Problems of 2 NZEF
IT was always of interest to ask any officer who had served in the first war in France what welfare arrangements had been made for the troops there. The answer would almost invariably be that the army did very little. In the divisional area there might be an odd YMCA institute or two; in the nearest town there might be a bigger club or church institute. The nearest welfare establishment to the average unit was probably the local estaminet – and a tribute should be paid to the hard-headed but kind-hearted peasant women who ran these estaminets and so made up a little for the army's deficiencies. It must be said that the men did not appear to notice that there were any deficiencies, but one way or another managed to keep themselves entertained. It would be trespassing into dangerous ground to suggest that the generation of 1914-18 was more self-reliant than that of 1939-45; but however that may be, by the outbreak of the Second World War, Welfare (with a capital W) had become a feature of civilian life; all the more so in New Zealand because the Government of the day was a Labour one, with State Welfare one of the biggest planks in its platform.
Before the Expeditionary Force set sail, the Government had taken one step which was of great value, and that was to canalise the efforts of those local bodies and institutions, welfare committees and individuals, who wanted to collect money for providing amenities for the troops. The experience of the First World War had been lamentable, in that there was no proper central control, and a mass of committees of all sorts set to work to collect money, often in competition with one another, and often at a cost which swallowed up the contributions. By the end of the war the number of bodies that had been engaged in this activity ran into hundreds, and many had never handed over a penny to army welfare. As part of the pre-war arrangements in 1938-39 (see pages 10 and 11), there was evolved a scheme comprising one National Patriotic Fund with district branches, the scheme which held the floor during the war and is well known to everyone. The Emergency Regulations to put this into force were ready when war broke out.
Prior to the embarkation of the First Echelon, the National Patriotic Fund Board had appointed the Young Men's Christian Association as one of its expending agencies overseas, which implied page 236 that money given by the National Patriotic Fund would reach the troops through the medium of the YMCA. A small number of YMCA personnel sailed with the First Echelon.
As with so many other administrative matters, however, the exact position regarding welfare arrangements had not been fully determined, and certainly was not known to the staff of 2 NZEF. It was only when we settled down at Maadi that we were able to take stock of the position, while the few YMCA secretaries carried on with welfare work in units, and took steps to start the first institute in the camp. We were then told by cable from New Zealand that the Government had given approval to the Church Army (the Anglican Church) entering the welfare field overseas, and that inter alia it was to be allowed to run an institute of its own. This appeared in order to us. No Church Army staff were available at the time, and the senior Anglican chaplain watched its interests.
The Salvation Army chaplain then applied to Headquarters for permission to erect an institute, stating that he had the necessary funds from his own church. To Headquarters this appeared a reasonable request, coming as it did from a church body which carried on a large part of its work through the medium of institutes of various kinds; and in any case, we still had memories of the first war, when all religious bodies were represented in greater or less degree in welfare establishments. A site was allotted in Helwan Camp, and construction was started. The Roman Catholic chaplain then applied for similar permission, which was granted.
Somehow or other knowledge of this state of affairs reached New Zealand, probably through the church bodies themselves, for we then received a strongly worded, indeed almost angrily worded, cable saying that all this work was to stop, and that no bodies except the YMCA and the Church Army were to be allowed to run institutes. Naturally, the Salvation Army and Roman Catholic chaplains protested vigorously; but the direction came from New Zealand, and we had to tell the chaplains that we were powerless, and that their protest would have to be carried further by their churches in New Zealand. The Government was firm, however, with the result that throughout the war the Anglican Church was the only one separately represented in welfare work.
