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

Return of 2nd Division to New Zealand

page 428

Return of 2nd Division to New Zealand

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

6 May 1945

Now that the war in Europe and danger of battle casualties is over and the 15th Reinforcements are available in Egypt after six weeks' training, it would appear opportune for me to accelerate the New Zealand Government's replacement scheme by sending back immediately the 6th and 7th Reinforcements, which number approximately 3000. This will necessitate special shipping arrangements being made. Before any steps are taken I must first be relieved of my present operational role and I would appreciate having the approval of War Cabinet. The despatch of the 6th and 7th Reinforcements would reduce the number of troops exposed to malaria, although for the time we remain in Italy we would be under strength, but when we join up with the 15th Reinforcements in Egypt that would be remedied. Will you say if War Cabinet concurs in my proposal?

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence1

8 May 1945

I am happy to report that notwithstanding the recent strenuous campaign all members of the force are in the best of spirits and morale is very high. Now that the war in Europe is over it is easy to understand that inquiry is already being made as to the future. I realise this matter is under consideration and that some weeks may elapse before the New Zealand Government make their decision. I feel that a short interim statement to meet the present situation should be made to all ranks of the 2nd NZEF in the Central Mediterranean Forces.

This would tend to anticipate and allay possible dissatisfaction among long-service personnel and equally give an incentive to more recent reinforcements to keep fit and efficient. It would seem

1 This telegram was also sent to the Prime Minister at San Francisco, via the New Zealand Military Liaison Officer, London.

page 429 desirable to publish at an early date a statement regarding the policy of replacement and possible future participation in the Pacific. I have therefore prepared the following statement for War Cabinet's consideration:1

The New Zealand Government's policy was announced in October of last year to the effect that the replacement scheme would be carried on so that all long-service men would go home to New Zealand and be replaced from men drawn from industry. This policy has been carried out in the past and the First, Second, and Third Echelons, together with the 4th and 5th Reinforcements, in all 16,000 men, have been sent home to New Zealand. With the arrival in Egypt of the 15th Reinforcements and the finish of the war in Europe, we are now in a position to speed up the replacement scheme.

Under the original plan, it was considered that the 6th Reinforcements would be withdrawn in June, when the 15th Reinforcements were available in the field, and the 7th Reinforcements in September. It is now proposed to send the 6th Reinforcements at once, with the 7th Reinforcements to follow as soon as possible, or perhaps even at the same time. This will have the effect of reducing the strength of the Division in Italy to between 3000 and 4000 below War Establishment. This can be accepted under the existing circumstances but not before Field-Marshal Alexander releases us from our present operational role here in Italy.2

Regarding the war in the Pacific, an announcement of possible policy will be made by the New Zealand Government in the near future. It is obviously desirable that New Zealand land forces should be represented. It is not possible for us to give any guidance in the matter as the question is still under consideration between the New Zealand and British Governments and, furthermore, is dependent upon shipping. When a decision is reached it is certain that men with long service overseas will go back to New Zealand and that men with short service overseas would be used in any future operations.

An early reply would be most helpful.

1 Several changes were made by War Cabinet to the text of this statement. General Freyberg was advised of these changes in a telegram dated 16 May, in which it was stated that ‘the purpose of these amendments is to give special emphasis to the importance of shipping at this juncture.’

At this time ships were required for the deployment of forces from Europe and the Middle East for the war against Japan.

2 See Trieste.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand (San Francisco) to the acting Prime Minister

14 May 1945

Your telegram of 12 May.3 I fully agree with the terms of Freyberg's proposed statement regarding replacement and possible page 430 future participation of the Division in the Pacific, and with War Cabinet's proposal that a similar statement should be made in New Zealand. I cannot usefully offer any comments on the future of the Division until I have received the Chiefs of Staff appreciation.1 I feel that we will need to take into consideration the effect on public opinion in New Zealand of Eisenhower's statement here that no soldier who has served in both the North African and European campaigns should be sent to the Pacific.

3 See Volume III, Proposals for Participation in Operations against Japan. Mr. Nash reported that there was general speculation in New Zealand on the future of the 2nd Division and public desire for a definite statement of the New Zealand Government's intentions. He stated that War Cabinet considered an interim statement should be made informing the public of the stage reached in the Government's negotiations.

