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Problems of 2 NZEF

CHAPTER 18 — Conclusions

page 270


THE preceding chapters of this volume have given our experience during the war, and have shown the difficulties that confronted us and the solutions we found, or the action we took, to overcome those difficulties. By the end of the war most of our one-time problems had ceased to be problems and had become normal procedure. Our answers may not have been perfect, as they were merely the best ones we could find at the time; but they were adequate. Had we gone on to take part in the war against Japan, we would have started there as we had ended in Europe, with all the experience we had gained in the preceding six years. Not that all would have gone smoothly thereafter, for it is a melancholy fact that problems are never-ending, and a fresh crop would certainly have arisen; but we would at least have been free of the old ones.

It cannot be claimed that all our work was the result of farsighted long-term planning. We cannot say with assurance that we foresaw in one year what was going to happen in the next. It would be ‘hindsight’, for instance, to claim that the base layout shown in Appendix I figured in a comprehensive plan in early 1940. Perhaps we had the broad idea at the back of our minds, i.e., that there would have to be some training depots and some service units to look after them; but within this rough framework the base grew unit by unit as some new need arose. Some problems – marriages and compassionate leave for instance – lasted for so long a time, and were so obviously persistent ones, that we could not help but think ahead and get ready for further difficulties. Other tasks sprang up more fortuitously – the formation of Advanced Base in early 1942, for instance. Here our experience on one occasion was of help for the next, for when the second advanced base (near Tripoli) had to be formed, we were ready with a plan. We can perhaps claim that by early 1942 the administrative machine was working smoothly enough not to be found lacking when anything unexpected arose; and this smooth working improved with the months and years thereafter.

If an analysis is made of the things that caused us trouble, it will be seen that the greater part could in the future be solved by action taken in New Zealand, either in peacetime or in the period between the outbreak of war and the despatch of the first contingent. The more planning that can take place in peacetime the better, alike page 271 in inter-departmental matters and within departments. This is a commonplace; but it has to be said, because it is still sometimes difficult to convince a government that planning is necessary, that it will take time and money, and that unfortunately there will be little to show the public at the time.

There are admittedly limits to the extent that a government can properly be expected to commit itself in peacetime, so that for many of the things mentioned below it may be necessary to wait until the outbreak of war; but even here it will be possible for the army itself to have a plan and to be sure for what it is going to ask. Under these conditions, the period before embarkation could be fruitful.

From the point of view of this volume, the most important action that could be taken in peacetime is that the nucleus of a headquarters staff should be in existence and functioning. One element of this staff should be a separate branch for ‘Expeditionary Force’ duties, as opposed to ‘Field Operational’ duties. Unless it has been made clear already that Expeditionary Force work, as differentiated from field work, arises at the beginning and goes on increasing, one of the objects of this volume has not been achieved. Without a separate ‘NZEF’ staff ready at the outbreak of war, the whole burden will fall on the staff of the field formation, with the result that in increasing degree that staff will be diverted from its proper work.

The Expeditionary Force staff in peacetime need not be large. Probably one officer would suffice, to be subordinate to the senior administrative officer at the time; but it must be borne in mind that at some early point, within New Zealand or overseas, the ‘NZEF’ staff officer will remove himself to a separate headquarters, and that the chief staff officer at this headquarters must be of some seniority and wield considerable authority.

It may appear that the creation of a staff has preceded the appointment of a commander; but this has not been forgotten. If the commander elect can be nominated in peacetime so much the better; but he must at least be appointed very soon after the outbreak of war, so that he may work with the staff and achieve some degree of integration before going overseas. The commander must have the full confidence of the Government, with no room for any doubts on the point; and in these circumstances should be given a generous charter.

We felt the need for our own code of military law and our own ‘Queen's Regulations’. Neither of these can be drawn up without long deliberation and care, and must therefore be worked out in peacetime.

page 272

In the various points that now follow, while it has already been indicated that it is not necessary that they should be settled until immediately after the outbreak of war, it would naturally be preferable that they should, wherever possible, be settled in peacetime. All that can be allowed is that there will probably be time to settle them after the war starts, and that it is realised that many decisions taken in peacetime may not be binding when the emergency arises.