It is not the task of this volume to criticise what went on in New Zealand, particularly as in this case we never knew what had happened there; but it must be said that in our own view overseas, the decision to allow one church only to enter the field was unfortunate. We could have understood a decision to allow all churches to be represented, and we understood, and approved, one undenominational body, the YMCA, having sole charge of the work; but to page 237 favour one church alone seemed inexplicable. There may have been good reasons, but they were not obvious to us, nor, it is certain, to the other churches. Thereafter, throughout the war, in that particular field, Headquarters had to deal with two bodies instead of one; for although the Church Army representatives tried to co-operate with the YMCA, and did co-operate adequately in the field, the fact remained that they felt a degree of responsibility to their church in New Zealand, and could not forget that they were an independent body. Headquarters received no more guidance from New Zealand on this delicate point, and had to wrestle with the problem unaided. The YMCA remained the main single welfare body, and expanded steadily in accordance with the growth of the force; and periodically the senior Church Army secretary would ask for permission to expand also, for his view was that where the YMCA went, the Church Army should go also. Had we adhered to the strict letter of our instructions, we could have told him that one institute only had been approved; but this would have been silly, and they were allowed some additions during the war. In the distribution of welfare secretaries with units, mutual arrangements with the YMCA prevented duplication, the Church Army having so many and the YMCA the balance, which was by far the greater number of the two. In July 1943, for instance, the YMCA had 23 secretaries and 2 cinema operators, the Church Army 4 secretaries only.
It must be repeated that it would have been better if the Government had adhered to the original decision to make the YMCA alone the expending agency for the National Patriotic Fund.
Early in April 1940 there came a need for sports gear, and Headquarters recollected that there was a National Patriotic Fund; but how one obtained money from it no one knew. It then transpired that, pending a permanent appointment, the senior YMCA secretary was the temporary Commissioner for the fund. His instructions read that he and the Base Paymaster were authorised to expend moneys to provide comforts for the troops. Each of these officials had been advised of this authority, but up till then nothing had happened to bring the proposed procedure to the light of day. The Paymaster interpreted his authority merely to mean that he was the holder of the funds, and disbursed them as advised by the temporary Commissioner. There could be no difference of opinion about the need for sports gear; but when it came to a discussion about one or two other things, it emerged that the acting Commissioner interpreted his authority as including the right to decide whether or not any one item of expenditure was really required, and in broad terms to decide what forms of welfare were best for the troops.page 238
This point appeared to Headquarters to be of the first importance – a matter of principle that would have to be settled forthwith. It seemed to our simple minds to be wrong that when the GOC had decided that some form of welfare activity was called for, he might be overruled by an independent authority of junior status. It was early in the life of the force, and we were not so confident on this and many other points as we would have been some years later; but all the same the arrangements did not seem right. In the middle of April 1940, therefore, the GOC cabled New Zealand asking that the form of control should be reviewed. The cable went on to say:
… best results cannot be obtained by Commissioner and paymaster controlling.
Commander sees whole picture and best able to assess the comforts needed. Also three possible sources of expenditure for troops, (a) public funds, (b) Nat Pat Funds, (c) presumably Red Cross.
Only commander can decide which is legitimate course for any one item. Therefore suggest power to nominate representatives on special committee to control.
The National Patriotic Fund Board in New Zealand concurred in this suggestion; but owing to the course that the war took about this time, the GOC was not specifically advised of its concurrence. We were then in the middle of May, the news of the diversion of the Second Echelon to England had just been received, and the pressure of more urgent business pushed this question of control of welfare into the background. The permanent Commissioner had sailed with the Second Echelon and was now on his way to England, so that for the time being the problem was put aside. The needs at the moment were not great, for the force was a new one and was training hard.
Early in 1941 the Commissioner arrived in the Middle East, and the question of responsibility was taken up again. In the meantime a welfare committee of a sort had been functioning, although, as far as we were aware, without the benediction of New Zealand. The Commissioner was in touch with his board about this; and in a letter to him at the end of May 1941 the Board, in effect, reopened the whole question by saying:
…he Board approves of the consulting committee consisting of …names] as arranged by the Commissioner in the Middle East, but as the Commissioner is the Board's representative in the Middle East the final decision regarding expenditure must rest with him.
At the time the GOC was in Crete, and the discussions with the Commissioner were conducted by OICA, who had no hesitation in telling the Commissioner that the wording of this paragraph was not satisfactory, for the reason that the welfare of the force page 239 must be the responsibility of the Commander. The Commissioner then said that it appeared to him that the whole question would have to be referred to New Zealand and settled there on the highest level.