1 Volume III, Proposals for Participation in Operations against Japan.

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence2

15 May 1945

I know from your telegram of 3 February3 that the New Zealand War Cabinet ‘are very anxious that the Division should be maintained as long as possible’. While I do not wish to influence the New Zealand War Cabinet in making their decision, in view of their stated desire and the changed manpower position I am putting forward fresh proposals which I believe would enable the New Zealand Government to retain the 2nd New Zealand Division in the field to the end of 1946. I am, of course, not in a position to know if the proposal is a practical one from the New Zealand manpower point of view.

In making my appreciation to War Cabinet in February of possible requirements for 1945, I had to be conservative.4 Although I thought the war would be over by the end of June, provision had to be made to carry on to November. There was another aspect of planning for the future. The fighting in Italy during 1944 had been hard, with heavy casualties, and should the Division be engaged through the summer of 1945 it would be exhausted. This would necessitate the replacement not only of the 6th, 7th, and 8th, but probably the 9th and 10th Reinforcements, before embarking on a fresh theatre of war.

The quick and comparatively inexpensive end to the war with Germany has changed the manpower situation which appeared to face the New Zealand Government earlier in the year.

In the first place the offensive, fierce while it lasted, was only of twenty-three days' duration from D-day to the day of capitulation, and during the last eight of which we had little fighting. Casualties have been less than had been allowed for and the future wastage for 1945 reduced to loss by sickness. The result is to reduce by page 431 3000 the estimated wastage to the end of 1945 as visualised in your telegram of 8 April.1

As reported, we had strengthened the Division for this summer offensive by returning all war-weary personnel and by adding a third infantry brigade. When the Division took the field it was in excellent condition and, in view of the little fighting it has done, it is still fresh and fit to go on should the need arise.

If such a course were adopted, I feel that although the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th Reinforcements should return at once it is for consideration whether the 10th Reinforcements, who have been only one year eight months in the war theatre, with comparatively little fighting, should be returned. No personnel to date have been returned to New Zealand with less than three years and six months' service. With regard to 3rd Division other ranks, few fought in the last battles. Although their service overseas may entitle them to be considered, it is early to think of their relief. I feel that the 3rd Division personnel, especially as they have all had a period in New Zealand, should stay for further service overseas if the Division goes on to another theatre. In pursuance of this policy I would suggest that only a percentage of the time spent in the Islands should count for purposes of replacement.

If these two proposals are agreed to by War Cabinet, and I feel they are fair, then the position at the end of 1945 would be as follows:

Overseas strength in all ranks of the 2nd NZEF on 5 May 1945 29,100
Less all ranks to return to New Zealand at once:
(a) Tongariro 130
(b) 6th Reinforcements 1300
(c) 7th Reinforcements 2400
(d) 8th Reinforcements 4500
(e) 9th Reinforcements 2800
(f) Officers 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th Reinforcements 525 11,655
Leaving 17,445
Add 15th and 16th Reinforcements 6,500
Total 23,945
Less wastage one-third of battle casualties 315
Seven months' no activity wastage 630
Approximate total overseas at end of 1945 23,0002

2 Repeated to Mr. Fraser at San Francisco.

1 See Volume III, Proposals for Participation in Operations against Japan.

2 See Volume III, Proposals for Participation in Operations against Japan, for rest of text.

page 432

The acting Prime Minister to General Freyberg1

16 May 1945

Your telegram of 6 May (No. 461). We are very anxious that as many men as can be spared be returned to New Zealand as soon as possible, and have noted with interest your proposal for the return of the 6th and 7th Reinforcements subject to the release of the Division from its present operational role. We would not of course wish, by preferring such a request at this juncture, to cause any embarrassment to the Commander-in-Chief, and would be glad if, in order that we might consider the matter further, you could advise us whether or not it has been discussed with Field-Marshal Alexander and what views he holds. Provided Alexander agrees, then we would raise the question of shipping with the United Kingdom authorities.

We have, however, just been informed by the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs2 that plans have been prepared for the allocation of troop transport capacity during the next six months. These provide for the movement of 20,000 from the New Zealand Division in the first quarter and 2700 in the second (an estimated percentage of 66) subject to the approval of the Combined Chiefs of Staff and the United Kingdom Government. These plans are moreover liable to modification in the light of operational requirements in the war against Japan. If these arrangements mature then a substantial proportion of the Division will, in any case, be returned to New Zealand before the end of September, which is entirely in accordance with our wishes.