There should be some form of understanding with the United Kingdom Government – or with whatever body is exercising the supreme control – on exactly what form the New Zealand contribution is going to take, i.e., to what extent the New Zealand force is to be self-contained. It can be accepted as axiomatic that New Zealanders prefer to be supported by their own nationals, and that the more the rear echelons are composed of New Zealanders the better. Certainly everything in the base camp and from that point forward should be supplied by New Zealand. Whether or not we should also supply troops for the base port and for the area between the port and the base camp is another matter; but it must be remembered that these duties have to be done, and that if we do not do our share then somebody else will have to step into the breach. The decision taken on this point by the New Zealand Government will not only help the Supreme Headquarters in its long-term planning, but will give some guidance to the GOC when he is asked for help – and most assuredly he will be asked.

Our experience supports the idea that it would be better to supply one large non-divisional organisation than to do as was done last time and supply a number of small units. Provided the men are supplied, there could be no objection to our running a complete base port, for instance, rather than our supplying a few odd units to work in a variety of places. A command suitable for a brigadier should be the sort of thing at which to aim.

Should it ever arise that New Zealand supplies a completely self-contained force, including a full share of the lines of communication throughout the theatre of war, it would probably emerge that there were more troops outside the field than in it – see page 173. It might then (and then only) be necessary to appoint a Force Commander separate from the Field Commander, in which case the relations between the two would need some careful working out. In circumstances similar to ours in the last war, however, the force and field commanders should be the same.

While discussions on these points are going on, it would be as well to give some thought to the question of interchange of commanders and staff between the New Zealand forces and others – presumably British.

page 273

It would be as well to settle at the same time the vexed question of interchange between New Zealand and the force overseas, for if any scheme of exchange of officers is to work, it must start at an early point and be kept very much alive. If there is too much delay, there will be strong protests from the officers serving overseas either to the admittance of officers from New Zealand into the force, or to the withdrawal of officers from the force for service in New Zealand.

To ensure the smooth running of the force overseas in the early stages, it is important that at least the skeleton of a properly organised Base Camp organisation should go overseas at the outset, the exact time depending on the circumstances in the theatre of war. Whether or not all the units are fully organised in New Zealand is of less importance than that men should be available in sufficient numbers for these duties, and that it should not be left to the force to improvise so early in its career. Obviously the Base Headquarters should be formed in New Zealand. The circumstances of the moment will prescribe what other units should be formed. It should be remembered that service units will be wanted just as much as training depots. A quiet word may be said about the early despatch of a mobile printing unit.

At this point consideration should be given to the employment of men of medical grading just below the highest, and of officers just too old for field service; also to the employment of women in as great numbers as is possible, certainly for clerical duties at headquarters and in large base offices. It may be of advantage to form a General Service Corps for the officers so employed – a corps separate from those pertaining to field units.

The mention of women brings in its train the thought that will have to be given to their status while overseas, both within the force and outside it, always remembering that Allied armies will also be employing women.

There should be some discussions with the Government about marriage policy, especially if the force is likely to be serving in a non-European country. Marriages within the force also merit a little attention, in order to decide what action, if any, is to be taken about wives continuing to serve with the force.

The appointment of a Public Relations Officer, and the arrangements for all the various aspects of publicity – not forgetting war correspondents – should be well thrashed out before the force leaves. The exact status of all these people needs some better definition than was available last time.

Welfare in all its forms is another major issue which merits thorough examination before the force sails. There seems to be a case for a Director of Welfare, to be the officer responsible for all page 274 aspects of the work; but it will still be necessary to decide whether or not the YMCA is to continue as a separate body, or whether its work is to be merged into a wider welfare service. Our experience would seem to show that it is unwise to let one church body only enter this field, and in fact that it is unwise to go beyond one undenominational body such as the YMCA. Welfare demands a degree of centralisation which cannot be achieved if there are representatives of numerous religious bodies.

Perhaps it will not be out of place to say that emotion should be kept out of discussions such as these, and that the pros and cons should be considered dispassionately.

Under the heading of Welfare come the possible employment of women in clubs and in hospitals, the exact position of the Red Cross Commissioner, and the arrangements to ensure an unfailing supply of books. Associated with this is the question of an army canteen service. Our aim should be to run our own; but it may still be necessary to depend on British arrangements for a few months.

