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

362 — Letter from the Hon. W. Nash, New Zealand Minister at Washington, to President Roosevelt

Letter from the Hon. W. Nash, New Zealand Minister at Washington, to President Roosevelt

24 January 1944

My Dear Mr. President


May I first thank you for your courtesy in arranging at such short notice to discuss the problem stated by me to you in connection with manpower in New Zealand.

page 332

My delay in making the case in writing has been due to my desire to obtain Mr. Fraser's latest views on the situation. He has now advised me that Mr. Churchill would be glad to see me in London as soon as possible.

The position in New Zealand requires some clarification in order to determine the most effective method by which we can use our manpower to help the war effort.

Our position at the time of the most recent full analysis was as follows:

Total number of males between the ages of 14–64 600,000
Of this total those engaged either full time with war and defence forces—in munition and war equipment manufacture—essential work, or minor, less essential work numbered 5,60,000
Total number of males between Service ages (18–40) 330,000
Of this total, at middle of last year those serving full time in Army, Navy, or Air services (exclusive of casualties) numbered 149,000
Of this 149,000, the forces overseas totalled 70,000

The large proportion engaged in full-time war services is causing a reduction in our production of primary products. When I left New Zealand, for instance, in December last it was not possible to obtain full production in our meat freezing works (corresponding to your meat packing-houses) owing to shortage of manpower. Our butter, cheese, and meat production from the farms is also declining owing to shortage of manpower (and of fertiliser, which is in very short supply).

We are anxious to use our full resources to finish the war at the earliest possible date and also to meet all our commitments overseas, but we have to determine now where our manpower can best be used.

Where is the need greatest?


Is it in providing airmen for Europe, India, and the Pacific?


Is it to meet naval requirements in the Pacific and other areas?


Or in maintaining a Division in the Mediterranean zone?


Or in maintaining two brigades in the South Pacific Area?

On present evidence we have decided to endeavour to maintain our air strength—which on 31 October last totalled 40,547 men—and to provide for expansion already planned; this means that the airmen required will absorb most of the young men reaching Service age (18 years for service in New Zealand, 21 years for service overseas).

page 333

It is proposed to maintain the Navy at its present strength—8356

The Army strength at 31 October was:

In New Zealand 31,402
In the South Pacific war zone 21,903
In Europe 33,505
Minor additions 206
This gave a total of 87,016

If the Air Force is to be fully provided for and the Navy strength maintained there are no resources from which we can send reinforcements to either the European or Pacific armies.

When the question as to the place where New Zealand's manpower could best be used was raised early last year, the advice given by yourself and Mr. Churchill was to keep the land forces in the field in both the European and Pacific areas—even though it was not possible to send men to replace casualties, &c. It is thought that on present evidence it would be unwise to pursue this policy to its limit.

It is not possible with our existing resources of men and women to maintain the strength of our present forces.

The problem therefore resolves itself into requiring the answer to the question: How can New Zealand best serve?


By maintaining and expanding its air forces?


By maintaining its present naval strength?


By maintaining its Division in Europe?


By maintaining its forces in the Pacific zone?


By maintaining and if possible expanding its production of food supplies, particularly butter, cheese, and meat?

Presuming that it is decided that the wisest course would be to maintain a force in one zone only—European or Pacific—in which place could New Zealand best serve the war effort?

A further question which immediately arises is—If any changes of the present programme are to be made when would be the best time for them to take place?

If you so desired, I could set out the reasons for and against utilising our forces in the Pacific or European zones, but they are so well known to you that I have presumed it not necessary to do so. This, of course, would include the timing of changes and the other factors associated with the fluid nature of the war in Europe and the Pacific.

The New Zealand Government would be helped by your advice as to what you consider is the best course to follow under present circumstances.

page 334

My present plans are being made on the assumption that (weather permitting) I will leave for London to obtain Mr. Churchill's advice not later than the end of next week. If I could obtain your opinion and advice prior to my leaving it would help me to prepare my report from London to Mr. Fraser for submission to the New Zealand War Cabinet, with whom the final decision will rest.

Again thanking you for your help and advice, and with every good wish,

I am,
Yours sincerely


Walter Nash