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Prisoners of War

CHAPTER 11 — The Reception of Liberated Prisoners in the United Kingdom and Their Repatriation

page 492

The Reception of Liberated Prisoners in the United Kingdom and Their Repatriation

IT is of interest to record that in July 1942 the War Office set up a committee to prepare provisional plans for the repatriation and reception of Commonwealth prisoners of war following their liberation in Europe and the Far East, and that two months later the plans were under consideration by the Imperial Prisoners of War Committee. There was unanimity on two matters of policy: firstly that all prisoners of war should be repatriated with as little delay as possible, and secondly that adequate facilities should be provided for their comfort, welfare, clothing and feeding, until such time as they proceeded on leave, demobilisation, or further duty in the forces.

On this basis a detailed repatriation and reception scheme was worked out. As it seemed likely that both in Italy and Germany there would, before the end of hostilities, be a shortage of food and medical supplies, together with a fairly complete disruption of rail communication, it was thought advisable that prisoners should remain in their camps to await instructions, food, and medical supplies there. They would be moved as soon as possible to transit camps near their embarkation ports. The need for complete and accurate check lists of prisoners would be met by setting up existing lists in type immediately and keeping them continually up-to-date, so that when an armistice was imminent a complete register could be printed in a matter of days. The adaptation of this general scheme to cater for prisoners in Italy after the Italian capitulation, and the way in which things worked out in practice, have already been dealt with.

In 1942 it had seemed most practicable for men from the United Kingdom to proceed home direct from Italian and German ports, but for those from New Zealand and other Dominions to be collected at a transit camp at Trieste. This route, besides being geographically the shortest for our men, also took them through their already established base in Egypt. Nevertheless, it had been realised even at this early stage that transport difficulties on the Continent might make it advisable to evacuate all prisoners through the United Kingdom, in order to facilitate their immediate removal from the country in which they were held prisoners.

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As the time of liberation began to seem nearer to those in prisoner-of-war camps their interest in their future movements quickened. By the end of March 1943 the New Zealand Military Liaison Officer in London had received a large number of inquiries from our men in prisoner-of-war camps as to the possibility of their returning home through the United Kingdom. The majority of these inquiries were from men who wished to complete studies and examinations in England, to gain special knowledge or experience in some branch of their occupation, to see parents and other near relatives, or to rejoin their wives and children temporarily resident there. Following the precedent set in 1919, the New Zealand Government decided to allow ex-servicemen special leave in the United Kingdom for family, business or educational reasons, but limited the first of these to exceptional cases and the two last to cases where the facilities sought were not available in New Zealand.

By the end of 1943 the staff of the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and that of the War Office were agreed that it would be more speedy and generally practicable to evacuate all prisoners from northern Europe ‘unsorted’ straight down the lines of communication which would be set up following the invasion of Europe from the west. It was considered that to evacuate released Dominion prisoners on a special route through Italy would involve establishing and maintaining a third line of communication, a task which would take a considerable time and thus greatly delay evacuation. At the beginning of 1944, therefore, a new plan based on these operational considerations was submitted to the Imperial Prisoners of War Committee. It contained provision for the setting up in the United Kingdom of Dominion reception camps staffed by their own countrymen. Dominion Governments gave their approval and so set the stage for a repetition of the events of 25 years before, when large numbers of an earlier generation of Dominion servicemen also spent their immediate post-war period in the United Kingdom.

In early 1944 the only people with practical experience in catering for the needs of ex-prisoners of war were those in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East who had received the repatriation drafts of sick, wounded, and protected personnel, and the personnel of the Allied Repatriation Unit in Italy who had received escapers and evaders making their way to the Allied lines. From April 1942 onwards, however, successive exchange drafts of sick, wounded, and protected personnel had brought back information regarding the feeding and other conditions of those in enemy hands; and medical examinations, both physical and psychiatric, had provided data for a prognosis of the physical and mental page 494 condition of prisoners on repatriation. With the addition of facts gleaned from a steady trickle of escapers, those responsible for the welfare of British prisoners of war were able to build up a fairly accurate picture of prisoner-of-war life, though perhaps coloured a little too much with the viewpoint of the hospital inmate and the medical orderly. An experimental rehabilitation scheme for 1180 protected personnel repatriated in October 1943 was carried out at Crookham in England in December 1944, and the results of this and many other observations were embodied in a report by the Psychiatric Division of the War Office.1 Its findings and recommendations became the basis for the treatment of repatriated prisoners of war from the psychological aspect. It summed up the problem thus:

