212 men teachers and 558 women teachers were called up to help. These 4589 persons represented a large and willing labour force whose availability proved to be of the greatest moment in meeting our seasonal requirements. These people worked under the direction of the Manpower Officers, and as a whole they appear to have been reasonably satisfied with their conditions. There have, I am aware, been a few cases where persons were less fortunately placed and I am having any such cases fully investigated, so that their occurrence can be minimised should a similar necessity arise at the end of this year”.
1 Dominion, 4 May 1944. Important seasonal peaks in New Zealand are from January to March for harvesting and fruit picking, from December to May for livestock slaughtering, and from August to May for dairy factories. Usual vacations are from November to February inclusive for universities and from mid-December to the beginning of February in schools.
‘The Minister said the main classes of industry to which the holiday workers went were as follows:
|Other primary industry||92||171||263|
|Hospitals (apart from Medical Students)||—||146||146|
|Medical work (Medical Students)||241||38||279|
|Domestic work (on farms, etc.)||—||270||270|
‘“We had also,” said Mr McLagan, “a very large army of most willing younger workers, who volunteered from the post-primary schools. Altogether we had the voluntary assistance of 3271 schoolboys and 1958 schoolgirls. This is apart from many who assisted in various ways without coming under the notice of the Department. The cumulative total of the work of these young people in the fields and vegetable gardens, if it could be measured into thousands of tons of foodstuff which they handled, would be amazingly great. I wish to express my thanks to all these for the fine way in which they helped us in a national service of the utmost urgency.”’
A summary of the manpower problem of the time was available to Cabinet in a survey which was later conveyed to Mr Roosevelt by Mr Nash. His letter read, in part:1
‘The position in New Zealand requires some clarification in order to determine the most effective method by which we can use our manpower to help the war effort.
‘Our position at the time of the most recent full analysis was as follows:
Total number of males between the ages of 14–64 600,000 Of this total those engaged either full time with war and defence forces—in munition and war equipment manufacture—essential work, or minor, less essential work numbered 560,000 Total number of males between Service ages (18–40) 330,000 Of this total, at middle of last year those serving full time in Army, Navy or Air Services (exclusive of casualties) numbered 149,000 Of this 149,000, the forces overseas totalled 70,000page 489
1 Documents, Vol. II, No. 362, 24 January 1944.
‘The large proportion engaged in full-time war services is causing a reduction in our production of primary products. When I left New Zealand, for instance, in December last it was not possible to obtain full production in our meat freezing works (corresponding to your meat packing-houses) owing to shortage of manpower. Our butter, cheese and meat production from the farms is also declining owing to shortage of manpower (and of fertiliser, which is in very short supply).
‘We are anxious to use our full resources to finish the war at the earliest possible date, and also to meet all our commitments overseas, but we have to determine now where our manpower can best be used.’
A Change in Manpower Priorities
Since September 1942, the home forces had been required to give up manpower for return to the civilian labour force or to replenish the overseas divisions. By January 1944 they had released 50,000 men. It was not enough. This month brought the warning of another priority change. Manpower needs for production were now to be ranked higher than those of 3 Division in the Pacific. Reluctantly the decision was made to replace a portion of the manpower lost to food production and other essential industries, by bringing back from the Pacific men who volunteered for some of the most essential civilian work.
Mr Fraser wrote to Mr Churchill:
‘The whole question of our overseas commitments has now to be reviewed, in view of the fact that New Zealand has reached the end of its resources of manpower not engaged in essential industry and fit and available for service in the armed forces.’1
Under extreme difficulty the Government had succeeded in maintaining two divisions overseas until early in 1944. Even now, when forced to acknowledge the impracticability of keeping both at full strength, it would not take the decision to withdraw either. The force in Italy was to be kept up to strength and higher priority was to be given to essential production. The Pacific force would have to be reduced in numbers. If possible, it would be kept strong enough to be an effective fighting formation.
The main Pacific force, 3 Division, in New Caledonia and the Solomons, which had its highest strength of nearly 18,000 in December 1943, was in fact kept above 17,000 until March 1944, but then a more momentous decision had to be made.
1 Documents, Vol. II, No. 360, 19 January 1944.
Food Crisis in Britain
British food supplies were getting critically low. New Zealand dairy production in the 1943–44 season was at its lowest for over a decade, and meat production while higher than before the war was well below the preceding four wartime seasons.
