Problems of 2 NZEF
The General Manager of the clubs took over also the responsibility for the bulk distribution of canteen stores, assisted by separate canteen managers. For some time previously the bulk distribution of canteen stores had been handled by the club managers, largely because they had suitable accommodation and could find the staff either from the military personnel in the clubs or from civilian labour; but by late 1944 canteen stores had become a business too great to leave to club managers to handle as an incidental, and separate but parallel canteen depots were set up.
Credit must be given where it is due, and it must be said that from first to last the YMCA and Church Army staff largely handled the distribution of canteen stores to units. In fact, in the very early stages they handled them completely; but after a while the bulk distribution passed to the clubs.
Canteen stores were a problem in themselves. We started the war by agreeing to make use of the Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI). At various spots in Maadi and Helwan camps, NAAFI opened institutes which provided certain amenities, including meals and beer, and which in effect formed part of our welfare arrangements. The managers of the institutes took orders for canteen goods, which were paid for at something approaching market prices, a part of the price later coming back to the unit as rebate. NAAFI had been running ever since the end of the first war, and was experienced in the work, so that our initial decision to make use of it was understandable.
However, by the end of 1940 complaints began to reach Headquarters about the standard of service that was being rendered, which was the best that could be produced by a poor type of native staff. Moreover, the troops were missing their special brands of New Zealand tobacco and other New Zealand delicacies, and were feeling the first stirrings of the wish to be looked after by their own people. We had heard that the Australians ran their own canteen service, and indeed had had some experience of it during the time that an Australian division had been at Helwan. The GOC with the approval of the Government appointed a committee of inquiry to go into the question, including in the inquiry a visit to Palestine to inspect the Australian organisation.
The committee came to the conclusion that, take it all in all, we should stick to NAAFI and not set up our own canteen service. It considered that the many complaints against NAAFI could be page 248 remedied, and in fact subsequently arranged with the local NAAFI chief to import more New Zealand goods, employ a better class of servant and so on.
The committee appeared to be right in its decision at the time. NAAFI was already a world-wide organisation with an extensive knowledge of running institutes and supplying stores. Its bulk buying machinery made it flexible. And, best of all, it saved us from tying up men in running our own organisation.
Nevertheless, the committee was wrong. It had not taken enough cognisance of the liking of the New Zealander for his home goods, and for his belief that no one looked after him as well as his own people. It had not appreciated – and in this it was certainly not alone – to what an extent our welfare services would expand, until the point was reached that NAAFI impinged on us only in Maadi Camp. In fact, it had not been able to foresee what the next few years would bring forth, and as at the time of its report the force had not seen any active service, it is hard to blame it.
Little by little we started importing our own stores from New Zealand, and gradually built up an organisation of our own. We still drew on NAAFI for many basic items, and thereby laid ourselves open to the accusation of just making a convenience of NAAFI instead of taking the rough with the smooth; but as our purchases even at their height were but a very minor part of the total NAAFI sales in the Middle East, no great harm was done. We agreed to sell at NAAFI prices, especially in those cases where we were importing the same articles as it was.
The goods in New Zealand were bought at wholesale rates by the National Patriotic Fund Board and shipped overseas in transports. Later the Commissioner in the Middle East was reimbursed for this expenditure. The goods were then sold at a little above cost, in accordance with the normal custom – and also to avoid troubles with NAAFI – with the result that by the end of the war we had accumulated a fair profit. There were then signs of coming argument over the ownership of these profits; but as will be known, the post-war arrangements on the point are satisfactory to all.
The conclusions to be drawn from our experience are that it would be better to grasp the nettle from the beginning and run our own canteen organisation.