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

245 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

13 October 1940

I am most reluctant to trouble the Government with difficulties, but I have no alternative since the present situation deals with the policy of the employment of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

The dispersion of the First Echelon by a process of detachments has been one unfortunate result of splitting the First and Second Echelons. To explain the trend of events, I quote an instance during my absence in the United Kingdom when Generals Wavell, Wilson, and Blamey1 considered how the forces in the Middle East should meet the situation caused by the collapse of the French. Regrouping was necessary, and it was proposed that the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Egypt should be split into six detachments. Quite apart from the loss of our identity, it would have caused problems of administration, discipline, and records. By the proposed rearrangement the First Echelon were dispersed between Corps Troops, the Western Desert Force, Corps Signals, Corps Reserve, the 6th Australian Division, and the 4th Indian Division. On receiving these proposals in the United Kingdom I cabled General Wavell as follows:

Have just received your proposals for reorganisation with its repercussions upon the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Egypt. As no such change can be made without the approval of the New Zealand Government, I hope these proposals will not be proceeded with. I do not wish to disclose to the New Zealand Government the proposals as outlined by you to break up the page 188 New Zealand Force, as they would make a most unfavourable impression in New Zealand official circles with repercussions you probably have not foreseen. The answer to any such proposals would, I am sure, be an uncompromising refusal.

Resulting from this telegram the proposed splitting was dropped. Notwithstanding, however, when I arrived back in Egypt I found that by peaceful methods units had been dispersed over a wide area as follows, many detachments having existed for months:

Divisional Signals and 4th Reserve Mechanical Transport Company under the command of the Western Desert Force;

Long Range Patrol of two officers and eighty men on the Libyan frontier under British officers;

Ammunition Company under the command of the Cairo Area;

2nd Cavalry Regiment at Daba under Lines of Communication;

4th Infantry Brigade Group, 27th Machine Gun Battalion, 5th Field Park Company, and 6th Field Company near Mersa Matruh under the command of the Western Desert Force;

About fifty artificers spread out from Khartoum to Alexandria.

Most of these commitments are more than 200 miles away from Divisional Headquarters and the Third Echelon at Maadi.

When I told General Wilson that I now wanted to concentrate the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to train as a Division he temporised but, under pressure, said he saw no chance until after December. During a crisis I quite realise that temporary detachments may be necessary, and under the existing powers given me by the New Zealand Government I will do everything to help, but in the interests of the Division I consider that the present unsatisfactory position should be terminated. Before doing so, will my Government say if they concur? As it would be better if I can settle the matter personally with the Commanders here, I would suggest that the New Zealand Government do not make representations to the British Government at this stage.

1 General Sir Thomas Albert Blamey, GBE, KCB, CMG, DSO; GOC, 6th Division, AIF, 1939–40; GOC, 1st Australian Corps, 1940–41; title altered in 1941 to GOC, AIF in Middle East; commanded Anzac Corps in Greece, Apr 1941; Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, 1941; Commander-in-Chief, Allied Land Forces, South-West Pacific Area, 1942–45.