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To Greece

The New Zealand Government Makes its Decision

The New Zealand Government Makes its Decision

The exact orders for the departure of the first flight of Lustre Force cannot be found but the fact is that the ships were already on their way to Greece.4 They had left Alexandria at noon on 6 March, before Mr Eden and his advisers held their afternoon and evening conferences, one day before the War Cabinet in Britain page 113 finally decided to send the expedition, and two days before the New Zealand Government agreed to the proposed course of action.

The reply from New Zealand was sent on 9 March after a long sitting of the War Cabinet in Wellington. The Government realised that the operation, always dangerous and speculative, was now distinctly hazardous. The margin was narrow and the risks considerable, so, remembering Norway and Dunkirk, the Government prepared its own analysis1 of the problem. In the first paragraph it was clearly stated that the formation of a Balkan front was no longer the dominant reason for the expedition: ‘There seems to be little prospect of Yugoslav or Turkish assistance, and consequently the possibility of such assistance should be disregarded entirely as a factor in the consideration of the matter.’

After listing all possible dangers, the Government made this memorable statement:

Nevertheless, having regard to all these considerations, His Majesty's Government in New Zealand look upon the first and last of the alternatives set out in the fifth paragraph of the Secretary of State's telegram as completely unacceptable. In particular they cannot contemplate the possibility of abandoning the Greeks to their fate, especially after the heroic resistance with which they have met the Italian invader. To do so would be to destroy the moral basis of our cause and invite results greater in their potential damage to us than any failure of the contemplated operation. Therefore, in the circumstances, they find themselves in agreement with the conclusions arrived at by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, as now approved by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom—a decision which they consider to have been correct in a most difficult situation.

His Majesty's Government in New Zealand, with a full knowledge of the hazards to be run, align themselves with His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and agree with the course now proposed. They are confident that New Zealand troops in this dangerous enterprise will worthily uphold their traditions and indeed would be the first to approve of the decision now taken.2

There had been no differences of opinion. ‘This conclusion was arrived at unanimously by all the members of the War Cabinet and all the members of the ordinary Cabinet and was approved as the only possible course in the difficult circumstances by the Leader of the Opposition,3 who was specially consulted on the matter by myself.’4

It could be suggested that the Government had not been fully briefed, that it had attached too much weight to the opinion of Mr Menzies, that it had received no report from General Freyberg. page 114 And it is certainly true that after the campaign Mr Fraser reminded General Freyberg that he should have warned the Government that the expedition, so far as he understood it, had no reasonable chance of success. The Government may then have sought further assurances from Britain, but it is doubtful if its decision would have been any different. For time was pressing and it was determined not to do anything that might appear to be a moral failure.

4 This refers to troops. Supplies and motor transport had been in earlier convoys. For most units, transport was at Piraeus when the troop disembarked.

1 Documents, Vol. I, pp. 257–8.

2 Ibid., p. 258.

3 Mr S. G. Holland.

4 Evening Post, 24 Apr 1941: Mr Peter Fraser.