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

38 — Report by the Hon. P. Fraser on his Visit to England in 1939 — [Extract] — APPOINTMENT OF GENERAL OFFICER COMMANDING

Report by the Hon. P. Fraser on his Visit to England in 1939


….4 This again was one of the matters which I felt it essential to take up at the earliest possible moment and by the courtesy of the British authorities I was enabled to have a very early interview with General Ironside.

Before this interview, however, I had an opportunity of a discussion with Major-General Freyberg, who was kind enough to come to London especially for the purpose, and I was at once struck

4 See Formation and Despatch of First Echelon (No. 66) for rest of text. As the original of this report could not be traced, this draft was supplied by courtesy of Mr. Fraser, who has partially reconstructed the report from notes made at the time.

page 30 not only by his personality and by his obvious experience and confidence, but particularly by the supreme importance which he clearly attached to the proper treatment of the troops and to the necessity of proper and timely administrative measures to ensure their welfare and their safety. I have, since that interview, seen a great deal of General Freyberg and I am convinced that my first impressions are right and that he is clearly the best choice for the post that is open to us. General Mackesy was good enough to come to London from Yorkshire and he also spoke highly of General Freyberg. I also made an opportunity, in accordance with your suggestions, for an interview with Sir Stephen Allen, who spoke in the highest terms of General Freyberg and assured me that in his view it would be impossible to get a better man.

Armed with these views and opinions, when I saw General Ironside I told him that we were considering him (Freyberg) for the post of General Officer Commanding the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. He at once made it plain that in his opinion we could not make a better choice. He also spoke in the highest terms of Freyberg, whom he had known for a very lengthy period, and he expressed the opinion that Freyberg invariably took care of his men even at the risk of his own safety. He referred also to the wide experience which Freyberg had, not only in fighting but in the organisation of large bodies of men on a war basis. He regarded him as an admirable man to command a division, and indeed he had Freyberg on his own list, with five others, to be given command of an English division at a very early date. He made it plain that if we wanted Freyberg he would certainly allow us to have him, and that if we did not he would shortly be appointed to command an English division.

Subsequently, when in France, I had an opportunity of mentioning the matter to Lord Gort who also spoke in terms of high praise of Freyberg, though he thought he should have at least two months in France before assuming command of a division. At a later discussion I raised this aspect of the matter with General Ironside. He deprecated this on three grounds, firstly, that Freyberg would learn enough of the present method of operations in France in a week; secondly, that the present methods were as yet untried and might not be held to; and, thirdly, it was not impossible that the New Zealand Division would have to be employed in a totally different form of warfare in a totally different theatre of war.

When I saw Mr. Winston Churchill1 just prior to my departure he told me that upon my arrival in the United Kingdom he had sought an opportunity to see me with a view to pressing me to urge upon the New Zealand Government the desirability of appointing

1 Then First Lord of the Admiralty.

page 31 Freyberg, whom he regarded as pre-eminently suitable to command such magnificent troops as the New Zealand Division had always proved themselves to be in the past and would, he felt, continue so to do. Further confirmation came from Sir Charles Fergusson1 who went out of his way to express his satisfaction at the appointment and his admiration for Freyberg's qualities. Indeed, I think it proper to say that I have heard no criticism of the appointment and nothing but praise, and that I am entirely satisfied that the right thing has been done. My colleagues will, of course, have an opportunity of judging for themselves during the short period that the General will be in New Zealand. I should add that on the way out he proved to have a most business-like manner of formulating and preparing lists of the matters which he wished to discuss and the steps he thinks should be taken to ensure the welfare, comfort, and safety of the troops under his command.

1 General Sir Charles Fergusson, GCB, GCMG, DSO, MVO, Governor-General of New Zealand, 1924–30.