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

497 — The Prime Minister to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs2

The Prime Minister to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs2

30 September 1945

New Zealand's participation in the occupation of Japan was today the subject of a statement by the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. P. Fraser.

‘In referring to the Press Association cable regarding General Freyberg's statement to the men of the 2nd NZEF, Mr Fraser said the actual text of General Freyberg's remarks had been conveyed to the New Zealand Government and approved in advance of publication. These were as follows:

“The question of finding a small New Zealand Force to assist in the garrison of Japan is still under consideration and subject to negotiations by the British and United States Governments regarding the forces required for the occupation of Japan. I can only tell you that eventually it will be found from New Zealand by voluntary enlistment. This will take time and it is possible that a small force about 4000 strong will be found from the 2nd NZEF in Italy to carry out six months' occupational duties in Japan. They would then be relieved by the voluntary force from New Zealand. If it is decided to send a force from the 2nd NZEF to Japan it would probably page 525 be found from single men of the 13th, 14th and 15th Reinforcements and from certain officers and specialists to be detailed by name. These men would concentrate and organise in Italy and would leave here by ship in November or December. After the voyage east the force would stay six months in Japan and return to New Zealand about July 1946. I will give you detailed news of this project as soon as negotiations between the two Governments are concluded.”

‘I should add,’ said Mr Fraser, ‘that these negotiations are still taking place and, moreover, the British Commonwealth countries concerned are also discussing questions relating to the formation of a British Commonwealth Force.

‘I had intended making a statement in Parliament as soon as I had received confirmation that arrangements had been completed. I can only say at this stage that if a British Commonwealth Force is to go to Japan then New Zealand will be represented.

‘In view of the press cable messages received this morning it is necessary that I should now release the following statement which I had intended to make to Parliament:

“When Parliament discussed at the beginning of August the formation of a New Zealand force for service in the Pacific it was decided to send a two-brigade Division to fight against the Japanese. Before that decision could be implemented, and when it became clear that Japan intended to surrender, Mr Attlee, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, consulted me regarding the substitution of this combat force by a British Commonwealth Force to take part in the occupation of Japan.

“The new proposal envisaged a land force composed of brigade groups from various countries of the British Commonwealth, together with a tactical Air Force contingent. The New Zealand Government agreed at once that a New Zealand squadron could be made available for the tactical Air Force; they agreed also to the continued attachment of New Zealand ships to the British Pacific Fleet and they undertook to give consideration to the proposal that a New Zealand brigade group should participate in the proposed British Commonwealth land force.

“I feel sure,” said Mr Fraser, “that the people of New Zealand will agree that this opportunity of proving our unity and solidarity with the Mother Country, and of sharing in the responsibilities of the British Commonwealth in the Pacific, should be accepted by the provision of a brigade group as requested by the United Kingdom Government.

“The Government made the fullest inquiries as to the practicability of obtaining from the Division on a voluntary basis a properly page 526 balanced brigade group with its essential technical units, but the advice received from General Freyberg and from the Chiefs of Staff in New Zealand is that it will not be possible to organise a brigade group on a voluntary basis to be ready in time to form part of the British Commonwealth occupation force entering Japan. It has therefore been decided that a brigade group shall be made available for six months' service in Japan from the single men of the 13th, 14th and 15th Reinforcements of the 2nd NZEF who have seen little or no actual fighting. The men who have already served with the 3rd Division in the Pacific, both married and single, will not be included. It will also be necessary for certain officers, NCOs and other key personnel to be drawn from other units of the 2nd NZEF for the Occupation Force.

“It is proposed that the personnel of this brigade group shall be relieved at the end of six months by men from New Zealand. The relief force will be obtained from volunteers, for whom a call will be made at an early date to enable training to be completed and such relief force to be despatched in sufficient time to take over from the brigade group in Japan.

“Despite the repeated efforts of the Government to obtain the highest possible priority in shipping, there appears to be little prospect so far of obtaining transports to bring the men of the later reinforcements back to New Zealand before March or April next. The consequent delay in the return of the single men of the 13th, 14th and 15th Reinforcements occasioned by their going to Japan now should, therefore, not result in their being away from New Zealand for more than an additional two or three months.

“It will be generally agreed that New Zealand should undertake this duty, not only because it is in our interests as a Pacific country to do so but also because, in common with the other members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, we have been invited by the United Kingdom Government to participate. Indeed Mr Attlee said in his original message, ‘We trust that we may rely on your assistance and indeed we regard your assistance as indispensable.’

“It will be generally agreed also that our only enemy in the Pacific is Japan and that her surrender does not of itself ensure freedom from future Japanese aggression. To render this impossible it is necessary to disarm Japan, to dismantle her war industries and, as far as possible, to eradicate the spirit of Japanese militarism.

“The Allied Powers have set themselves in the Potsdam Declaration, in the Armistice terms and in various declarations of policy to implement this policy, which is endorsed by the New Zealand Government.

page 527

“It is clearly our duty,” said Mr Fraser, “to undertake our share of the responsibility for the enforcement of the peace, to the achievement of which our war effort has made a notable contribution. If, moreover, the peace settlement with Japan should fail, New Zealand may well be one of the first countries to suffer. Having regard to our resources and the part we have played throughout the war, the Government proposes to limit our commitment for a land force to an initial period of six months. Any extension beyond that period will depend upon the response which is made to the call for volunteers to provide the necessary reliefs.”’

2 Repeated to the Prime Minister of Australia, the New Zealand Minister in Washington, and to General Freyberg.