Britain had repeatedly stressed the need for extra food from New Zealand, and the British Ministry of Food viewpoint, that New Zealand should concentrate on food production as her war effort rather than on providing armed forces, was gaining ground. Butter had been rationed in New Zealand from October 1943, in order to make more available for export, but greater attention to production was also imperative, as the New Zealand Cabinet had realised when it made its decision, in January 1944, to bring back selected workers from the Pacific.
In the early part of 1944, the British food problem worsened. The weekly cheese ration had been successively reduced from 8 oz a head to 6 oz to 4 oz to 3 oz, and was finally in danger of being reduced to 2 oz. There was, for a time, a plan to suspend temporarily the butter ration of 2 oz, failing the arrival of further supplies.
Confirming a February 1944 discussion with Mr Nash, the British Minister of Food, Mr Llewellin, wrote:1
‘… I would like to give you a few figures illustrating the vital importance of New Zealand's production of meat and dairy produce to the people of this country and to our Armed Forces. If New Zealand's production declines below the present level I do not see how we can possibly maintain our present standards of feeding in this country. Indeed I cannot be certain that we shall achieve this even if there is no further decline in the supplies you can send us and I can see no hope of making good our prospective deficiencies from any other source. It is the considered view of Cabinet here that the general standard of our civilian rations is not capable of any reduction if we are to keep the nation fighting and production fit. Therefore if some substantial reduction of the essential supplies which we get from your country has to take place our Service rations will almost certainly have to take a share in any cuts that have to be made. The following figures show the extent to which we depend on New Zealand for meat, butter, cheese.page 491
‘Butter To maintain our present ration of two ounces per week we need to import in 1944 160,000 tons of butter. Of this quantity we are looking to New Zealand to provide 96,000 tons. For practically all the remainder we look to Australia.
‘Cheese To maintain our three ounce ration we need 224,000 tons of imports and we are looking to New Zealand to provide 85,000 tons for this country and for our Armed Forces overseas. As we shall not get more than 80,000 tons of cheese from the U.S.A. in 1944, we shall probably have to reduce cheese ration for a number of weeks and replace this with canned meats from our protein reserves.
‘Meat Although we are not so dependent on New Zealand to the same overwhelming extent for the maintenance of the 1s. 2d. meat ration, we are looking to New Zealand for 210,000 tons of frozen meat in 1944.
‘We must either get this quantity from New Zealand or we must look to the U.S.A. to supply us with whatever deficiencies in our liftings from New Zealand is caused by the supply of New Zealand meat to the U.S.A. forces in the South Pacific.
‘New Zealand has been able to send us substantially greater quantities of these foods in the past. For example, in the four years 1934–38 our average imports of butter from New Zealand were 136,000 tons and of cheese 89,000 tons. In the year 1940–41 you actually supplied us with 107,000 tons of cheese. In the case of meat our average imports from 1934–38 were 260,000 tons, and in the first year of the war 285,000 tons.
‘The particular foods which New Zealand sends us are those of which we are now in most need. It is in livestock products that we suffered our most serious reductions over pre-war consumption levels, and my scientific advisers tell me that our consumption of animal protein foods is now as low as it can safely be.’
1 Letter copied in cable Nash to Fraser, 23 February 1944. Copy of cable in War History narrative No. 50, p. 12.
Pacific Division Becomes a Token Force
Faced with these urgent British needs and with increasing American requisitions for food and services for her forces in the Pacific; finding, moreover, increasing difficulty in providing a minimum flow of manufactured goods to fill her own most pressing civilian requirements, New Zealand finally, in March 1944, decided to divert 11,000 men from the Pacific division, reducing it to a token force. The division in Europe was to be kept up to strength, and it was hoped, later, to have an effective force in the Pacific.
As an additional measure, to step up food for Britain, meat rationing was introduced in the same month.page 492
‘No modern war can be won by the fighting services alone. The production of warlike equipment and stores and primary products (including food) is as essential to the war effort as is the work of the soldier in the front line. By virtue of her geographical position on Allied lines of communication and because of her natural resources, New Zealand has been requested by the highest Allied authorities and as part of the general war strategy, to undertake a greatly increased programme for the supply of food and other primary products. This she cannot do without some reduction in the numbers of her armed forces. It has been agreed that she ought to recall from active service certain categories of men whose work in primary and essential industries at home is likely to be of greater assistance to the war effort than is their continued service with the colours.’
