Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III
355 — Letter from Major-General Barrowclough to Lieutenant-General Puttick — Fijian Units and 3rd New Zealand Division
Letter from Major-General Barrowclough to Lieutenant-General Puttick
My Dear General,
Fijian Units and 3rd New Zealand Division
Your letter of 18 May did not reach me till 10 o'clock yesterday (Sunday) evening, and I am replying to it at once. Fortunately I had my two senior Brigadiers2 with me for a conference on other matters and I discussed the situation, in confidence, with them.
I appreciate the extraordinary difficulties which confront the War Cabinet in meeting my demand for troops, and I hope I may be permitted to say how much I appreciate the efforts that are being made by War Cabinet and you personally to implement the policy of bringing this Division up to strength. Tactically and strategically it is unquestionably right to deploy such forces as New Zealand can deploy, in the islands that constitute the outer fringe of our defence. New Zealand cannot be invaded whilst we hold the line Hawaii, Fiji, Guadalcanal and New Guinea. On the other hand I fully recognise that whilst we need not mobilise anything but a small garrison for New Zealand we may have to mobilise a large army of workers to maintain supplies to troops in the island perimeter. It is that factor which causes the difficulty.
I ought to say at once that I should be very happy and proud to accept a Fijian Brigade. Fiji recognises the military truism that its best defence is to engage the enemy as far as possible from its own shores. It is prepared to denude its own territory of its own defenders so that they may be sent forward. It is the more justified in that because there are always Allied troops there. It is a British Colony and its troops should be allowed to serve in a British formation. With all respect I heartily concur in your decision to advise War Cabinet to accept Mitchell's offer of a Brigade.page 380
But I feel bound to renew my request that the Fijian Brigade be accepted in addition to and not in substitution for any part of 3rd New Zealand Division. I have not overlooked the manpower difficulties that stand in the way of my proposals. On the information before me it seems practically impossible to maintain both 2nd and 3rd Divisions, especially if the older members of 2nd Division are to be sent back to New Zealand and be relieved by reinforcements on the very much larger scale that such a policy involves. It seems to me that this raises the very vital question as to whether 3rd Division is always to be regarded as the Cinderella of the Forces and is perpetually to be called on to make, directly and indirectly, the contributions that are necessary for the maintenance of 2nd Division in the Middle East or Europe.
What I am about to say may touch on matters of policy, the decision of which rests with War Cabinet and not with me. I disclaim any intention of attempting to usurp the functions of War Cabinet in such matters of policy; but I think War Cabinet would wish me to state certain aspects of this matter as they appeal to the very large number of men whom I represent and for whom I am responsible. I therefore state these aspects in the belief that they may assist War Cabinet in coming to a decision on a matter which is admittedly their function and certainly not mine, though of course I and every man in my command are intensely affected by that decision.
1. The resolution to bring this Division up to full strength has had a very marked effect on the morale of this Force. The belief that we shall eventually be given an active role as distinct from a purely garrison job has resulted in an unbelievable improvement in our state of training and readiness for war. I know that, but for the fact that we are still short of some of our units, we are an infinitely better division than any American division that I have seen—Marines included. Our physical standards, our tactical knowledge, our willingness and keenness to work, our staff and administrative work, far surpasses that of the American Forces. This is no vain or idle boast. It can be demonstrated to any observer and is virtually admitted by American officers who are astounded at the vigour of the exercises we are performing in the steep bush-clad mountains of this Island. There is now a fine unit, brigade and divisional spirit throughout the Force.
2. I am sure I am correct in saying that the men in this Force want to fight as the 3rd New Zealand Division or the Kiwi Division. Whilst many of the men would like to go to the Middle East if there was no prospect of our fighting here, I am sure none of my units would wish to go if there was a prospect of our getting an active role. I am certain they would not wish to go as reinforcements whose unit organisation would be broken up on arrival in Egypt.page 381
3. If any units are sent from this Division as reinforcements to the Middle East the whole Division would immediately assume that it was no longer regarded as a fighting formation but merely as a reinforcement pool for the more famous 2nd Division. And it would be a fact that the time when this Division would be ready for action would be inevitably postponed. The period of garrison duty, already overlong, would be prolonged and we should lose a very fine spirit which many of us have laboured night and day to create.
