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

187 — General Freyberg (London) to the Minister of Defence

page 131

General Freyberg (London) to the Minister of Defence

27 June 1940

I have been in England for twenty-four hours and it is impossible in such a short time to give an appreciation of all the difficulties that exist. Nevertheless, I feel that it would assist you in New Zealand if I give my views and I can add to them when I have had more time. I arrived here after a difficult journey and am at my headquarters in Aldershot where the troops are under canvas. Everybody is well and settling down. In spite of the War Office's decision to disperse, the New Zealand troops in England are now concentrated in the Aldershot area and are about to commence training.

In the event of an attack being made on the United Kingdom the Second Echelon are in General Headquarters Reserve and will be moved to support any threatened area. At present nothing definite has been planned, but details are being worked out. We shall probably form two groups, one a mobile striking force consisting of the 5th Infantry Brigade with attached troops under the command of Hargest, and the Maori Battalion and other small units as a defensive group for defence of the reserve line under Barrowclough. If the two groups work together they will either be under me, if I am in the United Kingdom, or under Miles.

I have visited the War Office and have had conversations with the Director of Military Operations1 and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff.2 Tomorrow evening I shall be seeing General Ironside.3

The situation in Europe has undoubtedly deteriorated, and the military advisers here appear sure that the German Higher Command will attempt an attack on the United Kingdom, but I find it difficult to believe that they will risk such a hazardous operation which, in my opinion, would be doomed to failure.

I want you to inform Cabinet that the situation here is grave but is improving week by week. For some time to come we shall be short of many of our weapons as there is a desperate shortage of equipment. This is the common lot of most troops here. Nevertheless, I feel that in spite of this, and I am sure that Cabinet will agree with me, New Zealand troops must be prepared to accept battle upon uneven terms in defence of Great Britain.

I have emphasised continually the advisability of concentrating the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, and I came here with this page 132 object so as to put before Cabinet the War Office point of view and such advice as I thought would enable them to form their opinion. I am still in favour of concentrating as soon as expedient, but since talking to the heads here, and in view of the gravity of the situation both at Home and in the Middle East, I have come to the conclusion that we should accept the position of being separated for the present, subject to such minor adjustments between England and Egypt which will in no way cause embarrassment here while, at the same time, they will improve the fighting powers of the force while separated.

A fuller appreciation will be sent to you when I have had time to study the situation in detail. I will do nothing to commit the New Zealand troops in England until I have Cabinet authority. If you are in general agreement with the opinion I have expressed, will you cable me here?

1 Major-General Richard Henry Dewing, CB, DSO, MC.

2 General (later Field-Marshal) Sir John Dill.

3 At this time Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces.