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

230 — General Freyberg to the Prime Minister

General Freyberg to the Prime Minister

13 May 1943

Thank you for your clear and informative cable explaining the manpower situation and the possible future employment of the Division.2 I feel for you in making the decision which may be forced upon you.

Although the question is outside my province, I would like to let you know privately my own feelings, which may be of help to you. I feel I should do so because no one perhaps realises as I do what the New Zealand Expeditionary Force means to the Middle East. I hope you will not think anything I write is being put forward in support of any course of action. I realise I am not in possession of the full facts and am therefore not competent to express an opinion.

It seems to me, looking back over the very difficult years, that your Division stands athwart most of the big moments: the desperate page 201 fight in Crete which seems to have had such momentous results though at so great a price; the terrible fighting in Libya near Tobruk when we turned defeat into partial victory; the dash from Syria to the Western Desert which stemmed the retreat and helped to save Egypt; the battle of Alamein where the Division fought so gallantly to break the line; the great trek at Agheila which rattled the enemy out of his stronghold; the left hook at the Hamma Gap which turned the Mareth Line, without which this ending would not have been possible. All these and more have been accomplished. It seems to me that just as Mr. Churchill has inspired a nation with words so your Division has been his counterpart with deeds. If the New Zealand Division never fought again it would rank as one of the finest divisions of all time and be spoken of as we speak today of Craufurd's Light Division in the Peninsular.1

If your Division can remain in the Middle East, needless to say your decision will be welcomed on all sides. It has stood the test as a fighting machine in many campaigns. We know our enemy and know how to fight him, and we would face the future with complete confidence in our organisation, training, and equipment. In the next phase, should a new front be opened through the Balkans, nothing could capture the imagination more and nothing could be of greater encouragement to the people of Greece and Crete than the return of the New Zealand Division to avenge its defeats. Looking upon all theatres of the war, whether here or in the Pacific, as one battlefront, I am certain your Division could make an outstanding contribution here in the coming offensive.

If, however, your Division must be withdrawn, it will take with it the admiration and affection of all who have been associated with it. Further, the courageous decision of the New Zealand Government to leave the Division in the Middle East when our shores were imperilled will never be forgotten, and if it is decided that the New Zealand Expeditionary Force must be withdrawn there will be no feeling that it has left the job unfinished.

1 The Light Brigade (43rd, 52nd, and 95th Battalions) under Major-General Robert Craufurd (1764–1812) fought in the Peninsular War between 1808–12 at Buraco, Fuentes d'Onoro, and at the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo, where General Craufurd was mortally wounded (19 Jan 1812) and died on 24 Jan.