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

239 — The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

page 211

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

21 May 1943

I wish to inform you that Parliament today gave its concurrence to the retention of the 2nd NZEF in the Mediterranean theatre. The full position was placed before members, who considered every aspect. I can assure you that the House paid great heed to your own very eloquent appeal of 3 May1 and also to the joint opinions expressed by President Roosevelt and yourself. Other telegrams from General Freyberg and the Minister of Defence (Mr. Jones) were also cited in support of the retention and use of the Division in Europe. There was, on the other hand, the known viewpoint of Australia and the keenly felt realisation that the Government and people of the Commonwealth would undoubtedly regard New Zealand's action as one of reluctance not only to assist to the fullest extent of our resources in the Pacific battle, in which the dangers to both our countries are so close, but also to take our share in the burden arising from tropical disease which takes so grim and heavy a toll among those serving in the forward areas. The choice was, therefore, by no means clear or easy, and it was in fact only made after most serious reflection and discussion in which members of all parties found themselves torn between conflicting thoughts and emotions. The decision was, however, finally arrived at with few dissentients.

In view of the increasing manpower difficulties of this Dominion, Parliament further accepted the view, to which you yourself refer,2 that as and when it becomes necessary the establishment of the Division should be reduced.

The future use of the 2nd NZEF will, of course, depend on the time it takes to absorb the relief force and also the 4th Armoured Brigade, which it is noted from your telegram under reference will not be battle-worthy until October. It is naturally the wish of the New Zealand Government that this brigade be re-absorbed into the New Zealand Division as soon as possible.

All these and other matters will, of course, be discussed with General Freyberg, whom I have requested to pay a flying visit to New Zealand within the next few weeks.

Arrangements are being made immediately to carry out the relief scheme as discussed in London by the New Zealand Minister of page 212 Defence and yourself.1 The provision of the Nieuw Amsterdam2 for this purpose, as proposed by the War Office,3 is warmly welcomed. I must, however, request that in accordance with the practice the New Zealand Government have always adopted, this ship shall be escorted both ways. While it is realised that the escort of fast ships is not in accord with Admiralty policy, the Government and people of New Zealand are naturally anxious that no possible precaution should be omitted against any risk of attack. The loss of 6000 men to a small country like New Zealand would be a disaster of the first magnitude.

Please give a copy of this message to Mr. Jones.4

2 Nieuw Amsterdam, Holland-Amerika Line, 36,287 tons.

4 This telegram was also repeated to Mr. Berendsen in Canberra.