Manpower Needs for Industry
The scheme for diversion of men from the Pacific provided for the return to New Zealand by October 1944 of 11,000 men. Seven thousand were to be in the country by 1 July, the remainder to return at the rate of 2000 a month. The men were to be those who volunteered to work in specified essential industries. The National Service Department estimated the minimum needs of industry at 17,500 men, to be placed before the end of 1944, 12,600 for farming and related industries, 4900 for other essential industries.
Estimates for farming and related industries comprised:
|Dairying and pig production||7,000|
|Meat and wool||1,000|
|Mixed cropping and stock||500|
|Vegetables and fruit||300|
|Butter and cheese factories||250|
|Food processing plants||100|
|Rural housing and ancillary occupations||1,950|
For other essential industries the estimated needs were:
First priority was the return of 7000 men for dairying. They would be needed by July to start the 1944–45 season.
Farm Manpower Needs Overestimated
The estimate of minimum labour requirements for farming turned out to be far too high. Farmers and Primary Production Councils had overstated shortages, and there was no proper picture of labour trends on farms against which their estimates could be checked. Mechanisation and new methods on farms had reduced labour needs far more than was realised. Instead of 7000 men, expected to be needed by July for dairying alone, only 4286 men could be placed on all farms by November. The experiences of the National Employment Service in trying to place men released from 3 Division are outlined in Chapter 8.1
This unfortunate experience highlights the need for good background statistics in making the type of judgment which was required of the National Employment Service. For reasons which no doubt seemed adequate at the time, the 1931 and the 1941 population censuses had been abandoned. The result, however, was that the only comprehensive picture of labour force distribution after 1926 available to the National Employment Service was that given by the 1936 census. There was therefore no up-to-date picture of recent trends and, as a result, a good deal of wartime manpower policy lacked a firm factual background. There can be no substitute for a background of information of this sort, when important decisions have to be made. The extent of public clamour at the time does not provide any reliable estimate of the size of a problem, as the National Employment Service found.
In Chart 77, successive census results are compared, the use of male labour in each major industry group being equated to 1000 in 1936. The chart shows clearly the difference in growth of labour requirements in farming as compared with other industry groups. Between 1936 and 1951, the use of male labour on farms declined 21 per cent, whereas the use of male labour in all industries increased 13 per cent. It it easy to see that inadequate warning of this strikingly different trend in farming employment was likely to lead to wrong wartime judgments.
Labour force changes up to 1945 are confused by the fact that 45,400 persons were still serving overseas at the time of the 1945 population census.2 However, the wartime boost to the growth of manufacturing industries shows up clearly in the chart. Between 1936 and 1945 the numbers engaged in manufacturing increased page 494 page 495 15 per cent; those in farming decreased 22 per cent. The building and construction industry, in spite of the impetus of defence construction in 1942–43 and 1943–44, had 8 per cent fewer workers in 1945 than in 1936, but was to make a spectacular spurt after the war. Of the industry groups with a long-term upward trend, distribution and finance was most seriously affected by the war. It had 20 per cent less labour in 1945 than in 1936.
1 pp. 193–4.
2 Including about 700 women.
Public Criticism of the Size of the Home Forces
While 3 Division was being reduced, there had been growing agitation in New Zealand about the strength of the armed forces held in New Zealand when the Japanese were on the defensive. A committee of civilians, the Defence Forces Personnel Committee, was set up in May 1944 to investigate the manpower situation in the armed forces. Over the next year the committee visited and reported on military establishments in New Zealand and the Pacific.
‘The time has come for New Zealand to be satisfied whether its present Air Force establishment is necessary. It should be told why the colossus which was justified in 1942–43 should retain its stature in 1944 when so much of the excuse for its size has apparently disappeared as rapidly as the war in the South Pacific has receded from this area.’
It has to be remembered that, as 3 Division was reduced, the Air Force and the Navy became New Zealand's only sizable representation in the Pacific theatre, and that a considerable organisation was necessary in New Zealand to keep the RNZAF in the Pacific. Moreover, the RNZAF reached its peak wartime strength over a year later than did the Army. However, there seems justification for the contention that some New Zealand stations kept too many men for too long.
