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

228 — The Hon. F. Jones to the Prime Minister

The Hon. F. Jones to the Prime Minister

10 May 1943

Replying to your telegram of 7 May. In my talks I always made quite clear each of the points you mention regarding American troops in New Zealand and, moreover, emphasised that the question of their being returned to the Dominion to replace Americans did not arise. Seemingly the Division knows something of the conditions prevailing in the Solomons and New Guinea and of how the health of the troops has been affected by malaria, &c., apart from conflict with the enemy. While I feel sure that as heretofore they would be prepared to serve where required, still I am convinced that if given the option the majority would prefer this theatre of war, where health conditions generally are certainly considerably superior. Although the officers were present whenever I addressed their men, they did not express any opinion regarding the return of the Division; consequently I do not know their minds on this point.

If each soldier were given an opportunity of expressing his individual opinion, my belief is that the great majority would wish to return. I base this view on the fact that at question time references were invariably made by the men to: (i) the return of Australian troops, (ii) that portion of the statement published in the NZEF Times of 29 March, wherein it was said that in the House in reply to an interjection [the statement was made] that the men collectively did not wish to return home. (The general opinion of the men who spoke was that the statement did not express their views.) Nevertheless, I do not think that at present the men are expecting to be returned, and if the manpower situation in the Dominion prevents the putting into operation of the plan outlined in my telegram of 30 April,1 then I suggest, and believe it would be welcomed, that as many as can be spared from time to time be granted furlough and returned to the Division after a reasonable period of leave, the order of granting furlough to be on the same basis as suggested in the previous plan.

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If the idea of furlough be adopted, I think the earlier men should be medically examined whilst in New Zealand to ascertain whether they are fit to undertake further active service. If, on the other hand, you prefer the plan outlined in my telegram of 30 April, and the manpower situation will enable it to be carried out, then the question to be decided is what is to be done with the troops on their return. Can they be usefully employed as part of home defence or put back into industry, so releasing fit men for service overseas; if so, can they be given the option of re-enlisting either in the 2nd or 3rd Division? I believe that after a period of leave in New Zealand a large number would want to serve again in the 2nd Division.

A further telegram regarding Freyberg's position will follow shortly.