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

265 — The Prime Minister to General Freyberg

page 240

The Prime Minister to General Freyberg

23 May 1943

Your telegram of 22 May (No. 262).

The final approval of Parliament to the retention of the 2nd Division in the Middle East was determined by the proposal to afford relief to the longest service personnel of the first three echelons, and it was understood and definitely stated that the initial 6000 would return in the Nieuw Amsterdam early in June (as proposed in the War Office telegram of 11 May), and be replaced by 6000 to return early in July. In his telegram to me dated 17 May1 Mr. Churchill stated:

The need for further training of the 2nd New Zealand Division after the arrival of the new draft and the relief of veterans will prevent that Division from coming into action again before September, and its Armoured Brigade will not be battle-worthy before October. Therefore, no serious drain need be expected until the last two months of the year. However, it will be of the greatest importance to have them available then.

In informing Mr. Churchill of Parliament's decision,2 I stated that the future use of the 2nd NZEF would depend on the time taken to absorb the relief force and also the 4th Armoured Brigade, and added that it was the wish of the New Zealand Government that the 4th Brigade should be re-absorbed into the New Zealand Division as soon as possible.

It was assumed here that the Division would not in fact be required to go into action until all three brigades had been re-absorbed, and that this was not likely until October at the earliest.

There is, therefore, no definite arrangement with the United Kingdom authorities regarding the early use of the Division, and we have assumed from the War Office telegram referred to above that General Alexander and yourself had made allowance for the delay occasioned by the need for absorption of the relief draft.

We had not overlooked the statement contained in the last sentence of your telegram of 17 May (No. 260), but we were of the opinion that the fact that the Division could not be ready until a later date would permit the relief scheme proposed in the War Office telegram to be carried out in the order proposed therein. I regret that there should be so much haste in concluding these arrangements, but circumstances have not permitted any other course. I trust page 241 that General Alexander will accept the situation. You will, of course, realise that it was a condition of Parliament's agreement to the retention of the Division that the large-scale relief scheme would be put into operation immediately.

It is important that the full proportion of Maoris should be returned, and it is agreed that these should be in at least the same proportion as in the case of other units.

2 Ibid (No. 239).