Other things being equal, the difficulties of social readaptation on repatriation appear to be more severe in ex-prisoners of war than in any other body of men so far studied…. Emotional problems are disproportionately severe in men who have been prisoners for more than eighteen months…. Planning the rehabilitation of these men demands particular care—“Not soft handling, but different handling.”2

The New Zealand Section of the Allied Repatriation Unit in Italy, whose difficulties in coping with large numbers of escapers and evaders have already been mentioned, took a different view:

Any ex-prisoner arriving in our hands should be treated as a normal soldier who has returned to duty after having had a slack time. He should be first ‘processed’, clothed, and documented and receive information on military matters to get him up to date, and his liability to Army orders made clear so that there is no doubt if he makes any breach of orders. He should be punished for breaches as a normal soldier…. Special treatment, leave or concessions such as UK leave on a big scale should be avoided.3

This was a viewpoint developed from dealing expeditiously with the administrative and material needs of escapers and evaders immediately after they reached Allied lines, and arranging to get rid of them to New Zealand as quickly as possible. Some of the Army administrative authorities in New Zealand also felt that there was a tendency on the part of the public to be over-solicitous regarding the mental and physical condition of ex-prisoners of war who had returned to New Zealand, and that some of them were inclined to play up to the sympathy of the medical officers examining them.

The Director-General of Medical Services took the view that a middle course should be steered between too much ‘processing’ and rigid discipline and too much fuss and emphasis on abnormal mental states. In the course of a visit to England in the spring of

1 Lt-Col A. T. M. Wilson, RAMC: Report to the War Office on the psychological aspects of the rehabilitation of repatriated prisoners of war.

2 The last phrase is quoted from the statement of an ex-prisoner.

3 Report to HQ 2 NZEF by OC 1 NZ Repat Unit, 25 March 1945.

page 495 1944 he investigated from the medical point of view the accommodation requirements of the Reception Depot for New Zealand ex-prisoners there, with special regard to the psychological aspect. He recommended that the reception centre should be in the nature of a convalescent depot, with absence of pinpricking discipline, and that it should be near a town of reasonable size, as all ex-prisoners would be ‘heartily sick of the country’. Once the ex-prisoner had been satisfied that he was medically fit (or alternatively that he needed treatment), his transfer to New Zealand should be a first priority, since most ex-prisoners had ‘a strong desire to get home and … mingle with the civilian community’. Fortunately for all concerned, it was this enlightened viewpoint that was adopted by the Reception Group in the United Kingdom.

In March 1944 the Military Liaison Officer in London produced an estimate of accommodation, staff, and other requirements for the 8400 or so New Zealand Army ex-prisoners of war who would be received in England pending their transport home to New Zealand. In a report to Army Headquarters in New Zealand he drew attention to the importance of efficient handling of this side of the problem, preferably by a staff of New Zealanders.

These [ex-prisoners] … will tend to be unduly critical of any mismanagement and intolerant of even apparent blunders, no matter what the circumstances might be. They will not only be news, but a very wide political capital, and press and public will be even more critical and less understanding….

On the basis of this and already discovered requirements for handling repatriates and escapers, a detailed plan was worked out in consultation with the War Office. With little change this was the blueprint from which the 2 NZEF Reception Group was built.

The plan suggested that senior Army staff officers should immediately begin work for an organisation which would consist of a headquarters and four ‘Wings’ (with a possible increase to eight), each to accommodate about 50 officers and 1000 men. The Pay and Postal sections of the organisation should be ready to function well in advance, the Pay Corps staff being already available in the United Kingdom. As no ex-prisoners should be used on the staff of the Reception Group until they had taken their 28 days' special leave (regarded as a necessary mental relaxation for the majority), the organisation should be complete before the arrival of the first draft. Onward passage of repatriates to New Zealand was not expected to be possible for six months, and to fill in the waiting period educational and recreational facilities would be organised for the unfit, and all-arms training for the fit majority.

