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

54 — The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of Australia

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of Australia

22 November 1939

The questions raised by you in your telegram dated 21 November (No. 52), concerning the despatch of an overseas force, have been considered by my colleagues and myself. Acting on advice received from the United Kingdom Government and from our delegate at the Ministerial Conference in London,1 we have decided to send the First Echelon of our Special Force overseas, and on the day before your telegram was received had so informed the United Kingdom Government. I had intended to inform you and the other Dominion Prime Ministers of our action today as soon as the time of publication between the United Kingdom and ourselves had been arranged.

I fully appreciate the difficulties with which you are faced in Australia. Our particular problems are, I think, of a different nature. Because of our limited training facilities and the lack of modern equipment it is not possible for us to train more than one echelon at a time. We decided to send the first body overseas as soon after their elementary training is completed as transport and naval escort facilities are available, in order to make room for the next body, and also to enable the men to complete their training on the modern equipment which we do not possess. Moreover, we feel that the retention of our voluntary system of recruiting2 is to some extent dependent on the knowledge and the fact that the men will serve overseas. I regret that your telegram did not come earlier to enable discussions to take place, but I had assumed that the matter was one of common arrangement with our Ministers in London. I would be greatly obliged if you would keep this information secret until advised by us of the date of publication here. page 45 I assure you that no troops will leave New Zealand until we are completely satisfied that any possible danger of attack by any force is eliminated. This condition has been strongly emphasised in our communications to the United Kingdom.

1 Hon. P. Fraser.

2 The last day of voluntary enlistment for overseas service was 22 Jul 1940.