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War Economy

Pre-war Manpower Planning

Pre-war Manpower Planning

Pre-war manpower planning was associated with the Manpower Committee. This Committee was an offshoot of the New Zealand Committee of Imperial Defence, which was formed in November 1933 and was to change its name to Organisation for National Security in August 1936.

The Manpower Committee first met in June 1934, but does not appear to have worked under any pressure until 1939. There were in fact only twelve meetings of the Committee in the five years 1934 to 1938, compared with nineteen meetings in the first ten months of 1939, up to the time the Committee ceased to function in October.

Primarily the Manpower Committee was a channel for pre-war thinking about defence demands and industrial requirements for manpower in times of war. It was inter-departmental, with no direct representation of outside interests. The Committee was very conscious of the conflicts and shortages which would arise in the manpower field in the event of war. Many of its discussions and proposals envisaged far-reaching measures which would involve page 33 a major loss of freedom of choice for individuals in the labour force. Quite a substantial loss of freedom is inevitable under the demands of war, but the thinking of the Manpower Committee seems at times to have gone further than in fact proved necessary. In a report dated 30 January 1939 it said:1

‘It is the opinion of the Committee that a state of affairs must be envisaged in which the Government controls the Manpower of the Dominion, allotting men either to industries which have become more essential and which demand additional staff, or to the armed services for home defence (not for service overseas, which would be dealt with as an entirely separate problem). The Committee submit that the only point which is really at issue is the time at which this control is applied.’

The Council of Defence was, however, not prepared to take so extreme a view at that time, and at no stage of the war did controls extend to all manpower.2

1 ONS 115, para. 5.

2 Registration for work of national importance was ultimately required up to age 40 for women and 59 for men. See also pp. 99101.