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

58 — General Freyberg to the Prime Minister

General Freyberg to the Prime Minister

28 March 1942

Many thanks for the information in your telegram of 17 March which enables me to frame policy here.

Your cable raises questions of policy on which I shall require guidance. The reasons for the decision to retain the Division in the Middle East are noted. You ask for comments. At present there is no outward sign of unrest or feeling that the men should return to New Zealand. As reported, we have tackled the question on what I hope are sound grounds and have given a reassuring picture of the measures taken in New Zealand.1 I think that the majority have accepted the situation with stolid wisdom though the arrival of the American division in New Zealand is bound to cause considerable comment. I personally agree that the New Zealand Division would be more valuable in New Zealand than any other, and if New Zealand is attacked I feel that our place should be at home. But if high policy reasons make it necessary to stay here, the decision will be accepted. I understand from your message that the 9th Australian Division is remaining here. Their return would certainly cause dissatisfaction. We can now point out that both the Australians and page 43 ourselves have been retained for reasons of practical strategy. It can be explained that our return would add to the present heavy demands on Allied shipping and escorting vessels as new formations would also have to come by sea to relieve us. Further, with attack against the Middle East imminent, the value in a vital theatre of the highly trained and fully equipped Division can be pointed out. I feel certain the New Zealand Expeditionary Force will respond as they have done before in the very hard times in Greece, Crete, and Libya.

Regarding a stiffening from the New Zealand Division for the New Zealand Forces, may I make a suggestion with every wish to help? I consider that any proposal involving the return of part of the force here will create uneasiness amongst those left behind. I feel personally that although private soldiers may be some help, what is really wanted and what you will ask for will be further officers and NCOs. The following help is already just arriving or is on the way to New Zealand. Several battalion commanders and three Brigadiers, including Stewart.1 Barrowclough is fit to train and command a division and the other Brigadiers and battalion commanders are fit to command and train brigades. We have also sent 40 other officers and 60 NCO instructors and leaders. This measure caused no unrest, and the system could be continued within the limits of our resources without causing unrest. We cannot send many more senior officers as we now have none of the original Brigadiers and only one original commanding officer. We could send, however, 50 officers and 100 NCOs in view of the good officer material to draw upon here. Perhaps you could replace them with 200 other ranks.

As the campaigning season is approaching and the Division may soon be on the brink of active operations, I would appreciate early advice from you of the Government's decision, stating the arms and categories of the help you wish. We are taking all steps to conserve our strength. We are recalling all detachments and may have to recall the temporary help sent to the Greek Army.2

I have not mentioned the general situation in the Middle East but intend to do [an appreciation] during the coming week.3

1 Major-General K. L. Stewart, CB, CBE, DSO; GSO 1, 2nd NZ Division, 1940–41; Deputy Chief of the General Staff (in NZ), 1941–43; commanded 5th Brigade, Aug—Nov 1943, 4th Armoured Brigade, Nov 1943–Mar 1944, and 5th Brigade, Mar—Aug 1944; prisoner of war, Florence, 1 Aug 1944; commanded 9th Infantry Brigade (J Force), Nov 1945–Jul 1946; Adjutant-General, New Zealand Military Forces, Aug 1946–Mar 1949; Chief of the General Staff, Apr 1949–.

2 New Zealand officers and NCOs were attached to the Royal Greek Army to help train and instruct the Greeks in the use of British weapons.