1 Repeated to Mr. Fraser at San Francisco.

2 The information contained in this paragraph is a summary of advice received by the New Zealand Government in two telegrams dated 10 May from the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. The telegrams have not been reproduced in this volume.

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

23 May 1945

While I appreciate that the bigger question of the ultimate destination of the 2nd NZEF is a matter of high policy to be determined by War Cabinet, I have felt for some time that there are matters page 433 of detail, such as the disposal of divisional equipment and the method of return of the New Zealand Division, that should be discussed independently of the final decision.

The role in which we are now employed1 appears likely to last for anything from one or more months, after which we will be relieved by another division. Our operational employment will then be finished.

I assume that no matter what the final decision may be, the whole of the 2nd NZEF will be concentrated in Egypt. There we can either reorganise for future employment or else embark in one lift or by stages for New Zealand.

It will, I know, take some time to arrange for shipping. Embarkation will probably be from Taranto. When the main decision has been made, I propose that the Division and other troops in Italy should be withdrawn to the south and embarked for Egypt.

The question of the movement of personnel of the 2nd NZEF to Egypt is straightforward, but it is complicated by the question of the disposal of equipment, which must be dependent on shipping and your own future equipment requirements in New Zealand. All our present equipment is, I understand, the property of the New Zealand Government and, if they so desire, could be taken to New Zealand. This would require, however, a greater quantity of shipping. You will recall that in the move from Egypt to Italy, whereas seven ships were required for personnel, forty-two were needed for vehicles and heavy equipment. If, however, it is not all required in New Zealand, the disposal of it is presumably a matter for negotiation between the United Kingdom and New Zealand Governments. Whether or not the equipment is disposed of here affects planning considerably.

So much for the problem of the war equipment of the Division. The second question I want to consider is the return of the New Zealand Division to New Zealand. Is the force to go back by drafts depending on length of service, or as a Division by units, or a combination of both? This question is not a simple one and I am dealing with various aspects of it in a further cable.2

In your telegram of 16 May you quote the provisional plans for the allocation of troop transport between Egypt and New Zealand. The supply offered to you is most encouraging and exceeds expectations, both in the speed with which it is to be made available and the numbers to be returned. If this schedule can be fulfilled and we can get the Division clear of operational commitments in the next few weeks, we could make the necessary arrangements at this page 434 end. It is certain that there is no time to be lost in making arrangements for the transfer home of 20,000 men by September, and to ensure against loss of time an early decision should be given upon the following questions:

When released from operational control:


Is the Division going back to New Zealand?


Do you want some of the 2nd New Zealand Division for future service against Japan?


What equipment, if any, do you want to take back to New Zealand?

As the whole question of the return of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to New Zealand is most involved and has political aspects, I am preparing for your consideration a separate appreciation on this question, which follows at once.

1 See Trieste.

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

4 June 1945

In continuation of my telegram of 23 May. It is realised that no decision has as yet been made by the New Zealand Government as to the future war effort of the New Zealand forces against Japan. In view of your manpower difficulties and the importance of the early return of the 6th and 7th Reinforcements, some forecast has to be made to enable the New Zealand Government to order the necessary shipping. Our estimated requirements are based, therefore, on the assumption that the force will concentrate in Egypt, that the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th Reinforcements will return to New Zealand by the quickest route, and that the remainder of the Division, plus the 16th Reinforcements, will reorganise for possible future operations in South-East Asia Command or other theatre. Once the Division is released from operational duties, on a date to be known as D-day, it will be possible for us to embark men for Egypt as fast as shipping can be provided in Italy and Egypt, subject to the ten days' journey to Taranto and the possible delay of the handing-in of our surplus equipment at Ordnance bases at Naples. Should it be necessary from the shipping point of view to embark all or part of those returning direct to New Zealand from Italy, this could probably be done, but presents many disadvantages over spending a short period in Egypt.

page 435

As instructed, I have now conferred with Field-Marshal Alexander, who fully appreciates the difficult manpower situation in New Zealand and wishes to do all he can to help. He feels, however, that the present unsatisfactory Yugoslav position which keeps the New Zealand forces in Northern Italy will resolve itself in the course of a few days. In his opinion it will be safe to forecast D-day at the latest between 14 and 30 June. The move from Trieste to Taranto will be in our own MT and will take ten days. Although we are now 1100 below War Establishment as a result of sending off the 6th Reinforcements, we have examined the possibility of sending 70 per cent of the 7th Reinforcements as soon as possible and will get the remainder of the 7th Reinforcements, plus the 8th, away as soon as we get the Division to Taranto. If shipping is available, it is quite possible that the 6th and part of the 7th Reinforcements, amounting to approximately 3500, could embark from Egypt by 14 July, and the remainder of the 7th, plus the 8th, in all 5200, by D plus 40. The whole of the remainder of the 2nd NZEF could be concentrated in Egypt by D plus 60, and the 9th and 10th Reinforcements, less certain key personnel, would be ready to commence embarkation by D plus 80.