If the last item sounds strange in retrospect, it must be remembered that in March 1944 a sudden end to the war with Japan was page 496 not foreseen, and the future operational employment of fit exprisoners could not be neglected. For the same reason the ultimate importance of the Education and Rehabilitation Service was not recognised, and the minor part it was expected to play is reflected in an establishment of twelve all ranks out of a Group total of 930. At this stage, too, the evacuation of German prisoner-of-war camps by air had not yet been considered, and the influx of prisoners was not expected to be other than a gradual process extending over a period of twelve weeks from the date of the armistice. Neither the extent of the food shortages of the last months of the war, nor the forced marches across chaotic Germany, were then foreseen, and a camp reception hospital of only 50 beds was considered sufficient for the 8000 or so repatriates.

At first it was thought by the service authorities concerned that the most convenient and economical way of catering for the 450 or so Air Force and the handful of Navy repatriates, and at the same time ensuring that they were handled by New Zealanders, would be to make use of the extensive accommodation and organisation arranged for the larger numbers of repatriated Army personnel. But senior officers of all three services in London foresaw in this plan difficulties based on differences between the services in pay and administration. In early July 1944 it was finally decided that New Zealand airmen repatriates should go to an RAF station, which would include a New Zealand reception centre, staffed with a considerable percentage of men from the Dominion. Naval airmen would go to this centre, and the remaining Navy personnel would be catered for in Royal Navy transit camps.

After the invasion of the Continent had been launched on 6 June 1944, there were no longer any security reasons for postponing the setting up of reception centres for repatriated prisoners of war. A nucleus of eleven officers1 who could be spared from Italy arrived in England to make preliminary arrangements. Brigadier James Hargest2 was appointed to command the New Zealand Reception Group, but he had hardly time to meet his officers and discuss general policy when he was killed in France while on a farewell visit to the division with which he had been serving as observer. The Group moved into temporary quarters in Hartwell House, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, and it was there that it received 89 of the 116 New Zealand repatriates included in the exchange of

1 Under the command of Lt-Col L. F. Rudd, former Military Secretary, 2 NZEF.

2 Brig Hargest took part in the D Day landing in Normandy as New Zealand observer. He was killed in action on 12 August 1944, on what would have been his last day in the field before taking command of the Prisoner of War Reception Group.

page 497 September 1944. The staff were thus able to gain their first practical experience of catering for the needs of ex-prisoners.

It was expected that it would be some time before transport would be available to take the repatriated prisoners of war to New Zealand, and provision was now made in the reception scheme for facilities to enable them to fill in the period of waiting. It was decided that each ex-prisoner would receive 28 days' leave, with 4s 6d a day subsistence allowance and a free railway warrant to anywhere in the United Kingdom. In addition he would be allowed to take in the United Kingdom all except a fortnight of his discharge leave, while awaiting transport to New Zealand. To provide the men with purposeful and congenial occupations during this period and to help them on the road to rehabilitation, approval was given to set up a complete Education and Rehabilitation Service in the United Kingdom.1 In addition to funds and goods supplied from the National Patriotic Fund, the Government passed a vote of £10,000 to provide special comforts, entertainments, and conducted tours for ex-prisoners during their stay. Provision was also made by the Red Cross, the YMCA, and the Church Army for canteen and recreational facilities.

The Education and Rehabilitation Service aimed at giving the men a chance to take advantage of their presence in the United Kingdom by securing educational courses and professional experience not otherwise available to them. Its work was planned to cover a period of six months and to give three kinds of facilities: firstly, information to fill the gaps created by captivity in knowledge of the progress of the war, of New Zealand from all aspects, and of world affairs generally; secondly, vocational training, including university courses, trade training, and attachments to factories or offices for gaining further specialised experience; and thirdly, advice concerning facilities provided by the Rehabilitation Act of 1941 and readjustment to civilian status generally, especially for those who had been too young when they joined the armed forces to have properly started on a career. Textbooks, libraries, and films would be provided, and advantage would be taken of local educational facilities. Short courses and attachments to factories and offices, as well as longer university and trade courses, were to be awarded only after consideration by a special committee. The whole scheme was to be on a voluntary basis, but each man was to be fully informed of all the facilities available to him.

On 25 September the Government approved the appointment

1 An initial grant of £9500 was made, mainly for the purchase of library and textbooks.

page 498 of Major-General H. K. Kippenberger,1 then convalescing in England, as Commander of the Reception Group.2 He took over his duties at the beginning of October, just before the Group moved to permanent quarters in part of the Old Park Barracks, Dover, a group of buildings erected in 1939 but in constant use during the war and somewhat damaged by bombing. This was to be the Group's headquarters and the centre for receiving and partially ‘processing’ all repatriates before they were distributed to their appropriate wings. The latter were to be located partly in these buildings, partly in the Duke of York Military School at Dover, partly at the Turnpike Camp at Hythe, and partly in requisitioned buildings, mainly large hotels, at Folkestone, Margate, and Westgate. Had the war in Europe ended with an armistice in late 1944, it is probable that our repatriates would have arrived in Dover Harbour in ships and been received and distributed according to this plan. But Dover was on the line of communication of the British Liberation Army, and the accommodation there had to be evacuated in February 1945 to provide a leave centre for British troops from Europe.