The strengths of the forces in New Zealand were, compared with a peak strength of 107,000 in September 1942, 72,500 in August 1943, 56,900 in February 1944, 54,900 in August 1944 and 41,500 in February 1945. The RNZAF had, in New Zealand, 29,700 in August 1943, 28,500 in February 1944, 27,000 in August 1944 and 21,500 in February 1945. Its peak strength in New Zealand had been 30,600 in September 1943, but it did not reach its peak strength in the Pacific theatre until March 1945, when just under 8000 were there.
Squadron Leader Ross writes:1
‘On some stations and in some trades, manpower was not used to the best advantage and there was room for improvement; but in general the position was not nearly as bad as the public was led to believe.
‘A certain discrepancy between available manpower and immediate needs at the time was inevitable. The RNZAF had been expanding its Pacific strength as rapidly as possible to meet its commitments, and was in the process of levelling off. There was necessarily a slight time-lag between the achievement of full strength and a review of that strength to see if it was too great or too small for the job in hand.’
1 Squadron Leader J. M. S. Ross, Royal New Zealand Air Force, p. 290.
The End of the Pacific Division
In September 1944 the Government bowed to the impossibility of maintaining all its manpower commitments. It decided to leave 2 Division in Europe and to use the balance of 3 Division to reinforce it.2 This was a disappointing ending for the Pacific division; the only consolation was that New Zealand would continue to be represented in the Pacific by her Navy and Air Force.
Gillespie says,4 ‘A total of 17,134 all ranks returned from the Pacific, and by the beginning of September were scattered far and wide. Of these, industry absorbed 12,069; another 3229 had embarked to join 2 Division; 38 were on their way to the United Kingdom; 830 were in camp with 16th Reinforcements, and 968 were held on home service.’
At the end of November 1944, 9100 men from 3 Division were held under direction in the following industries:5
|Building and construction||1,386|
|Meat freezing works||478|
|Logging and sawmilling||474|
|Butter and cheese factories||473|
|Other approved industries||601|
Meantime industry was repeatedly being combed through to find fit men suitable for armed service who could be taken into the forces without hampering essential production.
3 Parliamentary Paper H–19b, 1948, p. 10.
Labour Shortages in the Last Year of War
Between peak mobilisation in about September 1942 and the end of 1944, armed forces strengths were reduced by 59,000. The numbers serving in New Zealand had been reduced by 62,000, but 3000 more were serving overseas. In Europe, 2 Division was in need of reinforcements and replacements for long-service men, whom the Government had undertaken to release.
In late 1944 and early 1945, the Government was hard put to find sufficient men for the Division in Europe, without impairing food and other essential production. Promised reinforcements were delayed. The Prime Minister wrote in explanation to General Freyberg,1 ‘… owing to their employment in the production of essential foodstuffs, which is now at the height of the season, 3rd Division personnel temporarily released to industry have not been returned to the Army on the dates expected. Difficulty is also being experienced in obtaining the release of men held on appeal, the majority of whom are also employed in primary industries.’
In January 1945, the Director of National Service said,2 ‘The general manpower situation as 1945 commences is more difficult than it has been at any stage of the war.’ However, his recommendation that New Zealand should still further reduce her overseas commitments was not accepted. At this stage, apart from those serving in New Zealand, the main armed forces strengths were 36,000 in the Army in the European theatre, where replacements and reinforcements were urgently needed, 8000 with the RNZAF in the Pacific and 10,000 in the Navy.
The only remaining reserves from which new military recruits could be obtained were men held in essential industry. Cabinet decided, in February, that a further comb out of industry was to be made and, except in sawmilling and coal mining, 20 per cent of the appeals reviewed were to be dismissed without reservation. The effect of this drastic instruction was to bring about an increase of 3000 men by May 1945, of whom most went overseas.
There was, however, increasing restiveness in industry about manpower policy, especially in view of the need for extra food production and the banking up of long-deferred civilian demands for many commodities.
1 Documents, Vol. II, No. 412.
2 Writing to Minister of National Service, 25 January 1945.
By the end of March 1945, a peak of 255,000 persons was employed in undertakings covered by declarations of essentiality. Industry was still seriously short of labour. Unemployment was down to some scant 200 marginal or semi-employable workers, and the National Employment Service had records of 6600 vacancies for males and 4800 for females.
Between peak mobilisation in September 1942 and VE Day, on 8 May 1945, armed forces strengths were reduced from 157,000 to just below 100,000 men and women. Of these latter 58,000 were serving overseas and 42,000 in New Zealand.1 By VJ Day, on 15 August 1945, a further 10,000 men and women had been released from the forces, lowering the total strength to around 89,000.
