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

70 — General Freyberg, General Officer Commanding, 2nd NZEF, to the Prime Minister of New Zealand — [Extract]

page 58

General Freyberg, General Officer Commanding, 2nd NZEF, to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

15 February 1940

I have to report that I have come from Suez where I have been round the last two ships of the convoy which brought the New Zealand troops to Suez. You will have seen the official report which Reuters cabled.1 It is my wish that you should have now a more detailed statement dealing entirely with the New Zealand point of view.

The work of guarding the convoy was carried out by the Royal Navy, assisted by a powerful escort comprising ships of the Royal Navy, the Royal Australian Navy, the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy, and the French Navy. No member of the force will ever forget the wonderful and imposing sight of that fleet of great liners and warships as day by day it forged unmolested towards its goal. The imposing spectacle was photographed from the air by the official cameraman, who circled round the leading ships as they steamed up the Red Sea.

The whole trip will be remembered by all ranks. It is the first time that troops leaving New Zealand have travelled in great liners of British and foreign mercantile marines. It was very different from travelling in the holds of cargo ships, as their predecessors travelled. On this journey the men had the spacious decks of these liners for deck games, and the swimming baths. In many ways it resembled a cruise though, of course, every available opportunity was taken to continue the military training and physical drill of all ranks. I am glad to report that as a result of the healthy life led by the force, with the exception of a few minor accidents and one death, the men arrived looking bronzed and the picture of health….2

Shore leave was granted to the men at both ports of call and this privilege was enjoyed by all to the full. In the case of going on shore in the Australian port [Fremantle], the Australians proved most hospitable. I am to report that the behaviour of the men was good, and their popularity with the townspeople was exceptional and their welcome most whole-hearted. I am certain that if, on future occasions, men go ashore at this port, they will have a similar welcome. The visit on shore at the other port [Colombo] was looked forward to by all because it was their first introduction to the page 59 mysteries of the East. The visit was fully enjoyed. They bought many souvenirs which have been posted off to relatives and friends in New Zealand, who will no doubt later receive queer-looking parcels and surprises.

The men are now in the process of being disembarked at Suez by the Embarkation Staff and, as I write here in my office at Divisional Headquarters in our camp, I can hear the strains of the band of a famous British regiment and the pipes and drums of a famous Scottish regiment playing one of our units into camp, where an excellent meal has been provided for them, and where they will draw their bedding and equipment and make themselves comfortable for the night.

I am just off now to see the men marching in and when I return shall send a further telegram reporting what I have seen in the units' camps.

The disembarkation will take from three to four days to complete; so far only two units and some details have arrived. The situation in camp is one of orderly confusion, which will take some days to clear up. All hands are wiring in to do this.

1 Not published.

2 The text omitted referred to the death and burial at sea of a member of the force.