An Education and Rehabilitation Service should be constituted soon after mobilisation commences; but for once it can be said that it need not proceed overseas until the base has been well established. To avoid heart-burning it should be made clear that the long-term part of the service is intended only for those on the New Zealand roll for as long as active operations continue; but part of the duties of the service should be the preparation and dissemination of information bulletins for everyone in the force.

As soon as it is firmly decided that a force is to proceed overseas, the question of escorts should be taken up with the controlling authority. In both the first and the second wars this question caused controversy – in the second war at a rather late stage – and it would be as well to clear the air at an early date.

The above points – all of them – appear to be ones that will require Cabinet decisions. There are many others that can possibly be determined by military authorities alone, although it should always be borne in mind that, in the early stages, the Government is sure to be interested in everything, and that if military rulings are likely to be queried by the public or the press, it would be as well to have Government backing.

A new force will have its own troubles at the time; but some of the points which caused us most trouble and which might thus be avoided in the future are as follows:

  • Extra-duty pay

  • Numbers of chaplains

  • Archivist or war historian

  • Promotion corps for infantry

  • Compassionate leave

    page 275
  • Compensation for loss of kit

  • Head-dress, badges, titles, patches

  • Status of reinforcement NCOs

  • Proportions of officers to be supplied from New Zealand

  • Size of reinforcement drafts

  • Photographic identity card

During the training period, some instruction should be given on the Geneva Convention.

Before the first contingent embarks, the selection of officers should be undertaken with the utmost care, and there should be no hesitation in reducing or removing officers about whose efficiency there is any doubt.

In the initial stages overseas it will be helpful if the force can be closely concentrated, with headquarters in the same camp or the same area as the rest of the troops. For the moment one headquarters would suffice, but in two clear sections – one for the tactical training and administration of the field troops, and for their subsequent operational control, and one for the general administration of the whole force.

The formation of the main base camp should be commenced at once, units, or men for units, having been supplied already from New Zealand. Some thought might be given to possible economies by having combined depots, or by making full use of schools for all common subjects. Included in the depots should be an officer cadet training unit.

At some suitable point the separate NZEF Headquarters should be formed. It will be a matter for consideration whether or not it is to be combined with the Base Headquarters; but at the least the Chief Administrative Officer of the force should have command over all non-field units and organisations, including the one large base camp if it exists.

From that point on care will have to be taken, both by the commander and by all the staff officers, that tasks are handled by the correct headquarters – or in other words, that NZEF work is not done at the field headquarters. It should be unnecessary to say that the two headquarters should work in the closest co-operation.

During the course of the war it is most desirable that there should be a closer personal liaison with New Zealand than there was last time. Cabinet ministers, and both staff officers and heads of services from Army Headquarters, should visit the force frequently. In the intervals between visits, Force Headquarters should send back frequent liaison letters to New Zealand.

It is for consideration whether there should be a system of confidential reports on officers, simple and not too frequent. Perhaps page 276 then some better solution of the problem of inefficient officers could be found than merely dumping them on the base.

As far as training is concerned, the objective should be to carry out the maximum amount overseas, but no draft should leave the country without thorough basic training.

After about two years’ service overseas, thought should be given to a possible changeover of personnel in about another year's time. Details can then be settled without the scramble of May and June 1943.

In the disciplinary field the most difficult problem will be the question of drink. Circumstances will naturally vary from place to place; but one good general rule is that the more men can be induced to drink within the lines and to keep away from civilian bars the better. Coupled with this problem is that of ensuring that men have every facility for occupying themselves when not working. This applies particularly to New Zealanders, who need distraction to keep them out of trouble.

A special branch of headquarters is needed for ‘Family Affairs’, to handle such matters as marriages and compassionate leave.

In the field of general administration the policy to follow should be to issue few orders, but to see that those issued are observed. The best work that the staff of Force Headquarters can do is to be constantly on the move around the force, both in the field and on the lines of communication. Close liaison such as this will in itself take the place of orders.

It can in fact be taken as our greatest lesson that the more the various parts of the military forces can be mixed up – New Zealand and the force overseas, field and base, Force Headquarters and units, staff and services – the less will be the real problems, and the easier will be the solutions to those that will inevitably arise.