To sum up:

  • D-day between 14 June and 30 June.

  • 14 July: 6th and part of the 7th Reinforcements (3500 in all) embark in Egypt for New Zealand.

  • D plus 40: Remainder of the 7th, plus the 8th (5200 in all) embark in Egypt for New Zealand.

  • D plus 60: Remainder of the NZEF concentrated in Egypt.

  • D plus 80: 9th and 10th Reinforcements (7500 in all) embark in Egypt for New Zealand.

  • D plus 80 to D plus 170: New Zealand force re-equipping and training.

  • D plus 170: New Zealand force ready to move to possible theatre of war.

These figures do not include ex-3rd Division men or all entitled officers of the 6th to 10th Reinforcements. If these are added the total will be 2000 more. It must be pointed out that shipping from Italy to Egypt must be available so that the reinforcements returning to New Zealand arrive in Egypt ten days before embarkation for New Zealand. At the present time, Allied Force Headquarters reports that there is no indication of shipping to Egypt being available, and this will probably be the case until a decision is reached on the whole major question of shipping.

page 436

The acting Prime Minister to General Freyberg

8 June 1945

Thank you for your telegram of 4 June. We note the arrangements proposed with respect to the withdrawal and moving of the force from Italy to Egypt and concur in the action you propose taking. If there should be any way that we can assist in connection with the provision of the necessary shipping then doubtless you will let us know.

The acting Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

21 June 1945

We have been informed by General Freyberg of his plans for the return to New Zealand of those men of the Division whom he has decided will be repatriated.1 There is a total altogether of 20,700, and we are anxious and very much hope that you will find it possible to meet us in this and to arrange that the shipping is available about the dates that the men are ready to leave. This will ensure that those men who will normally return to food production and associated industries of high priority in New Zealand are available to accept employment at the earliest possible date.

Shipping from Egypt will be required as follows:

14 July 5000
30 July 5500
8 September 9500
Total 20,000 all ranks

An early assurance that shipping will be available for the repatriation of these men on the dates required would be appreciated.

1 Two telegrams from General Freyberg on 10 Jun, giving the numbers to be repatriated in the 6th to 10th Reinforcements and reclassified ex-3rd Division personnel (a total of 20,700), have not been reproduced. In the second of these telegrams General Freyberg asked the New Zealand Government to make representations to the United Kingdom Government for the provision of shipping.

page 437

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

6 July 1945

As you will realise, the schedule of shipping asked for in my telegram of 10 June1 was based on the assumption that we would be relieved from our operational role by 20 June. We could in fact have been relieved by 20 June, but it is now 6 July and we are still in Trieste. Shipping arrangements have now been confirmed for the 6th and 7th Reinforcements, who are scheduled to leave Egypt about the middle to end of July as originally estimated. D-day, as in my telegram of 10 June,2 for the move of the remainder of force, is not yet known. Consequently the original forecast of shipping dates will have to be revised. Further, shipping and equipment problems are clearly interdependent, and it seems likely that War Office intends to treat equipment and the move of 2nd NZEF as one problem. The War Office are awaiting official confirmation of the New Zealand Government's decision for the provision of the force against Japan3 before setting the necessary arrangements in train. We presume that they will take into account our problems of movement to the port of embarkation in Italy, and the time factor involved in any handing-in of equipment here, by giving us adequate notice of shipping arrangements.

1 Not published. The schedule is that given in No. 469.

2 Not published. General Freyberg advised that D-day could be taken as approximately 20 Jun.

3 See Volume III, Proposals for Participation in Operations against Japan.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

4 August 1945

With reference to our message of 21 June (No. 469) concerning shipping for the repatriation of personnel of the 2nd New Zealand Division returning to the Dominion.

