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

Appendix II — Visit Of Ministers From Dominions And Of A Representative From India — New Zealand Forces — Note of a Meeting Held at the War Office at 5.30 p.m. on Monday,6 November 1939

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Appendix II
Visit Of Ministers From Dominions And Of A Representative From India
New Zealand Forces
Note of a Meeting Held at the War Office at 5.30 p.m. on Monday,6 November 1939


The Rt. Hon. L. Hore-Belisha, MP, Secretary of State for War (in the Chair)

The Duke of Devonshire, MBE, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. The Hon. P. Fraser, MP, Deputy Prime Minister.
Major-General R. H. Dewing, DSO, MC, Director of Military Operations and Plans. Mr. W. J. Jordan, High Commissioner in London.
Major-General L. Carr, CB, DSO, OBE, Assistant Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Mr. C. A. Berendsen, CMG, Permanent Head, Prime Minister's Department.
Mr. J. E. Stephenson, CVO, OBE, Dominions Office. Colonel W. G. Stevens, Secretary, Defence Council.

Lieutenant-Colonel V. Dykes, MBE, RE, Secretary

Mr. Fraser said that the New Zealand Government had decided to raise a force of one division, totalling some 15,000 men, in three echelons. The first echelon, about 6600 strong, was in camp now, and the second echelon was due to be called up in a month's time. The period of training proposed was about eight months. All the men enrolled had undertaken obligations to serve overseas if required.

In connection with these forces there were four main questions of concern to the New Zealand Government.

The first of these was whether the attitude of Japan would permit the despatch of New Zealand troops overseas. After hearing Lord Halifax and the strategical discussion on 2 November, he understood that the United Kingdom Government thought the possibility of Japanese intervention was becoming more remote. The question still remained, whether a break-through on the Western Front would bring in Japan and possibly Italy against the Allied Powers. He gathered, however, that the General Staff thought such a break-through to be most unlikely. Accordingly, there seemed to be no impediment to the early despatch of New Zealand troops overseas, provided always, of course, that adequate arrangements could be made for the protection of the convoy on its passage.

The next point to be considered was the disposal of the various contingents as their training progressed. If they were retained in New Zealand, very much larger provision would have to be made for training page 336 camps and equipment. The alternative was to send the echelons overseas either to the Middle East or to the United Kingdom to complete their training, or possibly to relieve British troops in overseas garrisons such as Singapore. He understood that the early despatch of Dominion troops overseas was considered likely to have a very good effect on world opinion, and he would certainly communicate that view to the New Zealand Government on his return.

A third point for consideration was the equipping of the New Zealand forces. The matter had already been discussed in general terms, and he understood that if Dominions so desired they would receive first priority in the matter of equipment, subject always, of course, to their fitting into the general War Office programme. It would clearly be wasteful to take all the equipment out to New Zealand only to have to bring it back again the whole way to the theatre of war. The New Zealand Government would be quite prepared if their troops could receive their equipment either in the Middle East or in the United Kingdom, wherever they completed their training.

The only other question which still remained to be settled was that of the financing of the force. In the last war the money had been found by a loan from the United Kingdom, and the same procedure would have to be adopted now. New Zealand could not find the necessary finances from her own internal resources.

Mr. Hore-Belisha expressed his warm appreciation of the generous response of New Zealand, and looked forward to the early arrival of the New Zealand forces to serve alongside those of the United Kingdom.

As regards the attitude of Japan and Italy, it was of course impossible to guarantee anything. The Foreign Office were preparing a political appreciation which would cover this point, but his own view was that it would be safe to take a chance on the continued neutrality of Japan. Naturally this attitude might change if we had a serious reverse, but this made it all the more necessary to ensure that we did not have a setback. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff was of the opinion that the Maginot Line was virtually impregnable—any attempt on it would involve an immense loss of life. We had reason to be very grateful to France for the great expense which she had incurred in the past in preparing this line, and for the way in which she was at present holding the Western Front with very limited assistance from us. It was most necessary that we should come to her assistance as early as possible and prevent any chance of a break-through in the West.

It was possible, of course, that Germany might invade Holland or Belgium. An invasion of Holland alone could not be looked on in any way as a defeat for the Allies, since, unless Belgium also was invaded, we should have no common frontier with Germany. He doubted whether it would have any adverse effect on Japan, though admittedly she might be tempted to make trouble in the Dutch East Indies. On the other hand, it would certainly rouse intense feeling in the United States of America which would redound to our advantage. The seizure of Holland would lessen the distance between German air bases and the United Kingdom, but it would also lessen the distance to the vital area of the Ruhr.

The War Office were vitally interested in the early arrival of New Zealand forces, and they would make every sacrifice to equip them with the least possible delay. The financial aspect was, of course, a matter to be settled with the Treasury.

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Assuming that the attitude of Japan remained satisfactory, it would be preferable for each echelon, as it became available, to be sent to the Middle East. This would avoid the necessity for duplicating accommodation in New Zealand. The Middle East was a very central position, and training facilities were excellent.

Mr. Fraser said that on the grounds of sentiment he would have preferred the New Zealand forces to have completed their training in the United Kingdom, but his Government would be guided in this matter by the wishes of the United Kingdom. The troops would have all the equipment which New Zealand could provide from her own resources, but mechanical transport and the more complicated armaments would have to be found from the United Kingdom. New Zealand was making a very big effort in proportion to her small population of 1¾ millions.

Mr. Hore-Belisha emphasised the desirability of the early despatch of the first echelon from New Zealand. It was the moral effect which had to be borne in mind. For this very reason the War Office were now considering the desirability of sending formations from the United Kingdom to complete their training in France.

Mr. Fraser said that details of shipping arrangements, &c., would have to be discussed by his staff with the War Office and the Admiralty. He expressed his appreciation of the ready assistance which had been forthcoming from the United Kingdom Departments, and paid a tribute to the earnestness, efficiency, and modesty of all the officers with whom he had come in contact.

In conclusion, he referred to a telegram which he had just received from the Prime Minister of New Zealand, offering to place the New Zealand anti-tank battery which had been formed in this country, at the disposal of the United Kingdom authorities, on condition that it was released for service with the New Zealand contingent when the latter arrived. The remaining batteries to complete the whole anti-tank regiment were being formed in New Zealand. He proposed that a public announcement to this effect should be made by the New Zealand High Commissioner, and suggested that a suitable opportunity would be at the conclusion of his visit to Aldershot on Wednesday, 8 November.

Mr. Hore-Belisha welcomed this suggestion. He proposed to arrange for the simultaneous issue of a statement expressing the United Kingdom Government's high appreciation of this offer by New Zealand.