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

30 — Letter from General Freyberg to Mr. C. A. Berendsen,1 Permanent Head of the Prime Minister's Department

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Letter from General Freyberg to Mr. C. A. Berendsen,1 Permanent Head of the Prime Minister's Department

General Officer Commanding,

Salisbury Plain Area,
Bulford Barracks,
6 November 1939

My Dear Berendsen,

I realise how difficult it must be for you and your Minister at the present time, and my only wish is to do anything I can to be of any assistance to the New Zealand Government.

Perhaps my best contribution would be to put upon paper my views upon the two problems we discussed at our meeting last night:


The choosing of the GOC for the New Zealand Forces.


The problem of mobilising, training, and maintaining the New Zealand Division in the field.

The latter question is a very big one, involving many problems that must affect the speed and efficiency by which the Division can be prepared for war. All these problems and the decisions that must be taken carry with them serious financial repercussions. I have discussed this in attached Appendix II.2

After my talk with the Deputy Prime Minister, I was diffident about discussing the question of your choice of GOC. But since these are such unusual times, I feel that you will appreciate that any advice I give you is from an entirely detached point of view.

The choosing of a GOC is so much a matter of opportunity. As you will realise, the number of first-class, experienced, and fully trained Commanders in a small Regular Army, such as we possess here in England, is relatively not great. The New Zealand Division certainly deserves to get a Commander who will appreciate and understand the wonderful material with which he is being entrusted. Further, and this is most important, he should be a man who will weld the Division into one large happy family. I am sure that it is only upon these lines that best results can be achieved.

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With such a Commander and building upon the traditions that already exist, the New Zealand Division will be second to none. Mr. Fraser was kind enough to inquire whether I would like to be considered as a possible Commander. I need hardly say that I feel highly honoured. If, after due consideration, the New Zealand Government wanted my services, the New Zealand Government would have to apply to the War Office for me. I for my part would come to you even if it meant giving up the command of an Army Corps to do so.

I have put as Appendix I my views upon some of the essential qualities necessary for a GOC.

In any case, whatever your decision may be, I hope that you get the GOC that you want and that he will do full justice to the New Zealand Division.

Yours sincerely,
Bernard Freyberg


In view of the fact that the New Zealand Division will have far fewer officers from the Imperial Forces than had its predecessor of 1914, and also of the fact that a large proportion of the officers that they will bring with the Division will have had little opportunity of commanding troops in the field, even upon manœuvres, great responsibility will fall upon the GOC and his staff during the collective training period before going to France. This, in my opinion, is a very important consideration. This is, I know, offset by a leavening of officers who served in the war [1914–18].

The GOC, whoever he may be, should have been trained upon manœuvres in the command of a force of all arms, and in addition should have a wide war experience of command during the war. In my opinion, he should have commanded an Infantry Brigade, or similar Artillery Command, for the last years of the war. I suggest this because it is important that he should have practical experience of making and carrying out artillery fire plans in the various phases of battle. He should have actual experience in command during:


A retreat under heavy enemy pressure;


A counter-stroke;


The forcing of a river line against opposition;


Operations in open warfare involving the co-operation of all arms.

So much for the minimum requirements from a tactical and training point of view.

Apart from this the Commander should also have practical and very detailed knowledge in the care and comfort of his troops. He page 26 must understand the complicated structure of Army life, and be able to teach his officers and men how best to make use of the excellent arrangements and material generally, such as the ration and cooking equipment, stores, &c., with which he will be issued upon mobilisation.

1 Sir Carl A. Berendsen, KCMG, New Zealand Minister at Washington since 1944. At the time of this reference, Mr. C. A. Berendsen, CMG, Permanent Head of the Prime Minister's Department, Wellington; later New Zealand High Commissioner in Australia, 1943–44. Mr. Berendsen had accompanied Mr. Fraser to the United Kingdom in Oct 1939.

2 Not published. This appendix dealt with the mobilisation and collective training of the New Zealand Division. It envisaged the United Kingdom as the probable training area and France as the setting for subsequent operations.