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Problems of 2 NZEF



Toward the end of 1941, after the Libyan campaign, it became clear that the Division would be having a long spell for rest and reorganisation. The opportunity was taken to circularise all senior officers and ask their views about repatriation after the war. At the moment nothing seemed more distant than going home to New Zealand; but the problem was one that required much thought and long planning, and in any case there was no harm in letting Army Headquarters have our views. The resulting paper went off to New Zealand in April 1942, and as far as 2 NZEF was concerned that was the end of it. We were informed that our contribution had been passed to the ‘Rehabilitation Council’ in New Zealand, where, as we had reason to believe later on, it was duly taken into account.

The details of the paper are not worth mentioning, except those that concern the order of return and the occupation of the force while awaiting repatriation. The consensus of opinion favoured ‘first out, first back’, and of concentrating on a scheme of educational training, although the prospects of the scheme were somewhat damned by the comment, ‘at the best it can be little more than a means of filling in time’.

It is of major interest to note that some of our assumptions proved not to be justified. We thought that shipping delays would make the repatriation take up to two years from the end of the war. Actually, it took much less than a year. We assumed that 2 NZEF would spend some time on garrison duties, probably in Central Europe. Actually, when it came to the time, the Government refused to let New Zealand troops be used for this duty.

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One internal problem over which there was considerable difference of opinion was the length of time that existing units should remain as units, i.e., the stage at which men should be withdrawn for reorganisation preparatory to embarkation. It was obvious, although some COs would not agree, that the existing unit framework would have to be broken up for the journey back, and special units formed. The COs in question were gloomy about the prospects of keeping discipline in temporary units.

As it turned out, the order of return never created a problem, as the ‘first out, first back’ was accepted. Those wishing to go back before their turn applied for compassionate leave in the ordinary way – and HQ 2 NZEF could console itself with the thought that it had not to make the decision.

The ERS has already been discussed in Chapter 16, where it is claimed that in the end it did more than merely fill in time, and was a satisfactory and reputable way of tiding over the period of waiting.

It has already been mentioned in Chapter 6 that at the end of 1945 we were nearly found wanting, in that ships came so fast that we had difficulty in filling them. We had perfect schemes for keeping men employed for indefinite periods, but had never thought of the unexpected factor. In the end all was well; but it is a lesson for the future.

It is undoubtedly desirable that men should stay within the framework of their old units for as long as can safely be allowed. It was in part because of this, of course, that we were nearly caught out; but even that experience does not detract from the desirability of retaining unit identity for the maximum time possible. At Advanced Base men were reorganised into suitable units for the journey back; but it was generally possible to arrange that officers known to the majority of the men were also in the units.

For special reasons the Maori Battalion was allowed to embark as a unit. Its place in the order of embarkation was such that a good number of the men were later in leaving than if they had gone normally. In a rather rough and ready way this compensated for the fact that a lot of the men were getting away before their time.

Throughout the war we had had many cases of disbandment of units – disbandment in the form of the complete disappearance of the unit on one particular date. At the end of the war the disbandment was more in the nature of ‘fading away’, the popular method of all old soldiers; but even then it was desirable that the normal administrative action should be taken, and in effect this was the case. There was in existence a Standing Instruction on Disbandment of Units (see Appendix XIII) which enabled all concerned to check off the action to be taken. All promotions had in any case stopped page 266 some time before throughout the force. Equipment had been handed in as part of the general clean-up, and so on. Almost the only remaining problem, the disposal of regimental funds, has been discussed in Chapter 16.

We had a certain amount of general equipment that belonged definitely to 2 NZEF, and was not part of the equipment issued to us from British sources. Examples are a lot of our cars, the launch at Suez, and the printing machinery. These were sold to ‘best advantage’, the sale being conducted through a special Disposals Board in order to avoid any scandals. The money, of course, went back to the Government.

There were many duties to be carried out to the last, by which is meant after the rest of the force had embarked. In the Pay Office and Second Echelon we had to retain certain key personnel, even though we went as far as we could to staff the units with volunteers. The personnel concerned, all officers or senior NCOs, understood the position and were uncomplaining. For the Graves units we relied on volunteers, having them sign a special form agreeing to serve for a period after the war. Most of the men volunteered for laudable reasons – love, or a desire to see a bit more of the world – but a few did so because of the chances of loot and more black-market activities. Had it become necessary to retain large numbers, we would have had to be very careful whom we accepted.