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War Economy

The Manpower Dilemma

page 486

The Manpower Dilemma

The urgency of the need to reduce the strain on civilian manpower was matched only by the Government's reluctance to withdraw from either of the overseas theatres in which New Zealand forces were engaged. To maintain a division on both fronts, and to keep up food production, was obviously impossible, but, while the production of food was coming to be seen as New Zealand's main war contribution, neither Churchill nor Roosevelt could be induced to condone the withdrawal of New Zealand forces. Churchill wanted 2 Division to take its place at the fall of Rome1 and, with him, many in New Zealand looked forward to this fitting climax to the achievements of the Division. Roosevelt wanted 3 Division to remain active in the Pacific until the fall of Tokyo,2 and here again there was a strong body of New Zealand opinion to advocate that New Zealand should take its proper place in Pacific affairs.

To place the flow of food in jeopardy was out of the question. The decision had to be made between the withdrawal of 2 Division or 3 Division. New Zealand had to make the decision; her allies would not make it for her. As with all difficult decisions, it tended to be deferred.

By the end of 1943 the problem of staffing for the peak of the 1943–44 food production season had become critical. On 4 December the Deputy Prime Minister wrote to Admiral Halsey:3

‘From a survey of the manpower situation undertaken by War Cabinet it is apparent that New Zealand is faced with a most serious crisis, particularly in regard to the production of foodstuffs. Accordingly every effort is being made to effect the temporary release of any further men from the Armed Services, and it is most earnestly desired that men who are to be relieved of garrison duties in the Pacific should be brought back to New Zealand, if possible before the end of the year. Indeed, unless these men in the Pacific can be made available for employment in the freezing works before the peak of the season in January, it will not be possible to fulfil the commitments in respect of meat, either for the United States Forces in the Pacific or for the urgent needs of the United Kingdom.’

1 The Hon. W. Nash (London) to Prime Minister of New Zealand, 9 February 1944. Documents, Vol. II, p. 337.

2 New Zealand Minister (Washington) to Prime Minister of New Zealand, 14 January 1944. Documents, Vol. II, p. 329.

3 Documents, Vol. III, p. 430.

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The number of men serving with the Army in the Pacific was reduced from 20,900 in December 1943 to 18,600 in March 1944, mostly by withdrawals from Fiji, Tonga and Norfolk Islands. However, Government efforts to tide over the 1943–44 season were concentrated on reductions in the numbers in the armed services in New Zealand, use of services personnel under the Army and Air Force harvesting scheme, and recruitment of holiday workers.

Between November 1943 and February 1944, the strength of the home forces was reduced by 9000 men. The Army and Air Force under the harvesting scheme supplied 6900 men on a temporary basis.

A statement by the Minister of Industrial Manpower on the 1943–44 season gives some indication of the expedients to which the Government was driven to tide over the seasonal peak:1

‘The services of almost ten thousand teachers, students, and schoolchildren had been used by the National Service Department during the recent summer vacation period to assist in various forms of nationally urgent work, stated the Minister of Industrial Manpower, Mr McLagan, yesterday. In paying a tribute to these people, and to the University authorities and educational bodies for their assistance, the Minister said it looked as though New Zealand would have obligations just as great, if not greater, in respect of seasonal industries this coming season, and it might be necessary to seek similar assistance again.

‘“The response from all concerned last season was most willing,” the Minister said. “From the University and Training Colleges we brought under direction 2099 men students and 1720 women. In addition, 212 men teachers and 558 women teachers were called up to help. These 4589 persons represented a large and willing labour force whose availability proved to be of the greatest moment in meeting our seasonal requirements. These people worked under the direction of the Manpower Officers, and as a whole they appear to have been reasonably satisfied with their conditions. There have, I am aware, been a few cases where persons were less fortunately placed and I am having any such cases fully investigated, so that their occurrence can be minimised should a similar necessity arise at the end of this year”.

1 Dominion, 4 May 1944. Important seasonal peaks in New Zealand are from January to March for harvesting and fruit picking, from December to May for livestock slaughtering, and from August to May for dairy factories. Usual vacations are from November to February inclusive for universities and from mid-December to the beginning of February in schools.

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‘The Minister said the main classes of industry to which the holiday workers went were as follows:

Males Females Total
Farming 437 456 893
Vegetable growing 129 513 642
Other primary industry 92 171 263
Freezing works 388 1 389
Wool stores 335 1 336
Hospitals (apart from Medical Students) 146 146
Medical work (Medical Students) 241 38 279
Domestic work (on farms, etc.) 270 270
Dairy factories 97 97
Government clerical 13 20 33
Engineering 109 42 151
Manufacturing industries 120 129 249
Commerce 38 42 80

‘“We had also,” said Mr McLagan, “a very large army of most willing younger workers, who volunteered from the post-primary schools. Altogether we had the voluntary assistance of 3271 schoolboys and 1958 schoolgirls. This is apart from many who assisted in various ways without coming under the notice of the Department. The cumulative total of the work of these young people in the fields and vegetable gardens, if it could be measured into thousands of tons of foodstuff which they handled, would be amazingly great. I wish to express my thanks to all these for the fine way in which they helped us in a national service of the utmost urgency.”’

A summary of the manpower problem of the time was available to Cabinet in a survey which was later conveyed to Mr Roosevelt by Mr Nash. His letter read, in part:1

‘The position in New Zealand requires some clarification in order to determine the most effective method by which we can use our manpower to help the war effort.

‘Our position at the time of the most recent full analysis was as follows:

Total number of males between the ages of 14–64 600,000
Of this total those engaged either full time with war and defence forces—in munition and war equipment manufacture—essential work, or minor, less essential work numbered 560,000
Total number of males between Service ages (18–40) 330,000
Of this total, at middle of last year those serving full time in Army, Navy or Air Services (exclusive of casualties) numbered 149,000
Of this 149,000, the forces overseas totalled 70,000

1 Documents, Vol. II, No. 362, 24 January 1944.

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‘The large proportion engaged in full-time war services is causing a reduction in our production of primary products. When I left New Zealand, for instance, in December last it was not possible to obtain full production in our meat freezing works (corresponding to your meat packing-houses) owing to shortage of manpower. Our butter, cheese and meat production from the farms is also declining owing to shortage of manpower (and of fertiliser, which is in very short supply).

‘We are anxious to use our full resources to finish the war at the earliest possible date, and also to meet all our commitments overseas, but we have to determine now where our manpower can best be used.’