Early advice would be appreciated of the proposed plans for the repatriation of personnel from Italy and the Middle East. We have been advised that one vessel with a capacity of 3600 has been allotted and is due to sail almost immediately from the Middle East.4 Some page 438 15,300 all ranks (2300 officers and 13,000 other ranks)1 will then remain, and from advice just received we understand that another large trooper has been allocated. We do not know, however, when this vessel is likely to depart.

The many demands upon shipping resources at this time for the deployment of forces in new theatres of operations and the return of others to their own countries are recognised, but we are most anxious to ensure that all personnel of the Division to be repatriated should be returned to New Zealand as soon as possible. We must point out that the early return of men from the Middle East to New Zealand will assist us in maintaining, and if possible increasing, supplies of foodstuffs, and in providing housing and other essential services for the rehabilitation of service personnel. The majority of the men in the reinforcement draft at present awaiting despatch have been withdrawn from food production and other primary and essential industries, and the earliest possible return of men from Italy and the Middle East to replace them, to provide for expansion of essential activities, and to ensure the despatch of further reinforcements for the Pacific land force, would therefore be of the greatest assistance to us.

In view of the services rendered by the New Zealand Division in the Middle East and Europe since the beginning of the war with Germany until its end, we trust that arrangements will be made to ensure repatriation to New Zealand at the earliest possible date, whether via the Middle East or Panama, of all men who are to return. We would much appreciate very early advice of your proposals.

4 This telegram from General Freyberg, dated 22 Jul, is not published. The vessel was the Strathaird.

1 The above should read: (2300 all ranks from the Middle East Forces and 13,000 all ranks from the Central Mediterranean Forces). These were the grand totals of a table giving the numbers awaiting repatriation after the departure of the Stratbaird which was included in General Freyberg's telegram of 22 Jul to the Minister of Defence.

The Prime Minister to General Freyberg (London)2

14 August 1945

I have to thank you for your telegram of 11 August.3 Except that we are endeavouring to prepare for demobilisation at the quickest possible rate, our plans are also at a standstill. A further telegram on policy will depend on the Japanese reaction, and meanwhile I page 439 think you should stay in London. In anticipation of the cessation of hostilities, War Cabinet are of the opinion that you should make personal representations to War Office and to the Ministry of War Transport regarding transport. Apart from the question of the return of the 11th and later Reinforcements, we are disturbed at the prospect of delays in bringing the main body of 20,000 men back to New Zealand. From recent reports it would appear there is a likelihood of unrest amongst the men in Egypt,1 and for this and every other reason we feel we should take all possible steps to obtain the necessary shipping. Please ask Campbell2 to show you our previous telegrams to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs on the transport situation.3

2 General Freyberg had gone to London at the end of July to discuss with War Office plans for the repatriation of the 2nd Division and for the participation of a New Zealand force in the war against Japan.

3 See Volume III, Proposals for Participation in Operations against Japan. General Freyberg advised that plans for the participation of an Empire land force in operations against the mainland of Japan were at a standstill as a result of the Japanese surrender offer on 10 Aug.

1 In a telegram to the Minister of Defence on 13 Aug (not published) General Freyberg suggested that he should take advantage of his presence in London to discuss with the War Office the possibility of arranging leave in the United Kingdom for New Zealand troops in Italy awaiting repatriation. ‘To date the men have been good humoured and have given little trouble,’ he said, ‘but they are being called upon to face a period under trying conditions, and it is probable that there may be unrest after a time. I feel that the offer of short leave to the United Kingdom would do much to avoid possible trouble.’

The proposal was approved by the Government.

2 Dr. R. M. Campbell, Official Secretary to the High Commissioner for New Zealand in the United Kingdom; Chairman of the Public Service Commission, 1 Nov 1946–.

General Freyberg (London) to the Prime Minister

16 August 1945

Your telegram of 14 August. Shipping discussions at the War Office show that the whole question of allocations is now being considered on the broadest lines. They estimate that no statement of policy could be expected for from seven to fourteen days from the day of the Japanese surrender. I represented the New Zealand point of view to the War Office, who held out little hope of the existing arrangements being speeded up as, with the successful conclusion of the Japanese war, the Chiefs of Staff will have to compete with civilian ministries for shipping priorities. As you know, a great deal depends upon whether the United States demands can be reduced. It seems doubtful if existing military plans will be speeded up. I have done what I can on my level, but matters of policy of allocation are on too high a plane for me to do much good. I feel that the best plan is for you to cable direct to the British Prime Minister, as all other interests are doing. I am watching the situation here in London, and as soon as the United Kingdom Government's policy is issued will cable you my appreciation and outline plan for the return of the force to New Zealand.