We had already adopted as an unexpressed policy that we would settle any troubles arising within the force ourselves, and would not worry New Zealand with them; and OICA suggested to the Commissioner that we should try and find a modus vivendi, while adhering to our own points of view. Only as a last resort should we refer our differences to New Zealand. There was room for a sort of half-way house. No one was suggesting that the Commissioner should just be a rubber stamp, and it was agreed that he must have the power to say that any item of proposed expenditure clearly went outside the purposes for which the fund had been subscribed; but he should exercise this power only under great provocation and only after friendly discussion. For their part the army authorities should be careful not to go to extremes and should consult the Commissioner at all stages; but they considered that in the last resort the opinion of the GOC must carry the day. We then agreed that a better and more authoritative welfare committee should be formed – the Commissioner himself being of course a member – in order to debate the general purposes for which money from the fund should be used. The Commissioner on his part agreed not to approve grants on his own authority, but to submit his proposals to the committee. It should be said that since he had arrived from England he had made one or two grants which appeared to us to be completely out of order, and one of which at least cut across the regulations on which the force was being administered; and in case it may be thought that the regulation in question was of our own making, it should be said that it was one prescribed from New Zealand.
Little by little the modus vivendi was established, and it was never necessary to refer the argument to New Zealand. There were occasionally sharp differences of opinion; but as welfare became more elaborate, it was clear that an advisory committee was essential, and the Commissioner came to welcome it. The committee discussed and determined the size of grant to be made to units to augment regimental funds, whether or not any special grant was called for, what aspects of welfare needed strengthening, how many welfare secretaries there should be for work with units or in camps, and so on. It met about six or seven times a year.
Before discussing other welfare arrangements, it is desired to pause for a moment to consider again this question of responsibility for welfare. It is maintained firmly that the responsibility for the welfare of a force lies with its commander, and that he cannot page 240 hand it over to an independent authority. It is as much his responsibility as tactics or training or health or discipline. It may be a comparatively new responsibility, but it is none the less compelling. Military history shows a steady addition to the Commander's responsibilities. In Wellington's days the Commander had no responsibility for supply and transport, which was arranged by the authorities in the home country and controlled in the field by an independent commissary. Today such matters are a part of normal military administration. Once upon a time, moreover, welfare would have been regarded as a luxury, instead of a necessity as it is today.
It must be remembered that the National Patriotic Fund was not the only source of welfare. The GOC, by the terms of the powers given him by the Minister of Defence, could spend a certain sum on any one welfare item; and experience had already shown that if he applied to the Government for further authority it would be given him, e.g., the sum of over £1000 had been approved for a swimming bath. As will be seen later on, Government funds accounted for a large part of our welfare arrangements.
The Overseas Commissioner of the fund should stand to the GOC in the capacity of a technical adviser, a role filled for instance by the DMS. The Commissioner can advise the GOC whether or not any proposed course of action comes within the scope of the National Patriotic Fund; and the GOC is not going to override this advice without much thought. But he has the last word.
Had the welfare arrangements broken down at any stage, it is the Commander who would have been taken to task, and rightly so. No matter what arrangements may be made to find the moneys for welfare, their subsequent application overseas is one of the duties of the Commander and of no one else.
The main expending authorities for money drawn from the National Patriotic Fund were thus the YMCA and the Church Army, the former being the heavier expender. For this reason, and for the reason that the introduction of the Church Army was a mistake, it is proposed in what follows to confine attention to the YMCA. Its work was partly within units, and partly in the form of institutes and cinemas within camps or in forward areas. The YMCA staff consisted in part of ‘secretaries’ and in part of ‘orderlies’, of whom there was one to each secretary. Most large units – battalions or field regiments – had a full-time secretary.
The YMCA is a body of the highest repute. While undenominational, its principles are those of the christian religion, and its work is aimed at improving the conditions of life of all those who care to accept its ministrations. Men knew that in dealing with the YMCA they were above all things getting a square deal, and thus page 241 gave the YMCA a confidence and trust which New Zealanders, suspicious and critical as they are, rarely give to organised bodies. The work of the YMCA staff was thus of inestimable value; but it must now be said that it is a matter of opinion exactly how much of the good work done by the YMCA welfare staff overseas was in fact due to the YMCA organisation in New Zealand.