This meant a second move for the Reception Group staff at a time when Germany was obviously nearing cracking point, and therefore it entailed the risk of their not being ready in time to receive released prisoners. But there can be little doubt that the requisitioned buildings they now occupied had far greater possibilities for the creation of the type of rest centre visualised for repatriates. The Turnpike Camp at Hythe, the only barrack accommodation retained, later produced such an unfavourable reaction from repatriated officers that it was decided to abandon its use. The new accommodation included fifty buildings, most of them hotels a hundred yards or so from the sea and thronged by tourists in peacetime. Their temporary shortcomings in respect of electrical fittings and plumbing and their shortage of furniture in April and early May were more than outweighed by their pleasant situation and lack of barrack atmosphere. From the psychological point of view the new accommodation had a high potential value for the rehabilitation of released prisoners of war.

By mid-March the Reception Group headquarters was established at Westgate, with wings at Folkestone, Cliftonville, and Broadstairs, and the Group hospital at Haine. Provision was made to

1 Maj-Gen Sir Howard Kippenberger, KBE, CB, DSO and bar, ED, m.i.d., Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Ladbrooks, 28 Jan 1897; barrister and solicitor; 1 NZEF 1916–17; CO 20 Bn Sep 1939–Apr 1941, Jun–Dec 1941; commanded 10 Bde, Crete, May 1941; 5 Inf Bde Jan 1942–Jun 1943, Nov 1943–Feb 1944; 2 NZ Div 30 Apr–14 May 1943 and 9 Feb–2 Mar 1944; Prisoner of War Reception Group (UK) 1944–45; twice wounded; Editor-in-Chief, NZ War Histories.

2 Col Rudd was appointed second-in-command, and Brig J. M. Twhigg ADMS.

page 499 receive well over one thousand ex-prisoners at each of the infantry wings, and a total of 6600-odd, including some 370 officers and some 440 senior NCOs in the whole Group. Puttick Wing1 was organised to act as a transit reception wing through which all repatriates would pass for preliminary equipping and processing before going to their permanent quarters. The welfare side of the organisation had been thoroughly developed, and now included a residential club2 in London staffed by New Zealand Women's Army Auxiliary Corps personnel.

As the war had progressed prisoners of war had become the object of increasing public interest and sympathy; and now that their liberation seemed near, everyone was alert to ensure that they received the best treatment on their arrival in England. In October 1944 the War Office had circularised all United Kingdom next-of-kin with a list of suggestions for handling their ex-prisoner relatives, based on ideas obtained from those already home. Broadcasts and press releases for the public generally followed, emphasizing the same points:

Don't be hurt if he does not come and see you for a bit…. Don't give him too much of a party when he does come to see you…. Be a good listener…. Answer all his questions carefully…. Don't pity him. All he wants from friends and relatives is understanding help until he finds his feet.

Similar advice was published in New Zealand not long afterwards.

In his broadcast talk of 21 February the Commander of the New Zealand Reception Group, speaking of its forthcoming task, said that he was glad of ‘an opportunity of being of service to so many old friends and comrades’.

All the time I intend to treat these men as soldiers. There will be discipline in the camps of a sort that, I think, will be calculated to maintain self-respect and to restore or keep high their morale.

The problem of maintaining order in such a large and rather amorphous body of men might well have been a serious one. There can be little doubt that any attempt at strict regimental discipline would have been disastrous with men who had spent the previous year or two doing their best to thwart a system of military discipline notorious for its severity, and some of whom had suffered sufficiently to regard almost any future eventuality with indifference. Further, the European conflict over and an assault on Japan imminent, the emphasis should obviously be on rehabilitation. On this point the Commander stated simply: ‘We will do everything we can think of … to get them ready for return to civilian life.’ Ex-prisoners

1 Wings were named after senior 2 NZEF officers: Freyberg, Puttick, Miles, Hargest, Barrowclough, Crump, and Park.

2 The Fernleaf Club in Lowndes Square, Knightsbridge.

page 500 of war in general regarded it as fortunate that the Reception Group was commanded by a man who saw their problems with such clarity and understanding.

