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

331 — Letter from Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese, GOC Eighth Army, to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

Letter from Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese, GOC Eighth Army, to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

11 August 1944

Dear Prime Minister


When I had the pleasure of meeting you before the battle you said you would like news from time to time of your New Zealand Division.

Much has happened since then. The Army has advanced in two main phases, from Cassino to Rome—75 miles, and then from Rome to Florence—145 miles. Only by seeing the country, as you did, can one form an idea of the magnitude of our troops' achievements in this advance against picked German formations holding positions long prepared.

Throughout, the part of the New Zealand Division has been as prominent as its reputation and quality deserved. Bernard Frey-berg has been, as always, a tower of strength, lion-hearted, bold and determined, an inspiration to every man in the Division.

Their first task was the difficult and unaccustomed one of a holding role in the mountains, under 10th Corps. This led to the follow-up through the Atina Valley, in even harsher country, on our left flank.

In July, under 13th Corps, they had a hard task, culminating in their well-planned onslaught on Arezzo. They played a valuable part in seizing this hinge position, vital to our further advance. Next they had much hill fighting under heavy shell and mortar fire, and withstood fierce counter-attacks. Finally they succeeded by determined assaults in forcing the Germans off the high ground which dominated the town. Throughout the advance on Florence their drive and steadfastness were noteworthy, and their final attack was the decisive factor in our success.

The nature of our operations has hitherto prevented their being employed in the mobile role for which they are best fitted. I hope page 303 when we reach more open country beyond the Apennines we shall be able to use them to great advantage.

I have said enough to show how grateful we all are to General Freyberg, his staff, and the New Zealand Division, whose name in the Eighth Army never stood higher than today. Their people at home may justly be as proud of their part in this campaign as they were of their previous exploits in Greece, Crete, and in the African campaign.

You know how pleased I shall be if there is ever anything we can do to help our New Zealanders, and I trust you will let me know at any time of your special wishes.

Yours ever


Oliver Leese