The money with which they operated came from the National Patriotic Fund. It was unfortunate, therefore, that all the institutes, cinemas, vehicles, etc., were so clearly marked YMCA and that the part played by the Patriotic Fund was indicated only by a notice, albeit a large one, inside the building or the vehicle. There is little doubt that most of the troops thought that the YMCA activities were financed by the YMCA alone. It often happened that letters from the men to New Zealand would include remarks about what wonderful work the YMCA was doing, but how little they got from the National Patriotic Fund. Some told their people not to subscribe a penny to the fund but to give it all to the YMCA. That body was thus inadvertently getting credit to which it was not entitled.
The YMCA in New Zealand in the early stages, and at intervals thereafter, sent special staff overseas to act as secretaries. Some of these, but not many, had been full-time employees of the YMCA in peacetime; some, while not employees, had been active in YMCA work on a voluntary basis. Both could claim to be ‘YMCA staff’. But these two classes together were only a small part of the total YMCA staff employed overseas. The rest came from the rank and file of 2 NZEF. From time to time the YMCA Commissioner would apply to Headquarters either for an addition to the staff on account of increasing work, or for a replacement on account of losses, very often asking for some named individuals. Suitable personnel would then be transferred from their units and would become YMCA secretaries. Moreover, at an early stage it was agreed with the YMCA Commissioner that the army would provide one assistant, called an orderly, for each secretary. These men, while of a type that was in full accord with YMCA principles, had in all probability never done any YMCA work in peacetime, and had no claims except the title to be called ‘YMCA’ at all. Towards the end of the war the YMCA and Church Army welfare staff combined amounted to 100 all told – 36 secretaries, 41 orderlies, and 23 drivers and cinema staff – and of those by far the greater part had been drawn from units of 2 NZEF. The pay of all except the secretaries proper was entirely the responsibilty of the Government, which was thus one way and another giving a heavy subsidy to the welfare work carried out under the auspices of the YMCA.
At this point it must be said that the National Patriotic Fund Board was responsible for the pay of the ‘secretaries’ – except that page 242 the army paid them as privates in order that they should have a proper military status. The Board did not treat them at all generously, perhaps from a belief, understandable in Victorian days but out-of-date today, that welfare workers should work for the love of it. Welfare today is a necessity and not a luxury, and the staff employed thereon deserve to be paid in accordance with their duties. When our clubs come to be discussed, the poor reward received by the welfare secretaries will be even more apparent.
To return to the previous point – namely that the YMCA was inadvertently getting a lot of credit which did not truly belong to it – there was a belief among the troops, possibly among the people of New Zealand, and possibly at the headquarters of the YMCA in New Zealand, that this YMCA headquarters was in fact running or controlling the welfare work overseas. The control exercised by the New Zealand headquarters was one of principle only, and had little effect upon the practical work done in the field. What welfare work was required was discussed in the Welfare Committee, or by talks among those concerned, and was then implemented by the welfare staff. It would have been an impossibility for any office in New Zealand to have detailed control over our arrangements overseas.
But, on the other hand, the impalpable control exercised by the principles of the YMCA should not be minimised. It meant that YMCA institutes, large or small, sometimes only a tent with a staff of one, were conducted in a way that was beyond criticism, the atmosphere was clean and fresh, the spirit was one of mutual helpfulness, and always in the background was the secretary ready to be consulted and to advise, and perhaps more accessible even than the chaplains. Liquor and gambling in any form were not allowed, and the greatest efforts were made to ensure that men had some real relaxation in an atmosphere as peaceful as is ever possible in any army. The men knew that they would get a square deal from the secretaries either with the unit or in institutes, that money entrusted to them for commissions would be safe, that confidences would be respected, and that the staff had no thought except to help.
It is in this invisible dissemination of the basic principles of the YMCA that the New Zealand headquarters exercised its influence in 2 NZEF. The influence was of the first importance; but it does not justify the widely held belief that the YMCA was responsible for welfare in 2 NZEF.
