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War Economy

Men for the Armed Forces 1

Men for the Armed Forces 1

OF all the impacts of war on the New Zealand economy, probably the most momentous was the withdrawal of men and women from industry for the armed forces. At peak mobilisation, in September 1942, over half of all New Zealand males in the age group from 18 to 45 were in uniform. This peak recruitment lasted for a comparatively short period, but a high level of manpower participation characterised New Zealand war's effort. For some two and a half years, from early 1942 to the second half of 1944, one third or more of the 18 to 45 age group was serving.

The effect on the civilian labour force was drastic. For over five years, from the second half of 1940 right through to late 1945, at least one in ten of the male labour force was in the armed forces. The most difficult period was from early 1942 until late 1943, when over a quarter of all males available for work were serving. At the peak of recruitment, in September 1942, the proportion in the forces reached 30 per cent of the male labour force.

Virtually all these men would have been available for work in New Zealand industries had they not joined the forces.2 Industry had thus, for a period, to release well over a quarter of its labour to the armed forces. Even with production curtailed in many non-essential industries, this was a staggering demand. It might well have proved insuperable had it not been possible to draw into industry considerable numbers of married women, older people and others who would not normally have formed part of the labour page 71 force, together with most of the initial pool of unemployed. There was still a drastic reduction of labour in industry, and the struggle to meet increasing demands for production with a dwindling labour force placed a considerable strain on many industries.

Chart 12 shows changes in the proportion of the male labour force who were in the armed forces.

chart of labour force demographics

Chart 12

1 Armed forces strengths given here are taken from Parliamentary Paper H–11a, Report of the National Service Department, 1946, p. 122. They differ from those given in H–19b, Statement of Strengths and Losses in the Armed Services and Mercantile Marine in the 1939–45 War (1948). The latter figures exclude troops in transit, prisoners of war, etc., but include part-time Territorials.

2 As would a large proportion of the women who joined the forces.