4. This conflict between the manpower demands of the 2nd Division and of this Division is not unknown to the troops. They have read the newspaper references to it. Now that the North African campaign is over I think the opinion of the average man in this Force is something to the following effect: ‘The 2nd Division has had an opportunity of showing its worth. It has proved to be the best division in the Middle East. We feel from seeing the American divisions out here—that we are at least as good as the best of them. We ought to be given a chance to demonstrate our worth and it is scarcely fair that we should continually be depleted in order to keep the 2nd Division at full strength.’ That, I think, is a fairly generally accepted view amongst my troops.
5. I am sure none of us have anything but pride and affection for the 2nd Division. All would recognise the fairness of bringing the whole Division back or, alternatively, of bringing back 5 or 6,000 at a time. But the troops here would feel that it was unfair that the relief of the 2nd Division should be carried out at the expense of the 3rd Division. Nor do the men fail to see that this war in the Pacific is New Zealand's peculiar interest. I think they feel that as a nation New Zealand would lose some prestige if its own troops were represented here only in a garrison role. I do earnestly submit for consideration the suggestion that if 2nd Division has earned a rest (and no doubt a rest has been well earned) it should be given that rest by reduction in its own strength. It may well be proper to give it—for a time—a garrison role. I think I can assure War Cabinet that if the 2nd Division were less actively employed and 3rd Division were permitted to assume out here its active role the reputation of the New Zealand soldier would not thereby suffer. It may be thought an advantage that New Zealand troops should come into some prominence in operations directly connected with the defence of their own country. Sentimentally it may seem harsh to suggest even a temporary reduction in the strength of the 2nd Division, and no one has a higher sentiment than I have towards that Division in which I had the privilege of serving in its darker days. But I have now a duty to express the sentiments of 3rd Division, which has for long endured all the hardships of rigorous training and absence from home and indeed all the rigours of warfare other than actual battle experience. page 382 I would be failing in my duty if I did not stress (what War Cabinet will no doubt already have considered) namely that it would be a very serious matter if the men who have served in this Force so loyally were, after the war, to be subject to some sort of stigma because they had served only in a second-rate Division.
6. I do not forget that the suggestion is that by the inclusion of the Fiji Brigade it may be possible to keep us at fighting strength and give us an active role; but I question very much whether that will really be possible. A Brigade represents only some 2500 men including its own signals, its Defence Platoon and its LAD, all of which I assume the Fijian Brigade would bring with it. This is a small part of the Division which, with Divisional troops and hospitals and Base organisation totals up to about 17,000 men. If the demands of 2nd Division proceed on the scale now indicated as possible it is obvious that we shall be called on to supply not only two battalions of infantry mentioned in your letter but also many other troops, including Artillery, Signals, Army Service Corps and other technical arms. Inevitably it must be the beginning of the complete disintegration of this Division. We shall never be able to attain complete preparedness for action and could probably never undertake more than a garrison role. At best we might be included as a Brigade Group in some composite American formation.
7. A few of us for years have regarded the bearing of arms in defence of the State as both the duty and the privilege of every citizen of the State. When the war broke out most people recognised it as a duty though they did not all see it as a privilege. Today, after long and arduous preparation most of my troops now regard it as a privilege as well as a duty. That privilege has been extended to the 2nd Division and has been richly and honourably enjoyed. I make a plea that the same privilege be extended to 3rd Division, every man of whom has worked hard to fit himself to enjoy it. If, as seems inevitable, the two Divisions cannot both be maintained in an active role then I submit that a decision must be taken on the vital question as to whether 2nd Division (already covered with honours) must always take precedence over 3rd Division which has not yet had one single opportunity of fulfilling its justifiable military ambitions.
In conclusion I wish to repeat that I have no intention of attempting to formulate the policy of War Cabinet on this matter. I regard myself as merely the advocate before Parliament of the troops which Parliament has placed under my command. If the decision is against us we shall see broken and destroyed the work of many arduous months, but I know we shall all be willing to ‘stoop and build it up with worn-out tools.’ I ask that these views be placed before the Prime Minister and I enclose an extra copy of this letter for that page 383 purpose.1 If any question should arise which makes it desirable that I should visit Wellington I hope you will let me know and I shall make time somehow to undertake the journey. I am appreciative of the full information you are giving me on this subject.
With very kind regards,
(Sgd) H. E. Barrowclough
2 Brigadiers L. Potter and R. A. Row.
1 This letter was sent to the Prime Minister on 28 May.