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

482 — The Prime Minister to Headquarters 2nd NZEF (Cairo)

The Prime Minister to Headquarters 2nd NZEF (Cairo)

8 November 1945

The following statement was made in the House of Representatives today by the Prime Minister:

I wish to announce that Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Freyberg, VC, KCB, KBE, CMG, DSO, LL.D, DCL, is relinquishing command of the 2nd NZEF and is now handing over to his successor, Major-General W. G. Stevens. A Gazette notice to this effect will be issued this afternoon.

The date on which General Freyberg gives up his Command will be 22 November, the sixth anniversary of his appointment in 1939. This occasion is, I feel, one which calls for a special expression of appreciation and gratitude on the part of Parliament and the Government and people of New Zealand.

General Freyberg has led the 2nd New Zealand Division from its inception and throughout its history he has shared with his men in its splendid feats of courage, endurance, and victorious achievement.

Thanks and praise to its Commander are inseparable from our pride in the 2nd New Zealand Division. The magnificent record of our fighting men must always be associated with their leader.

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In Greece and Crete, in the battles of the African campaigns, at Minqar Qaim, at Alamein, and in the famous ‘left hook’ at El Hamma, he and his men continually enhanced their great reputation, and so it was right through the Italian campaign, on the Sangro, at Cassino, and the Senio River, until our Division finally reached Trieste.

The men of our Division, which under General Freyberg became as honoured by our Allies as it was feared and respected by our foes, will always be proud of the service and success to which he led them as the spearhead of the Eighth Army. Although in the darkest days the Division had to undertake desperate enterprises, General Freyberg's responsibility for the lives of his men always weighed most heavily with him. There were times when he invoked his right, which had been assured by the Government in New Zealand, to refuse to take part in ventures in which he considered the cost would outweigh the gain.

Of constant importance, too, was his determination that the Division would always be provided with the highest possible standard of equipment and the fullest armoured support. It was the emphasis he laid on equipment that gave the Division that extraordinary mobility which enabled it to deliver the very effective series of Freyberg ‘left hooks’ from Alamein to the Mareth Line.

His care of his men out of the line during times of rest was no less thorough. It was recognised in the Middle East and appreciated by New Zealanders that the Forces Clubs and other amenities they enjoyed were unequalled. He was determined that his men got nothing but the best.

For General Freyberg the campaign in Crete did not end with the withdrawal of our troops in 1941. At the end of September of this year a party of New Zealanders flew to Crete for a special memorial service. They were led by General Freyberg; and in this pilgrimage he was able to express not only his own feelings but also those of the people of New Zealand.

His Excellency the Governor-General has confirmed the promotion of Brigadier W. G. Stevens, CB, CBE, to Major-General and approved his appointment to the Command of the 2nd NZEF.1 Major-General Stevens' outstanding administrative record shows that he is well fitted to carry out efficiently the special responsibilities of his new post.

1 General Stevens relinquished command on 6 Jul 1946.