The end of the war in Europe brought increasing pressure for relaxation of manpower controls on the one hand and, on the other, demands for more men for industry. All declarations of essentiality were reviewed, and at the end of June the first revocations freed some industries. At the same time limited classes of people were exempted from manpower controls. The end of the war in the Pacific was followed quickly by further releases of workers and industries from control. The Minister of Labour, Mr McLagan, announced on 18 August that most declarations of essentiality would be removed by the end of the year. In the meantime direction of labour would be restricted to the highest priority industries, and the only classes of workers subject to direction would be men aged 18 and under 45 who had not had overseas service, and unmarried women aged 18 and under 30. The last remaining group of declarations of essentiality was revoked in June 1946, and the last group of workers was freed from liability to direction in the same month.
There were still 56,000 men and women serving in the forces in November 1945, but demobilisation at this stage was proceeding rapidly and, by February 1946, total strengths had fallen to 26,500. However, had all these people been released too, it would not have seen the end of the civilian labour shortage. The employment situation had been much more lastingly changed than most people realised at the time.2page 499
|Year||Overseas||Military and Political Events in New Zealand||Economic Events in New Zealand|
|1942 (December)||Comprehensive economic stabilisation scheme started in December.|
|1942–43 is peak year for defence construction.|
|Railway travel restrictions in North Island—July 1942 to January 1943.|
|Full effect of depletion of civilian labour force about end of year.|
|1943||8th Army enters Tripoli in January.||Direction of civilian labour intensified.|
|German forces surrender at Stalingrad in February—turning point of war in Russia.||Lowest war year for marriage and birth-rates.|
|Battle of Bismarck Sea in March.||Record imports from United States in 1943 (mostly Lend-Lease).|
|U-boat losses averaging one a day by May.||Electric power shortages.|
|Resistance in Tunisia ends in May.||Growing criticism of the size of the home army.|
|Allied shipping position starts to improve in second half of year.||High imports of defence materials. First satisfactory year in this respect.||Farm stabilisation accounts established in June.|
|New Zealand Army in the Pacific at peak strength in September.|
|Allied invasion of Italy in September—Italy surrenders.||Butter rationing starts in October.|
|UNRRA established in November.||Harvesting for 1943–44 requires exceptional measures to find sufficient workers.page 500|
|1944||Acceleration in open-cast coal mining.|
|British food position worsens.||Tribunal set up in February to investigate wages and conditions for railwaymen.|
|Request in February for urgent increase in New Zealand food production.||Decision in March to divert 11,000 men from Pacific division, mostly to the labour force in New Zealand.||Meat rationing starts in March.|
|Railway coal stocks low. Travel restrictions applied, January to September.|
|Annual Holidays Act passed in April.|
|Defence Forces Personnel Committee set up in May, following further criticism of the size of the home forces.||Organisation for National Development set up in May.|
|D Day. Landing in France, 6 June.||Slightly less rigid rules for Court of Arbitration in June.|
|First Super-Fortress raid on Japan in June.||Dairy production in 1943–44 season lowest for over a decade.|
|Most United States forces had left by the middle of the year.||Long-term contracts for meat and dairy produce signed with the United Kingdom in July. Lump-sum payments start.|
|Decision in September to disband Pacific division.|
|Proposals for establishment of the United Nations in October.||Closing of United States base at Auckland in October.||Maximum New Zealand food supplied to United States forces in 1944.page 501|
|Americans invade Philippines in October.|
|Super-Fortress raid on Tokyo in November.||Increase in Parliamentary salaries in December.|
|1945||Protest at Parliamentary salary increase—strikes in January.||Manpower position, as 1945 commenced, most difficult in the war.|
|Electric power shortages tending to restrict industrial expansion.|
|Railways Tribunal grants back-dated wage increase in February. Public Service wages follow.|
|New regulations for Arbitration Court in February bring to an end period of rigid stabilisation.|
|Drastic comb-out of industry for further men for armed forces.|
|Standard wage pronouncement in March increases wages by 3 ½d. an hour.|
|United States forces invade Okinawa in April.|
|VE Day. 8 May.|
|United Nations Charter signed in June.||First revocations of declarations of essentiality in June.|
|VJ Day. 15 August.|