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

185 — The Governor-General of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs — [Extract]

The Governor-General of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

3 August 1940

His Majesty's Government in New Zealand are grateful for your most immediate and most secret telegram of 30 July2 in connection with which they have the following observations to make:

(1) The rapid deterioration in the past few weeks in the Far Eastern situation has reinforced the view, which they have held for some considerable time, that relations between the British Commonwealth and Japan are most unstable. They look on the position as it is now developing as one of great gravity, and they cannot disguise from themselves the fact that the contingency of hostilities with Japan in the near future is one that must be taken seriously into consideration if it is not to be accepted as a probability.

(2) In these circumstances they have felt it their duty to consider with much care the course that should be taken with the New Zealand troops now in training in the Dominion, including those for the Third Echelon, and particularly the question of the departure and the destination of the Third Echelon with its accompanying reinforcements and ancillary troops.

In considering this matter they have tried to weigh carefully every pertinent consideration, and they think it might be of advantage were they to inform His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of the lines upon which their discussion of the matter has developed.

On the one hand they have had to recognise and attach due weight to the fact that the situation in the Far East is very serious, and that it appears to be getting worse; that if the Third Echelon should leave this Dominion there is in general terms no force available in this country at the present moment, the training of which is in any way comparable with that of the Third Echelon, in itself only partially

2 See Vol. I, Third Echelon, No. 223. In this telegram the Dominions Secretary notified the New Zealand Government that there was now ample shipping accommodation available for the Third Echelon.

page 208 trained; that some time must elapse before, with existing resources in this Dominion, any other force will be trained even to that standard; that, owing to the length of the coastline of New Zealand and the numerous harbours and open beaches which offer ready facilities for a landing, the absence of trained troops in adequate numbers would be a particular disadvantage here in case of attack, and that the Third Echelon on departure would naturally take with it a proportion of the available supplies of arms and equipment, already far from adequate. In view of the effect on the British Commonwealth's position of a possible successful attack on New Zealand, it might well be, in the existing circumstances, that the best contribution this Dominion could make to the common effort would be fully to ensure its own defence….1

All these circumstances they have looked at with the greatest of care and in the light of the fullest possible information that they have been able to gather here.

On the other hand there are very weighty considerations against deferring the despatch of the troops as arranged.

They fully accept the fact that a large view must be taken, that in the last resort this Dominion must stand or fall according to the decision in the main theatres of war, and that as a corollary it would be wise to have all possible forces at decisive points rather than to disperse them in reserves all over the world.

Again they see that if the despatch of the Third Echelon to the Middle East is deferred, the First Echelon would be left unsupported and the concentration of the New Zealand Division would be retarded.

They have given the fullest weight to the recent appreciations of the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff as to the vital necessity of maintaining the British positions in the Middle East, having regard to the lines of communication which would otherwise be open to the enemy eastward and southward, and to the necessity of safeguarding vital oil supplies; and finally, they have attached the utmost importance to the fact that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, after full consideration on the widest strategical scale, have come to the conclusion that the best contribution this Dominion could make to the common cause in the present circumstances would be by the despatch of the Third Echelon to the Middle East and have asked them to take this course.

Having very carefully weighed all the above considerations and every other known factor that might conceivably have a bearing upon the matters in question, the New Zealand Government have come to the conclusion that the troops should depart as proposed, and all necessary preparations have accordingly been made. They feel, however,

1 See Vol. I, pp. 171–2, for text omitted.

page 209 that in view of the threatening situation vis-à-vis Japan, they should retain from the reinforcements that would otherwise be despatched with the Third Echelon the necessary force (3050 all told) for despatch to Fiji as soon after the concurrence of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom is received as this can be arranged….1

1 See Vol. I, pp. 172–3, for text omitted.