The arrangement for the reception of New Zealand Air Force ex-prisoners followed similar lines. A large waterfront hotel as accommodation for No. 12 Personnel Distribution and Reception Centre of the RAF station at Brighton had been made available for them. There was provision for transport to the centre, cleaning and pressing of uniforms left in England before capture, comforts and free cigarettes, and private hospitality. The 2 NZEF Reception Group supplied two complete dental units, a postal unit, a YMCA officer to run a canteen, and all the facilities of the Army Education and Rehabilitation Service. The Prime Minister summed up the policy of the New Zealand Government regarding the reception arrangements in England:

No expense will be spared and no avenue overlooked by which the organisation can be perfected and the men made to feel that New Zealand herself is welcoming them on the shores of England.

On the last days of March, three weeks after the move to the Isle of Thanet, Brigadier Clifton,1 who had escaped a few days before his camp was liberated, arrived at the Reception Group headquarters at Westgate. He was followed on 5 April by the first draft of released prisoners, 31 officers and one other rank. By the end of the month some 100 officers and 1100 other ranks had been received, of which a large number had been processed2 and were already on leave. The effects of lack of food and long marches had been noticed in the condition of many of the repatriated men,3 and about 250 of them had been admitted to Haine Hospital. But many of those not seriously affected quickly showed improvement as a result of the rest, sea air, and good food they enjoyed at the reception centre. There was a great spirit of cheerfulness, and many men expressed their pleasure at being with fellow New Zealanders.

1 Brig G. H. Clifton, DSO and bar, MC, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Greenmeadows, 18 Sep 1898; Regular soldier; CRE 2 NZ Div, 1940–41; Chief Engineer 30 Corps, 1941–42; commanded 6 Inf Bde Feb–Sep 1942; p.w. 4 Sep 1942; escaped Mar 1945; NZ Military Liaison Officer, London, 1949–52; Commandant Northern Military District, Mar 1952–Sep 1953

2 ‘Processing’ was not to take more than three days for each man and consisted of: (1) short address of welcome; (2) recording of name, etc.; (3) preliminary medical and dental examination (‘fit for leave’); (4) pay; (5) mail; (6) interrogation; (7) interview with ERS; (8) issue of kit; (9) issue of comforts; (10) interview for officers with A Branch.

3 The report of the ADMS for April states: ‘As a result of recent privations and hardships the general condition of returned prisoners of war has been poor and a high proportion has been found to be suffering from varying degrees of malnutrition and avitaminosis. Of the number reporting to the NZEF (UK) Reception Group, approximately 18% have required hospital treatment.’ (In the first two weeks the proportion was as high as 30 per cent.)

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Local people were sincerely generous in offering hospitality, and many ex-prisoners were taking advantage of this to get in touch with the atmosphere of home life again. The English inns with their pleasant environment and sensible drinking hours were also contributing in no small way towards restoring men to normality by their homely atmosphere and convivial company. Dances were proving very popular, and there was a general keenness on the part of repatriates to take part once again in the normal life of a community.

At the beginning of May the intake from the Continent slackened off a little because of bad flying weather. But the excellent weather which followed made it possible to bring the total number of New Zealanders ‘safe’ in the United Kingdom to over 5500 by the end of the month. On the whole the health of the later arrivals was better, for the majority of them were from camps in central and southern Germany which had not had to march long distances, which in any case had not had to march until the winter was over, and some of which had not had to march at all. The percentage of hospital cases from the May intake was only 4·7, and a very small number of men were suffering from deficiency diseases. Nevertheless, at the end of May there were still 368 of the repatriates in hospital in England.

The majority of the New Zealand Air Force ex-prisoners arrived at Brighton in May, most of them landing at Dunsfold airfield and being brought down by special buses. The Women's Voluntary Service of Brighton helped to make the hotel in which they were billeted comfortable: by making beds, by putting flowers in the bedrooms, and by organising a club1 for Australians, New Zealanders, and South Africans near their hotels. The messes for both officers and other ranks were described by the men as excellent, waiting and cooking being done by the Women's Auxiliary Air Force personnel.