There were many in 2 NZEF who thought that welfare should be entirely an army responsibilty, and that there should be an Army Welfare Service as a separate corps. This opinion receives page 243 support when it is realised that over and above the welfare arrangements discussed at length above, we had a number of clubs with a total staff greater than the YMCA and Church Army together, and that the staff were all soldiers and the clubs properly constituted units of 2 NZEF. The Entertainment Unit (the Kiwi Concert Party), the canteen stores, the NZEF Times, the Postal Corps, the ERS – all these were elements of welfare in its widest sense, and all came under military control. In the Army Welfare Service those men who in peacetime were engaged in work with the YMCA or similar church organisation, either whole or part time, would naturally find their place, just as members of the Red Cross or St. John's Ambulance gravitate to the Medical Corps. After all, there are no other peacetime bodies which go to war under their own flag, so to speak.
However, it must be said that our arrangements worked in 2 NZEF, no matter how illogical they might have been. The sentiment attaching to the YMCA is now a strong one, and it may be thought that the red triangle of the ‘Y’ has an appeal that no official Army Welfare Service could equal. If the moral effect of the name ‘YMCA’ is thought to be irreplaceable, then its work must continue as before; but to be fair to all concerned, it should be made very clear where its money comes from, where its staff is drawn from, and who is directing its activities.
Before going on to other forms of welfare it is right to say that too much was left to what, after all, was only a handful of YMCA and Church Army staff. The attitude of officers only too often was that welfare was the duty of the welfare secretary, and that the regimental officer need not interest himself in it directly. When units were out of the line, or in base areas at all times, the men were left to the welfare staff at the end of the day's work, and the officers largely went about their own business. While the welfare secretaries might have been fully responsible for making arrangements for entertainments, etc., they would have welcomed a little help from outside, and a little more interest shown in what went on inside their institutes. The Standing Instruction on Welfare did say that it was ‘primarily the responsibility of the unit’, but this was often interpreted as ‘of the unit secretary’.
A mention must be made here of two special institutes, only one of which was in any way under military control. First comes the famous ‘Maadi Tent’, started by a few British residents in Maadi village almost as soon as the First Echelon arrived. It was placed within the limits of the village, but just at the approach to the camp, at first in a large tent alone (hence the name) but latterly distributed over a series of tents and even more permanent buildings. A committee of residents controlled it, and some of the ladies page 244 were always on duty there, helped by a native staff. They tried with some success to keep a homely atmosphere in the tent, and in addition ran a steady series of entertainments of quite good class. The tent stayed open for a full six years, and only closed when practically the last New Zealander had gone home. What small profits they made were given to British war funds. The great majority of the men who passed through Maadi Camp will always remember the Maadi Tent with affection.
The other institute was the Lowry Hut, erected in Maadi Camp in 1941 from money given by Mr T. Lowry of Hawke's Bay. He had made a similar gift to the First Expeditionary Force, and wished to repeat it in this second war. It was in every way a superior type of institute. A second hut was later provided by the same gentleman for use in Advanced Base in Italy. It was much regretted in the force that Mr Lowry died before the end of the war. Both these institutes were run by the YMCA.
Towards the end of 1940 the GOC decided that a New Zealand institute or club was required in Cairo, where despite all the efforts of the British community in Egypt, of the British Army, and of the YMCA and church bodies, there was still a need for welfare establishments. By that time also the men were getting a little weary of civilian bars and restaurants. A large building was taken in the heart of Cairo, financed initially by the National Patriotic Fund, and adapted to the needs of a club for all ranks, including in this restaurants, tearooms, reading rooms, games rooms and so on. It was intended from the first to supply liquor there, which meant that it could not be run by the YMCA. The club was therefore made an official unit of 2 NZEF, with a captain as manager and a military staff which reached seventy at its maximum, together with a civilian staff which at the peak ran into hundreds. From the first it was comprehensive in its amenities, and became even more so as the years went on. It was our longest-lived club, and by far the biggest. It was also by far the best in Cairo, and after making it available at the beginning to all Allied troops, we had ultimately to restrict entrance, as it was swamped out and jammed to the doors. While we had most regretfully to close it to United Kingdom and other Allied troops, we continued to make it available to Australians, of whom there were often small parties in Cairo, either from the Royal Australian Air Force or on duty or leave from Palestine. This was in part a form of reciprocity, for the Australians had made their Jerusalem clubs available to New Zealanders; but we continued to make all our clubs open to Australians to the end of the war, including those later opened in Italy. Our clubs were also open to all British nurses.page 245
The Cairo club became a Frankenstein's monster to the staff of Maadi Camp. It got bigger and bigger as the number of troops in Egypt increased. More and more facilities were provided – post office, buying organisation, ice-cream bar and so on – and in late 1941 the first party of girls arrived to work there. The club was so big, and the number of men so great, that the atmosphere was always strained, and the one thing unknown in it was peace. It now meant that New Zealanders on leave in Cairo tended to concentrate in the club, instead of spreading themselves round the many other clubs and civilian cabarets and bars; which meant in turn that we had to have a contingent of provost staff always on duty there, if only to keep the pavements clear outside. In trying to do good, we had only made another rod for our backs.
