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21 Battalion


page v


black and white photograph of coat of arms

windsor castle

by lieutenant-general lord freyberg,
vc, gcmg, kcb, kbe, dso

The publication of these unit histories gives me, their Commander, the opportunity of correcting errors I have made in opinions passed at the time on operations and upon the achievements of units in various battles. In some cases we now know what appeared as a disaster has since been shown to be a gallant action in an inevitable defeat.

The 21st Battalion had the misfortune to be detached from the Division during the commencement of the Greek campaign, and came under another formation, and in the heavy fighting bore the brunt of an attack in which they fought with determination and great courage. They were overwhelmed by greatly superior forces and scattered; their losses were heavy. In light of the full details which history has now revealed, I wish to pay a tribute to the rearguard action that the 21st Battalion fought from the Tempe position where they suffered so heavily.

This book is a record of one of our most battleworthy Infantry Battalions, and I hope and trust it will be widely read. It tells the story of great bravery and endurance over a period of six years, during which time the Division fought in Greece and Crete, the Western Desert, Tunis and Italy, where it finished the War at Trieste.

page vi

I am often asked what made the New Zealanders such a great fighting Division. In my opinion there were many factors, the most important of which was the quality of our men.

In my day to day dealings with them all, I had the great advantage of being a New Zealander and of knowing their country and their people. I knew also the great record of the First New Zealand Division in World War I. It is said that they went into battle on the beaches of Gallipoli with a prayer on their lips:

That they would measure up in battle and be a credit to their country.

In 1915 they established a tradition. When their sons had their baptism of fire in 1941 in the Greek campaign there was never any doubt about their confidence in themselves; they fought like veterans.

The New Zealand men have great qualities and are most practical, and in war it takes the form of knowing how to tackle any new problem that they encounter in battle. In our operations in the Western Desert, especially in the turning movements, they only had to be told what to do, never how to do it. This made the question of command very simple.

In this volume the historian deals with their raising, training and command in battle. During the war the 21st Battalion took their full part in our ‘Triumphs and Disasters’, both before, during and after the Battle of Alamein. They fought most gallantly at Platamon, at Alamein, at Takrouna and on the River Sangro in Italy. They fought from the first battle in April 1941 in Greece and finished in the final campaign from the River Sangro to the capture of Trieste on the 2nd May 1945.

This is a wonderful story. I hope many will study it and learn the deeds of heroism of this great unit.

black and white photograph of signature

Deputy Constable and Lieutenant Governor

Windsor Castle