Naval repatriates went to Royal Navy depots such as Lee-on-Solent and Goscourt, where they were rekitted and processed, much in the same way as Army and other liberated prisoners. They were placed on three months' leave, at the end of which they were cared for either by 2 NZEF Reception Group or by the RAF Reception Centre at Brighton. They had all left by sea transport for New Zealand by the end of July 1945.

In late May a draft of 500-odd ex-prisoners, mostly from Austrian camps, arrived from Italy, and a similar number arrived on 10 June. Men who had been repatriated via Odessa and small

1 The Southern Cross Club.

page 502 numbers of men from the Continent continued to arrive in June, and by the middle of the month it was estimated that all except about a hundred ex-prisoners had been transferred from the Continent to England.

No attempt was made by the Reception Group to force repatriates to take their leave immediately on their arrival; on the contrary they were encouraged to wait anything up to 14 days with the Group so that they could derive more benefit from leave when they did take it. The food supplied by the British Army Catering Corps was of a very high standard, and this was supplemented by delicacies from the National Patriotic Fund stocks. While the men remained at their reception centre there were organised tours to Canterbury, Chatham, Dover, Windsor, and other nearby places of interest. The canteen worked long hours to serve the two to three thousand repatriates who were not on leave, and in the evenings there were ENSA concerts, cinema shows and dances.

Although hardly anyone failed to spend some time in London during his leave, full use was made of the free rail warrants to anywhere in the United Kingdom, and repatriates were soon spread from Inverness to Land's End. Diaries mention not only Madame Tussaud's, the Battersea Power Station and Saint Paul's, but also Fort William, Loch Lomond, and the Glasgow shipyards. An enormous number of free tickets were available throughout the country for almost every kind of entertainment, as well as special facilities to visit important places of interest. Accommodation was at this period difficult to find in London, and that provided by the Fernleaf Club, as well as the meals and canteen service that accompanied it, saved a large number of men a good deal of money and a good deal of trouble of various kinds. There were several other servicemen's clubs in London which served meals and provided sleeping accommodation.

These also existed in the other large towns to which repatriates made their way in the course of their leave, but few men did not at some stage of their journeying receive an invitation to private hospitality. Apart from the welfare organisations which arranged such hospitality, the British people were lavish in extending the freedom of their homes to our men. A young New Zealand private soldier records drinking champagne with a retired British Army officer in his Berkeley Square flat as a result of a conversation in a railway compartment. Later in Edinburgh a kind old lady with whom he is billeted insists on making him rest in an armchair and giving him cough-mixture for his smoker's cough.

As to the extent of the repatriates' travels, one leave diary begins with London and goes on to Epsom, Southampton, Winchester, Salisbury, Edinburgh, Linlithgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Fort page 503 William, Glasgow, Carlisle, Newcastle, Northallerton, York, Bristol, Cheddar and Bath. But there were no doubt many unrecorded tours which surpassed this. Apart from the mental recreation of seeing new places, the returned men were able to mingle freely with the civilian population and begin their own social readjustment in their own time and in their own way. In early June one man says he is ‘shyer than ever of women’ and he leaves a dance to spend ‘over an hour in a pub’. Three weeks later there is evidence that his shyness is disappearing. An evening in the company of a young Englishwoman which ends with ‘vows on both sides to write’, passes so quickly that he is locked out of the YMCA in York and has to spend the night at ‘the best hotel.’ There is no doubt that leave in the United Kingdom did much to break our repatriates in to the normal life of a community once again.

Their leave completed, many men set about taking advantage of the ERS facilities. By early June a large number had applied for individual study courses, and about one hundred for special attachments to offices and factories for further experience in their own vocation. The latter were of anything up to six months' duration and covered a wide variety of places of work. They ranged from the photographic section of the London Polytechnic to the office of a large firm of accountants, from the workroom of a tailor's cutter to the wards of a hospital specialising in some branch of medicine. Altogether between two and three hundred men took up one or other of these attachments. Fifty more were granted bursaries for university and other long courses of one or more years. Whereas the man on attachment remained in the forces on service pay, the bursar was discharged and received £250 a year and other special allowances. By the time that the majority of men were on the way home and the ERS was closing down, nearly a thousand men had used individual study courses, 130 had attended short ‘leave’ courses at English universities, and 30 had taken special wool courses at Bradford. The Director of Army Education visited England in July to report on these activities, and in particular on the attachments to factories and offices. He visited representative men at their work and found that the senior officers of the firms were taking a personal interest in the welfare and progress of the soldiers on attachment to them, and that in addition to the professional and vocational advantages, these attachments were greatly assisting the men in their readjustment to normal civilian life.

