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

404 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

29 October 1944

The Division is having a month's rest in an area in the hills south of Ancona. The men are all in billets and the opportunity is being taken to have a general tidy-up. Leave parties are in full swing to Florence and Rome. As you know, the announcement of replacement was made while we were fighting on the Rubicon River. For the information of War Cabinet, the scheme as announced was very well received by all ranks of the 2nd NZEF. I feel from conversations I have had that everybody feels that the decision is the right one.

The following is an extract from the censorship report for the period 1–15 October:

Replacement scheme: The announcement of the scheme for replacing all Kiwis now in Italy who have over three years' overseas service, described, by one writer as ‘the big thing of the moment’, has naturally aroused much discussion, particularly on the part of those who would thus qualify for return to New Zealand. Early reinforcements are delighted at the prospect—particularly since the measure provides not merely for furlough but for permanent replacement—and all seem to regard it as very sound policy to send 3rd New Zealand Division personnel and essential industry page 375 workers to fill the vacancies overseas. In the minds of many, however, there seems to be some doubt if the Government will actually carry out the scheme as planned; others, although apparently accepting the plan as entirely bona fide, imply that its implementation is not likely to be a speedy process.

I have now had the whole ground examined and am certain this policy is the only possible one for a Division that has been as heavily engaged as ours. While I see no difficulty in releasing 9000 men, I am exercised over the number and class of officer that is entitled to be replaced. When I tell War Cabinet that the entire top and middle strata of officers of the 2nd NZEF are within the categories entitled to go, you will realise the extent of the change-over. Obviously it must be done in stages, and during the last few days a general policy for groups of officers has been decided and all unit commanders and seconds-in-command are being interviewed personally and the matter finalised.

Immediately after coming out of the line I met all the officers down to company commander level to explain the replacement scheme.

The principle governing the change-over of officers was defined as follows:

‘That at all times we must have serving with fighting units and sub-units, i.e., battalions, regiments, companies, batteries, &c., commanders and seconds-in-command capable of laying on any class of battle, and no officers will go until their reliefs are considered fully competent to take over.’

After talking to the officers of the Division I issued the following statement for them to pass on to all ranks:

The policy now is to release long-service personnel for return to New Zealand as soon as trained replacement drafts arrive in Italy. This will be carried out by stages until all personnel with three years' service and over have been released. By the end of December or early in January the first replacement draft will be ready to join the Division and the first draft of long-service personnel will be released.

The draft will comprise the following:

Other ranks of the First, Second, and Third Contingents who have returned from New Zealand after furlough.

Other ranks of the 5th Reinforcements.

Other ranks who came to the Middle East after service in Fiji.

A proportion of officers and NCOs of the same categories who can be spared.

The scheme will then be continued by stages as replacements arrive from New Zealand.

This is a large-scale reorganisation which has been made possible by disbanding the 3rd New Zealand Division. The 3rd New Zealand Division, although not as battle-experienced as the 2nd New Zealand Division, was a very highly trained force, and from it selected officers and NCOs will come to the 2nd New Zealand Division in the ranks they held in the 3rd page 376 New Zealand Division. This will be done on a proportion basis, and the rights of officers and NCOs of the 2nd New Zealand Division will be properly safeguarded. Further, the ordinary flow of promotion from the ranks will continue as before.

The guiding principle in carrying out the reorganisation is that the efficiency of the Division must remain unimpaired. Therefore, the successful working of the scheme will depend on how quickly and how smoothly the replacements from the 3rd New Zealand Division are absorbed into our units.

In all, 600 officers and 9300 other ranks will be relieved in three drafts as follows:

First draft: 300 officers, 5300 other ranks—early January.

Second draft: 6th Reinforcements (100 officers, 1200 other ranks)— end of March.

Third draft: 7th Reinforcements (200 officers, 2800 other ranks)— in June.

These numbers and dates are approximate and depend on replacement drafts arriving according to schedule.

It is too early to say how the men will receive this further statement, but I believe it will have a settling effect. I must admit I was a little troubled about making the first announcement while the Division was in the line, but it did not affect efficiency and the men fought most resolutely in the recent operations.

As you will realise, Maadi Camp and the Cairo training establishments will now have to be expanded and geared up to train and pass to Italy the 500 officers and 10,000 other ranks for replacement, and the return of a similar number of long-service officers and men en route to New Zealand. I am leaving by air with Brigadier Stevens tomorrow for Egypt and will go into plans for speeding up reinforcement training. I will be there for about ten days, during which I will have a short rest, returning here before the Division goes back into the line. I will then send you an appreciation of the situation.