Problems of 2 NZEF
We started the war by adhering to British war establishments for our units. Basically we continued to do so until the end, but with many alterations and additions. British war establishments were fine examples of staff work, in this case of designing an organisation which would stand up to pressure from all directions, and could suffer adaptations without collapsing. Part of their soundness lay in the fact that they were designed for average conditions of service. In times of stress a unit might feel the strain and be short of men for its requirements; in times of normal activity, numbers would be just right; and in times of no activity, a unit would be well off and could release men for leave. In average conditions the work of a unit should just be pressing on its numbers.
It is easy to understand that field commanders are never satisfied with this position. A common appeal at Headquarters was that extra men should be sent to the unit – not posted, but just ‘attached’ – instead of sitting at Maadi doing nothing, the plea being that the unit would be able to do some extra work and might even beat the Germans a bit sooner, and that the men would get more practical training with the unit than in a depot.
At first sight this appeal is plausible; but it is a false argument. Reinforcements are retained in depots so that they can be looked after, kept in good health, and kept alive to replace casualties as they occur in field units. If they go to units in advance they will not be so comfortably looked after, will be used on extra work, and may be casualties themselves before they can fulfil their real role – which is to ensure that the maximum fighting force is maintained at a steady figure instead of fluctuating wildly. Carried to extremes, the appeal would mean that all reinforcements, as soon page 194 as they arrive, should be posted to units. All the manpower eggs would then be in one basket, and if disaster happened, as it did to a few units during the war, all the eggs would have been broken at one blow. Reinforcements are the insurance for the future, and should be kept for that purpose. It may be difficult to determine just what proportion of the total manpower should be in the form of units, and what in the form of reinforcements; but a combination of war establishments, wastage tables, and hard experience produces not such a bad answer.
On one or two rare occasions we did let small parties of reinforcements join units before they were required to make up deficiencies; but in every case it was because their technical training could not be carried out at Maadi, and the units were working on the lines of communication and having no battle casualties.
All through the war there was a steady stream of applications for small increases to establishments – an additional clerk, Bren-gunner, driver, signaller, mess waiter, and so on. Each case was a minor one, but in the mass they mounted up. For alterations to divisional units, the custom was that the applications had to be approved by Divisional Headquarters before coming to HQ 2 NZEF; and if Divisional Headquarters agreed, it was difficult for HQ 2 NZEF to dispute them. Our liaison with Divisional Headquarters helped to keep the number of these applications down, for we would keep it advised of the reinforcement position; but, all the same, small increases in the Division absorbed the odd hundred or so every year.
Establishments at the base or on the lines of communication were left entirely to HQ 2 NZEF to settle, and it was – or should have been – easier to refuse an application for an increase; but it must be admitted that too many slipped through the net.
Not for the first time it must be said that the GOC's charter was a blessing. Without it we would have had to refer to New Zealand all this mass of proposed alterations, with the result that the administrative machine would have collapsed. The medical historian for one has commented on the advantages that accrued from the flexibility of war establishments in 2 NZEF.
Initially we used British war establishments without alteration, and tried to get enough copies to distribute to units, but soon found this impossible so commenced duplicating our own. Gradually we abandoned the British establishment in full detail and in increasing degree worked out our own, which also had to be reproduced and distributed. A war establishment is a complicated affair of numbers and ranks, arms, vehicles, ammunition and equipment, even if issued once and for all; but the never-ending slight alterations increased the work more than was realised by those who page 195 asked for the alterations; for the greatest accuracy is necessary, and an alteration of one man would cause consequential alterations to many other columns and totals. Cumulatively the preparation and distribution of war establishments became one of the biggest single tasks undertaken by HQ 2 NZEF. The number of copies required for any one unit was never great enough to justify using our hardworked printing unit, and war establishments were cyclostyled.
It should be borne in mind that the official war establishment was the authority for the ranks, and thus the pay, of officers and NCOs alike, not to mention those entitled to extra-duty pay.