page 440

General Freyberg (London) to the Prime Minister

28 August 1945

Reference your telegram of 28 August.1 I am sorry that I have not been able to send any shipping programme as the question of priorities in shipping is being dealt with on a Cabinet level and no decision is likely to be given until 10 September. I have certain facts and figures that I have gained by my contacts in the War Office, and for what they are worth I send you the following observations. These facts and figures are certain to undergo changes before they are cabled to you officially through Government channels. I need hardly say that it is being dealt with on a very high level and that I take no part in any of the deliberations.

I have seen the War Office shipping plans. So far as I can find out the proposals for shipping the New Zealand Forces from the Mediterranean theatre of war are as follows. In arriving at these figures some fresh priorities as a result of the cessation of hostilities against Japan have to be provided for.

  • Priority one: Movement of occupational troops.

  • Priority two: Repatriation of prisoners of war from the Far East.

  • Priority three: Movement back of Python2 and long-service British troops, and the repatriation of Dominion forces.

No figures can yet be given as firm. The whole shipping situation is being reviewed on 4 September by the Chiefs of Staff and on 8 September by War Cabinet. The decision will be given on 10 September. At the moment the latest figures from the War Office for shipping to New Zealand are as follows:

(1) Mid-September from Italy and Egypt 2,400
(2) October to December from Italy 13,000
(3) January to March from Italy 9,100
Total 24,500

Lift No. 1 above is firm and provision for this number will be made. If 5000 troops for the occupational brigade are found from the Mediterranean area, this will reduce our total from lift No. 2 by page 441 that number. It must be clearly understood that since I have got these figures through unofficial sources they cannot in any sense be taken as official, and I would be glad if you do not comment on them to the United Kingdom. No decision is possible, therefore, until after 10 September.

1 Not published. The Prime Minister in this telegram requested information on details of the United Kingdom leave scheme proposals, and stated that Cabinet was concerned at the possible effect of a public announcement about the scheme being made in New Zealand before the arrangements for the return of the Division had been announced.

2 This was the code-name given to the British scheme, which came into operation in September 1943, for the exchange between the United Kingdom and overseas theatres and garrisons of personnel who had had long service overseas.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

30 August 1945

Our inability to obtain any indication of the plans of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom for the provision of shipping for the return of New Zealand personnel in the Middle East who are now awaiting repatriation to New Zealand, is causing my colleagues and I much concern. One vessel is already en route to New Zealand and we understand that another ship is projected to leave in September. We are being embarrassed by the present uncertainty, not only as a result of feelings among relatives, but also in view of the persistent and reasonable demands on the part of food production, rehabilitation, and other most essential industries for skilled labour, large elements of which are included amongst all groups of the men at present awaiting return. We trust that for these reasons, and for those advanced in my telegram of 4 August to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (No. 471), early and adequate shipping can be provided. An immediate indication of the plans for the return of the personnel now awaiting transport in Egypt and Italy would be welcomed.

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

1 September 1945

Your telegram of 30 August.

I regret that it has not been possible earlier to give you details of our plans for the repatriation of your forces, but I am sure you will realise that the rapidly changing situation has involved a complete review of all the available shipping and the drawing up of new plans. The Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington are now undertaking this review for the period October 1945 to June 1946, and I can at once assure you that New Zealand claims to shipping space will be considered alongside those of the United Kingdom and page 442 other parts of the British Commonwealth. It will not be possible to let you know how many New Zealanders can be moved from October onwards until this review is completed.

However, I am able to tell you that the Strathaird1 is now on its way to you from Egypt carrying 3700 of your people (this includes some families), and the Dominion Monarch2, with another 750, from the United Kingdom. In addition, the Strathmore3 is due to sail from Egypt in September with 4000 men, and the Stirling Castle4 from the United Kingdom with 4500.