From the first beer was available for the men at meals. It was then decided to take in a small amount of adjoining accommodation and establish a beer bar. The intention was a deliberate one, namely to attract men from the civilian bars, where the liquor sold was poor and the atmosphere frequently sordid. The results were what might have been expected, and the beer bar became a second monster. The men congregated there in hundreds until it was difficult to get inside the door, the air became thick with smoke, and the New Zealand habit of drinking a lot in a short time had full rein. On many occasions, especially when there were parties of men back from the Western Desert, men could be found in dozens sitting in the gutters, or on the pavements leaning against the walls, drinking out of bottles and throwing them away when finished, and this in the centre of the European business and shopping area of Cairo.
The place was a disgrace and did great harm to the reputation of New Zealand. It was a regrettable experiment and should have been abandoned after a few months’ trial. It was, in the end, closed down; but in the meantime it had attracted the attention of the Government in New Zealand, and for once we had the not very easy or pleasant task of explaining it away.
What the correct answer was, both to club and bar, it is not easy to say. There were many men in the force, indeed the majority, who would have enjoyed a restful atmosphere, with heaps of room to read, play games, drink tea, write letters and so on; and at no time was this type of man adequately catered for. It might have been better to separate the ‘peaceful’ club from the other type completely, and have two clubs in different streets. In the ‘restaurant’ club, beer could be provided with meals, but not at other times. Beer bars are better kept within the limits of camps, and not opened where they can be seen by the public.page 246
When we moved to Italy we established clubs in every city of any size through which we passed. First came Bari, largely for the benefit of Advanced Base, for the Division soon moved away from the area. Next came Rome, and then Florence and Venice. By the time the Rome club was formed, the Italian armistice was in force, by which (inter alia) the Italian Government was to provide welfare facilities for Allied troops. The form which this took in part was that the Allies took over hotels as going concerns, the Italians paying the staff and the Allies providing the food and fuel, items that were beyond the powers of the Italians. So in Rome we took over a large hotel and turned it into a residential club for all ranks. This club was a great success, mainly because the number there was regulated and congestion avoided, and in addition there were all the amenities of hotel life. Similarly, in Florence and Venice we took over hotels and made them available for residence on leave. In all cases the clubs were for all ranks, the only separation being that officers had separate dining rooms and slightly less congested room accommodation – and also paid more than the men, for whom the charge was purely nominal.
As was mentioned in Chapter 6, the Venice club was formed under somewhat piratical circumstances, as we practically captured the Hotel Danieli by force of arms. It was a magnificent success as a club.
By the time the Florence club had been started in September 1944, the Welfare Committee came to the conclusion that we wanted a central controlling authority for all our clubs, which had become real business organisations. A general manager was then appointed to ensure some uniformity in administration; for all our clubs were military establishments, and entirely the responsibility of the Government. At the maximum, when we had all five clubs running, the military staff amounted to 14 officers and over 200 other ranks, over twice the number employed with the YMCA and Church Army together.
Looking back now on our arrangements, it must be said that despite all that was done, it was still not enough. We could have done with more welfare staff in units, more institutes and more clubs, partly to avoid congestion, partly to give greater opportunities for those who wanted peace and quiet in their off-duty periods, and partly just because more was wanted to prevent men from becoming bored in their spare time. While they were in action the need did not arise in quite the same way – more reading matter would have helped a lot here – but as soon as the Division came out into rest areas, and certainly while men were at Maadi or Advanced Base, they were bound to have long spells off duty, and wanted page 247 somewhere to go and something to do. Our quality was unrivalled but our quantity still insufficient.