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

4 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence4 — [Extract]

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence4

26 March 1940

Sentimental and practical issues, with personal and military as well as constitutional ramifications, are raised by your cable. No doubt Australian sentiment is reflected in the Australian Prime Minister's cable. I am unable to estimate if the revival of Anzac and linking with the Australian war effort would have much appeal to New Zealand, but you are better able to estimate the effect of this.

Practical advantages would be gained by fighting in a Corps with Australian divisions, as their great value on the flank and General Blamey's experience give confidence. If the Corps is agreed to, the page 4 organisation and administration of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force must be safeguarded and everything regarding hospitals, welfare of the men, promotion, and supervision of the corps of officers must be kept completely free from the possibility of Australian control or even supervision.

Further, the Australian approach to defence problems requires Cabinet's consideration as it is not entirely similar to the New Zealand Government's. New Zealand desires to assist in the manner best conforming to the British war effort and may not wish to be associated automatically with a possible aggressive Australian attitude regarding strategy….1 I would suggest, therefore, that Cabinet reserve to themselves all the powers reserved with the British Government and possibly strengthen them if you link at this stage. If we agree to combine for active operations, the question arises whether to form the Army Corps before or after our theatre of war is decided. I would suggest that the committing of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to a theatre of war should still be decided by the Government of New Zealand, with my emergency powers fully retained,2 and not by the Australian Corps commander as the agent of the Australian Cabinet. When we have entered a theatre of war the normal channels of command, as defined in the prearranged diagram, must be observed.

To sum up, my opinion is that we should link up for operational control only; that the time to link has not yet arrived; that we should continue training under the GOC British Troops in Egypt3 until active operations are anticipated; that then we should enter the Corps on terms of equality.

General Blamey's experience may entitle him to be the first commander but care should be taken not to create a vested interest for Australia, and succession to the command when a vacancy occurs should be available to New Zealand.

4 Hon. F. Jones, Minister of Defence, 1935–49.

1 A personal reference has been omitted.

2 See Volume I, Appointment of Commander, 2nd NZEF (No. 39).

3 Field-Marshal Lord Wilson, GCB, GBE, DSO (then Lieutenant-General Henry Maitland Wilson); GOC-in-C, British Troops in Egypt, 1939–40; Military Governor and GOC-in-C, Cyrenaica, 1941; GOC-in-C, British Troops in Greece, 1941; GOC British Forces in Palestine and Trans-Jordan, 1941; C-in-C Allied Forces in Syria, 1941 (GOC 9th Army); C-in-C Persia-Iraq Command, 1942–43; C-in C Middle East, 1943; Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean Theatre, 1944; Head of British Joint Staff Mission in Washington, 1945–47.