1 Peninsular and Oriental Line, 22,281 tons.

2 Shaw Savill and Albion Company, 27,155 tons.

3 Peninsular and Oriental Line, 23,428 tons.

4 Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company, Ltd., 25,550 tons.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

6 September 1945

In view of the distances involved and the fact that our Division has been kept in Europe and the Middle East since the first year of the war, we feel that some special consideration should be given to our claims for urgent repatriation. It is disappointing to learn from your telegram of 1 September that the most that can be indicated regarding shipping to bring our troops to New Zealand is that our claims will be considered alongside those of others. Apart from the reasons put forward in my telegram of 30 August (No. 475), there is, in addition, the question of possible unrest, amongst the troops who have already been held for some months in Italy and in the Middle East. Therefore, I must most earnestly request that strong representations be made to the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington for special consideration to be given to the early transport home of New Zealand troops.5

5 A copy of this telegram was also sent to the New Zealand Minister at Washington (Mr. C. A. Berendsen), who was requested to discuss the matter personally with Field-Marshal Wilson to seek his support of the Government's representations at meetings of the Combined Chiefs of Staff.

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

8 September 1945

Your telegram of 6 September. I fully realise and sympathise with your keen desire for the urgent repatriation of New Zealand page 443 troops. We are reviewing as a matter of extreme urgency our overall shipping commitments and resources in the light of the changed situation; but I feel bound to tell you that even greater shortages of shipping than we had feared are revealed by our examination to date. The points you make about the long distance from home and the length of time abroad of New Zealand troops will be taken fully into account when making up the balance sheet. Now that operational movements of United States forces to the Pacific can no longer be claimed to have overriding priority, we shall be approaching the Americans to ask for a larger share of the available shipping.

General Freyberg to the Prime Minister

18 September 1945

Reference your telegram of 17 September.1

My previous statement has been corrected in accordance with your proposed amendments, and I agree that no statement should be made in Italy before yours has been made in New Zealand. I suggest that Saturday, 22 September, would be a suitable date.

While I agree that our efforts to get suitable shipping allocated should be stressed to all ranks, it is not easy for me to suggest here that we should have better treatment than United Kingdom troops. I feel that the situation could be dealt with better at a conference than as an official statement, and I propose to do so at my conference on Saturday when the whole matter will be dealt with.

Dealing with the scale of accommodation, I do not think we have had any trouble over accommodation standards on board returning troopships. Although it would be good to press this matter on the United Kingdom Government, I feel that to emphasise that there is a possibility of bad accommodation to the troops would be unwise. Further, our men do not expect the same standards as in 1940 to apply in 1945, at the end of a long war when passenger shipping losses have been heavy. The general feeling here is that the troops are prepared to accept the conditions obtaining on board transports, provided that by doing so they will be enabled to return at the earliest date. Such trouble as we have knowledge of in the past has in nearly page 444 every case been attributable to the despatch of troops in hastily assembled drafts whose officers and NCOs were without previous knowledge of their men. All possible steps will be taken to avoid this happening.

Our main object in initiating the proposition for leave to the United Kingdom was to alleviate the long period of waiting among those troops who would otherwise be forced to remain in Italy until the spring of next year. If we attempt to despatch men on leave to the United Kingdom out of their correct reinforcement drafts, as we should if we send the occupational force, not only should we cause resentment among the old hands but we would complicate the leave scheme for the remainder of the troops in Italy to such an extent that the scheme would not be workable. Our own problems in concentrating and training the occupational force are not easy and can only be carried out with careful arrangement. It is to be pointed out that half of the occupational force is still in Egypt with the 15th Reinforcements, and that they will require considerable reorganisation and training before being despatched to Japan. I do not see how the occupational force can be concentrated in Italy and fully trained before the end of November. Should leave be granted to them it would delay their despatch for at least two months.

To sum up, I feel that if a clear statement of policy is made during the next few days, all will go smoothly according to plan:


The occupational force could be assembled quickly from the single men of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Reinforcements and shipped East direct from Italy; and,


the 8th, 9th, and 10th Reinforcements would leave in succession for home; and,


meanwhile the United Kingdom leave scheme would start to operate for personnel awaiting return to New Zealand. In my opinion, there would be little disappointment or trouble.

1 On 13 Sep General Freyberg had submitted for the Government's approval the draft of a statement on the return of personnel to New Zealand, the provision of an occupation force for Japan, and the United Kingdom leave scheme. This statement was approved on 17 Sep by the Prime Minister, who suggested, however, that more emphasis should be given in it to the efforts being made to obtain the best possible shipping facilities for the voyage home, and further, that the troops selected to garrison Japan should also be given leave in the United Kingdom.

