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

490 — General Freyberg (Italy) to the Prime Minister

General Freyberg (Italy) to the Prime Minister

5 September 1945

Reference your telegram of 31 August [No. 487].

I am now back in Italy with the Division and have seen the nine senior officers of the force, including Brigadier Parkinson3 from page 519 Egypt, where we still have 3000 of the 15th Reinforcements. We have examined the suggested policy of providing the occupational force by voluntary enlistment from the whole of the 2nd NZEF overseas. We have all approached the problem with the greatest desire to make a voluntary force possible. I have spoken individually with these nine officers and have put the best possible case for a voluntary force to them.

My approach has been that with the shortage of shipping at least 9000 of the latest-joined reinforcements will not get back to New Zealand until March or April. These men will therefore remain where they are for at least another six months in the knowledge that there will be little to do to keep up their interest. If they volunteer they will join the occupational force for Japan, which will concentrate in Italy as soon as possible and, providing the Americans agree to receive the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan at that time, will move to Japan early in November, arriving there before the end of the year. Under the terms of the scheme they would be back in New Zealand about the end of July 1946, having seen in all probability Singapore and Manila, as well as Japan itself.

Although none of the officers feel that they can with confidence give a definite figure, they all agree that we should not get the required number of volunteers. Their estimates run from 750 to 2500 in the extreme cases, with the consensus of opinion less than 1500.

I also discussed the problem with a selected group of officers at the War Office, asking them what they would expect to get from a British force of equivalent size and in similar circumstances. They felt that they might get 1000 volunteers. Field Marshal Alexander and his Chief of Staff, General Morgan,1 also gave a figure of about 1000. My own opinion is that we might get 1500—which falls far short of the required 5000 for a brigade group. Further, I feel it would not be possible to get the correct grades or numbers of specialist personnel to enable a balanced fighting force to be formed. In reference to your request, I therefore feel, after giving the matter all possible consideration, that a voluntary system from the present 2nd NZEF overseas would not succeed.

I must point out that the fact that the Australian and United States forces are being raised on a voluntary basis does not appear to be analogous with our own case. The Australian Imperial Force is already in the Pacific. The United States troops are to have ninety days' home leave before going to Japan. The two British brigades are already in India and have been fighting the Japanese. We should be the only page 520 force which would move direct from the European theatre to the Pacific.

I would suggest as a possibility that the British Government, for the purpose of maintaining the Commonwealth aspect of the force, might consider accepting from us a smaller garrison force capable of carrying out guard duties but not capable of working as an operational brigade group. Such a force of three battalions plus rearward services could be formed from 4000 men. Should this proposal be acceptable, these 4000 could be detailed from the single men of the 13th, 14th and 15th Reinforcements. Officers and certain additional specialists would have to be detailed from outside these reinforcement categories. As the bulk of the men so detailed have seen little fighting they could not logically have any grievance.

I know from certain definite pointers that opinion here has altered to a marked degree since VJ Day. All entitled officers and men who volunteered to stay on at Base for the duration of the war against Japan have withdrawn their applications to remain and now wish to proceed home at the earliest date. VJ Day meant far less to our men than will the day they leave here for New Zealand. This general desire of everyone to get home and re-established into their new life is most pronounced.

The United Kingdom leave scheme is being kept in mind as a means of relieving the boredom which is bound to follow a long wait in the present surroundings. Such leave, however, could not be given to the men who will leave by the vessel promised for October, nor to those for the occupational brigade. The announcement of the scheme is therefore not being made in the meantime.

At present the tone of the Force both in Italy and Egypt is all that is desired, but a considerable prolongation of the present state of waiting is bound to have its effect. As you know, there has already been trouble with the Canadians at Aldershot and with the South Africans in Cairo.

There is little more we can do here at the moment. There should not be any trouble if we are able in the near future to give the men a detailed statement of the New Zealand Government's policy. Although I do appreciate the difficult position in which Cabinet is placed, I am told that such a statement of policy is generally expected by all ranks now that I have returned from England.

3 Maj-Gen G. B. Parkinson, CBE, DSO and bar, Legion of Merit (US); CO 4 Fd Regt Jan 1940–Aug 1941; comd 1 NZ Army Tank Bde and 7 Inf Bde Gp (in NZ) 1941–42; 6 Bde Apr 1943–Jun 1944; GOC 2 NZ Div 3–27 Mar 1944; CRA 2 NZ Div Jun–Aug 1944; comd 6 Bde Aug 1944–Jun 1945; NZ Military Liaison Officer, London, 1946–49; Commander, Southern Military District, 1949–51.

1 General Sir William Morgan, GCB, DSO, MC; Chief of Staff to Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean, 1945; Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean Theatre, 1945–47.