For those not wishing to take courses there were, during their period of waiting for a ship home, all the amenities of the wings at the Reception Group. There was a little marching and organised sport, but the men on the whole were left free to rest and find their page 504 own recreation. Discipline was very light, and short overstaying of leave was generally disregarded.

One of the problems with which the Reception Group was faced was how to discourage repatriates on release from reckless spending, or loss by other means, of their accumulated pay. Rumours of the limitation of drawings which reached prisoner-of-war camps in 1942 had caused many to transfer balances to trading banks, private firms and individuals. Assurances from pay officers that there would be no such limitation caused a great reduction in such transfers. Even so, as early as November 1944, the amounts so transferred totalled £107,000, and this total was at that time increasing at the rate of £4650 a month. To avoid a breach of faith and a discrimination which would hinder the policy of reabsorbing ex-prisoners of war as normal members of the forces, no restrictions on drawings of pay were imposed. But every effort was made to foster among repatriates by pamphlets, by personal interviews, and by unit talks the idea of limiting their spending in the United Kingdom to actual necessities, in view of the unduly high prices of all unrationed goods and the advantage of arriving in New Zealand with ample funds.

Those who were sick enough to have a spell in hospital were well looked after in the New Zealand Military Hospital at Haine and in a number of British hospitals equipped to treat specialised cases. The unexpected influx into Haine and its conversion from a 50-bed to a 250-bed hospital placed a severe strain on the staff. The average stay, however, proved to be about ten days only. For the men whose main requirements were special feeding and rest, the quiet situation and pleasant grounds at Haine were admirable. Over 90 per cent of the repatriates required dental treatment, of whom more than half needed dentures. The enormous work of getting 6000 men dentally fit continued on the ships taking ex-prisoners home, and in some cases was not completed until after their arrival in New Zealand.

Transport to New Zealand proved speedier than had ever been anticipated. On 30 May a first draft of 500-odd left Liverpool in the Dominion Monarch. Just under 1000 left on 18 June and another 200 on the 28th; in July a draft of 1400-odd sailed on the 3rd and another of 1000-odd on the 25th; and in August there were another two drafts, one of 1400 on the 7th and another of 400 on the 30th. By the latter date, not four months after the cessation of hostilities, there remained only some 600 repatriates in the United Kingdom, and over 4000 were already back in New Zealand.

At the beginning of August it was decided to contract the Reception Group to the Headquarters at Westgate and Puttick page 505 (reception) Wing at Cliftonville, and that even these should gradually decrease their staff and accommodation. Haine Hospital was closed at the end of the month. In September there remained only some 300 repatriates1 still in the care of the Reception Group in England, and the majority of these left for New Zealand in October. Those who were on attachments were able to complete the full periods for which they were seconded and went home by later sailings with drafts of other returning servicemen.

It is clear from what ex-prisoners have said of the reception facilities in England, both Army and Air Force, that what was most appreciated was the minimising of service routine and the provision by ample leave of an opportunity to get away for a while from service life altogether. Men did not fail to note the ‘freedom from irksome restrictions’ and the small amount of ‘form filling and red tape’, as well as the ‘friendly cooperation of reception staffs’ and their ‘real desire to help’. They spoke highly also of the good food, the ‘spacious’ quarters, and the service provided by ERS. Their comments show that the authorities were right in approaching the problem of receiving ex-prisoners mainly from a psychological angle. What many found most helpful was ‘being left alone’. A naval airman sums up the opinions of many repatriates in his appreciation of:

The good sense and helpfulness of all who had any contact with us and the quick and expedient way in which the necessary formalities were disposed of, so that in record time we were free to do as we wished, which was to get peace and quiet.

The first large draft arrived back in New Zealand on 3 July. They were welcomed home by the Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon. Walter Nash, and transported expeditiously to their homes. It was noticed that in general they looked fit and healthy; no doubt both the period in England and the sea voyage had helped to restore their physical well-being. But many had emotional and domestic problems still to solve. Few could have been unmoved at finding themselves, after so many years overseas, once again in places and among people familiar from their youth but altered, sometimes markedly, with the passage of the years of absence. It remained to be seen how well these gaps could be bridged.

1 A number of men, including those awarded bursaries, were allowed to take their discharge in the United Kingdom for various reasons.