General Freyberg to the Prime Minister

9 October 1945

My work as your Force Commander is now nearly finished. I am to report that all major decisions have now been made for getting the 2nd NZEF back to New Zealand. The Division is in winter quarters in Florence and Siena with good amenities. The United page 445 Kingdom leave scheme is about to begin and 105 all ranks per day are going to the United Kingdom by motor transport, with the women's services going by train through Switzerland. The new club staff has arrived in London, where I understand the Club will be opened shortly. The United Kingdom leave scheme is popular.1

Jayforce is coming into being on or about 15 October and it will be built up and organised in the course of two months.2 We are having to detail a number of key men and most of the officers from reinforcements earlier than the 13ths. In view of your desire for leave to England for Jayforce personnel,3 we are arranging to send about 100 officers and men of all earlier reinforcement drafts posted to Jayforce with the first leave party. They will return before the force leaves for Japan.

We have now completed arrangements for handing in equipment. This is going ahead smoothly and will be completed in the course of a few weeks.

The general condition of the troops is good but there is a certain degree of restlessness. Provided we can keep the constant flow of men to New Zealand at a reasonable rate there should be no trouble. I wish it were possible to know when all will be back in New Zealand. A rough statement of the position is as follows:

Present total strength in Egypt 6,300
Present total strength in Italy 16,200
Grand total 22,500
SS Mooltan to New Zealand, early November 3,100
Jayforce to Japan, December 4,000
Possible further ship to New Zealand, December 4,000
Total to go from Egypt and Italy in last quarter of 1945 11,100

The position at the end of the year in the Mediterranean theatre, taking the above forecast, will be:

Strength in Egypt 2,500
Strength in Italy 8,900
Total 11,400

If we get subsequent ships nearly every month, plus one more lift by the hospital ship Oranje4 taking 800, all New Zealand troops should have left the Mediterranean in March 1946. This, of course, is only an estimate.

2 See Volume III, Participation in Occupation of Japan.

4 Nederland N.V. Stoomvaart Maatschappij, 20,017 tons.

page 446

As far as I can see, there should now be no further need for me to stay on after I have attended the memorial services and said goodbye. My movements are as follows:

  • 12 October—attend memorial services at the Sangro

  • 14 October—attend memorial services at Cassino

  • 20 October—arrive in United Kingdom for Oxford Degree1

  • 29 October—return to Italy

  • 9 November—attend memorial service at Alamein

About 13 November—return to Italy and say goodbye and thank the people in Bari, Rome, and Florence; also hand over the command of the 2nd NZEF and leave Italy for the United Kingdom.

It now remains for you to choose my successor. I realise that this is a matter for the New Zealand Government. As I expect you would ask my opinion in such a matter affecting the 2nd NZEF, I should advise that Brigadier Stevens be chosen. He is the senior Brigadier and has been in charge of the Base and Force administration during the whole of the war. He knows the history of our financial agreements.

Whoever does the clearing up here should for all reasons be given the rank of Major-General. The special and financial powers which the New Zealand Government gave me have borne the test of five and a half years of war and peace.2 I feel there is no reason to alter these powers except to suggest a reduction and rearrangement of the entertainment allowance. In a following cable3 I shall send a memorandum summarising the powers which were delegated to me.

To sum up, I should be greatly assisted in my final work here if I could be informed:


Of your agreement to my handing over command of the NZEF when I think it advisable (about 13 November).


The name of my successor.


Whether you agree to his being made a Major-General.


Of your views on the special and financial powers to be delegated to my relief as GOC 2nd NZEF.

1 DCL (Oxford).

2 See Volume I, Appointment of Commander, 2nd NZEF (Nos. 39 and 40).

3 Not published.

page 447

The Prime Minister to General Freyberg
17 October 1945

I am grateful for your report on the existing situation and for your comments on future arrangements.

The New Zealand Government fully agree to your handing over command of the 2nd NZEF in November or at such other time as you think advisable. It is agreed that Brigadier Stevens should be your successor and that he should be given the rank of Major-General.

It is also agreed that he should continue to use the special and financial powers which were originally given to you by the New Zealand Government, subject to a reduction and rearrangement of entertainment allowances as you suggest….1

Consideration is being given to the suggested amendments to the memorandum of special and financial powers for the Commander of J Force, and this will also be discussed with Brigadier Stewart.

1 The text omitted referred to the allocation of entertainment allowances to Major-General C. E. Weir, GOC 46th British Division, and to the Officer Commanding J Force (Brigadier K. L. Stewart).

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.

page 448

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.