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War Economy

The Strain on Civilian Manpower Worsens

The Strain on Civilian Manpower Worsens

Towards the end of 1942 the full effect of depletion of civilian manpower was being felt. This had been by far the most difficult year for many industries. Some had borne the strain well for a time, but were now beginning to reach the limit of their ability to produce with their reduced staffs. Meantime, demands for goods and services were still increasing.

Writing to Mr Churchill in November 1942,1 Mr Fraser stressed that the limit of New Zealand's manpower resources had been reached, and that it was not possible to build up the establishments which the Chiefs of Staff regarded as a minimum for the defence of the Dominion. Mr Fraser went on: ‘The question of production of food and other supplies, both for the United Kingdom and the South Pacific Area, also arises. The United States Forces are becoming increasingly dependent on New Zealand's resources for those essential supplies and services which we must endeavour to provide under the Mutual Aid Agreement.’

From 72,000, in August 1943, the strength of the home forces fell to 66,000 in November, but by this time overseas forces had reached their peak figure of over 70,000. The total serving in New Zealand and overseas had now fallen from the September 1942 level of 157,000 to a little over 136,000.

The reduction in armed forces strengths and the return of men to civilian work was not nearly fast enough for industry; and the continual combing out of industry during 1943, to find fit men to reinforce the overseas divisions, was becoming a source of acute annoyance. The presence of a still large home army, while industry badly needed labour, also gave rise to criticism. In January 1943 one daily2 wrote: ‘It is doubtful if it is wise to call up men who are filling important, and essential, civilian jobs that they may be sent into camp and undertake a routine of eating and marching day in and day out….’ In March Mr Holland said in Parliament,3

1 Cable No. 176, Prime Minister of New Zealand to Prime Minister of United Kingdom, 19 November 1942. Documents, Vol. II.

2 Southland Daily News, 26 January 1943.

3 NZPD, Vol. 262, p. 66, 3 March 1943

page 485 ‘I have said before, and I repeat, that there is no justification for the number of men who are under arms in this country….’ He went on to quote the President of the New Zealand Manufacturers' Federation as saying: ‘The manpower problem is becoming increasingly difficult as more and more demands are being made for production. These difficulties would be more easily borne by manufacturers and farmers if it were not for the knowledge that there were literally thousands of men in the Army in New Zealand who were simply wasting their time.’

The following month Mr Fraser warned Mr Churchill,1 ‘… it will not be possible for New Zealand to maintain divisions both in the Mediterranean and in the Pacific beyond the end of the present year…. Despite every effort to comb out industry, sufficient key men must be retained to maintain essential production, and especially primary production, at a time when the target programme is being set at increasingly higher levels and when there is, moreover, every prospect that we will be supplying our own men actively engaged in the Pacific area, while demands for foodstuffs and services of all kinds under reciprocal aid are continually increasing.’

In an endeavour to plug gaps in essential industries, direction of civilian labour was intensified in 1943; but labour shortages continued to slow up production in many industries. With the faster tempo of allied military action, the need for further increases in production, especially food production, was becoming more pressing.

The strength of the army in the Pacific reached its peak in September 1943.2 By this time the home forces were down to 72,000, but in the opinion of many they were unnecessarily large, so long after the real threat of invasion had passed.

In November 1943, when the home forces numbered 66,000, the Council of the Manufacturers' Federation decided to take up the question of manpower ‘strongly’ with the Government. It said:3 ‘In the meantime, certain detailed information regarding losses in production in factories through shortage of manpower, and information which is becoming increasingly available regarding the wastage of manpower and womanpower in the armed services, is being collected from the district associations and other affiliated organisations.’

1 Cable No. 222, Prime Minister of New Zealand to Prime Minister of United Kingdom, 29 April 1943. Documents, Vol. II.

2 At this stage 3 Division was embarking on the first of its three Island actions, on Vella Lavella. See Oliver A. Gillespie, The Pacific, Chapter 5.

3 Dominion, 30 November 1943.