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

226 — The Prime Minister to General Freyberg

The Prime Minister to General Freyberg

7 May 1943

I am deeply appreciative of the terms of your telegram of 4 May (No. 224). Personally I cannot conceive of a more regrettable occurrence than your severance from the command of the 2nd NZEF, and this feeling is shared by all my colleagues in the Government, but I felt—and they did, too—that it would be most unfair if your loyalty to New Zealand should react detrimentally on your own military career. It was with this in mind that I asked Mr. Jones to place the position before Mr. Churchill.1

I cannot for the moment foretell what attitude Parliament will take towards the future role of the 2nd Division. Their decision, which must now be taken after weighing all the facts, is of the greatest consequence both for New Zealand and for our men overseas. The simple fact is that we no longer have the Grade A men to maintain two divisions abroad, and within a few months the question must be determined which division is to be used to reinforce the other. Despite every effort to comb out industry, there must be retained sufficient key men to maintain essential production, especially at a time when we are continually receiving increased demands from the United Kingdom for dairy produce and meat, and from the United page 196 States, for their forces in the Pacific, for foodstuffs, clothing, and services of all kinds under reciprocal lend-lease, and for our own forces in all arms in the Pacific.

You know, as I do, the very strong arguments in favour of the retention of the Division in the European theatre. On the other hand, I believe it to be of the greatest political importance that, when the time comes to start offensive operations against Japan, the British elements in the United Nations' forces in the Pacific should be as strong as possible. It is not only a question of the immediate defence and security of our own shores and our island territories; we must also take the long view and ensure that when the future of the Pacific is being considered after the war, we, in common with the other portions of the British Commonwealth concerned, are in the most favourable possible political position. Another factor which we cannot ignore is the relationship of this country with Australia. Though our own shores may not for the moment be threatened to the same extent as theirs, nevertheless we are both close partners in a most critical venture which directly and equally affects our common destinies.

Parliament will, of course, take cognizance of these and the other relevant considerations, but what will carry the greatest weight is undoubtedly the manpower situation, a report upon which I am forwarding by safe-hand means.1

The proposed system of reliefs, while accentuating our manpower problems during the current year, will nevertheless influence Parliament's decision as to the return of the Division as a whole.

I would like to say in conclusion how deeply stirred we have been by the reports of the heroic efforts of our men in the advance towards Tunis. We trust that casualties will not be unduly heavy and that, whatever the future role of the 2nd NZEF is to be, our men will not feel that their absence from home has at any time meant an absence from our thoughts. The constant prayer of all of us is for their safe and speedy return from a great task successfully and nobly accomplished.

1 This was a report, dated 5 May 1943, by the Director of National Service (Mr. J. S. Hunter) on the replacement of long-service personnel of the 2nd Division in the Middle East by men from New Zealand. The report stated that 9281 officers and other ranks of the first three echelons (of whom 1920 were married on enlistment) were still serving in the Division. ‘The supply of 9000 Category A men as replacements for men now in the Middle East, in addition to the usual reinforcements (which are themselves in question) could not be countenanced without the most careful consideration, as this number simply cannot be made available under any reasonably likely set of circumstances,’ the report continued. ‘The supply of even a fraction of this number would serve only to hasten the necessity for such adjustments as the use of 20-year-old men or Grade II men in overseas theatres, and would add its share to the depletion of industrial manpower unless those returning in exchange are brought into employment within a fairly short time after their arrival in New Zealand.’