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Problems of 2 NZEF



It has been mentioned in one or two places that the day-to-day administration of 2 NZEF proceeded in accordance with normal military custom, and that it was never intended to write a treatise on the subject; but the administration of a small specially formed national force served to cast a highlight on a few points which appear worthy of mention.

The basic point which must always be remembered was that it was a specially formed force and had an existence that at the most would be of only a few years. It differed in this respect from a regular army, and even from the wartime divisions of the British Army, where there was always a stiffening of regular personnel in units, and where the new formations were built on a foundation of the peacetime regular army.

It is a complete impossibility to expect a temporary ad hoc force to achieve the same standards of administration as in a peacetime army. For one thing, there is no time. Such time as there is must be devoted to training for war in its broadest sense – not that administration does not matter, and that there is not an irreducible minimum of training necessary for that also; but something must suffer, page 267 and it is inevitable that it should be administration. A comparatively low standard must be expected, and must be accepted. The aim of the headquarters should be to make things as simple as is possible for recipients and to ease the burden on formation and unit commanders.

Some orders, some rules, some adherence to the custom of the service there must be. In peacetime it is possible for New Zealanders to ‘consider each case on its merits’; in war there is no time for such a luxury, and one must adopt some rule, rough and ready though it may be – and stick to it. If the rule then turns out to be hard, or does not meet the generality of cases, the thing to do is to alter the rule, and then continue to adhere to it. Few orders, as few as possible, and strict adherence to them, will make it easy for both the enforcer of the rule and the enforcee.

It must be remembered that the perfect answer, the answer that would be completely fair to every individual case, is unattainable in wartime. To achieve it would mean such delays that the administrative machine would gradually grind to a standstill. It often used to be said at HQ 2 NZEF that if only the enemy would ‘freeze’ for a few months we would have everything properly sorted out, would have every peg in the proper hole, and could make a nice clean fresh start; but the enemy, far from ‘freezing’, was a particularly energetic one, so we had to get on as best we could.

If there is one thing that is certain, it is that far too many administrative orders were issued during the war, the greater part being unenforceable, even though they did finish up with the words, ‘failure to comply with this order will lead to severe disciplinary action’, or something of that kind. There were so many orders that they bred a habit of disregarding them all, which sometimes led to unfortunate results, for every now and then there would be an order that really mattered. It would have been to the benefit of good administration in the end if more thought had been given to the essentials, and less time wasted on a mass of verbiage, directed doubtless to achieving perfection – that perfection which is unattainable in a wartime citizen army.

General Headquarters was the worst offender; but a perusal of 2 NZEF orders today must make one ruefully admit that despite our efforts – and we did try – we ourselves issued too many orders that had not a chance of being observed. We could have exercised a greater measure of selectivity, have published fewer orders, and then there might have been a chance of a few of them being obeyed.

No unit can possibly absorb the mass of stuff that gets hurled at it when it arrives overseas, either from the British headquarters under whose command it is to serve, or from its own headquarters which may have preceded it. In Appendix VI appears the ‘Joining page 268 Instructions’ for the Third Echelon – or ‘Contingent’ as we were trying to call it at the time. Headquarters 2 NZEF had done its best by compiling in the preceding two months a series of what were then called ‘Special Circulars’, which were a collection of the orders and instructions that had been issued since the First Echelon arrived in Egypt. It was hoped in this way to make the task of units a little easier; but one is left with the melancholy thought that the task would have been easier still if the matter contained in the circulars had been reduced by 50 per cent.

So much for the arrival of the Third Echelon. When the Second Echelon units arrived in early 1941, they were placed under orders to go to Greece almost as soon as they landed, and there was no time for HQ 2 NZEF to distribute a ‘Joining Instruction’ of a similar type. The war had now intervened to spoil any idea of a nice, tidy administrative welcome – and as far as could be seen then, or can be seen now, it did not matter a bit.

In September 1941 Headquarters started a series of ‘Standing Instructions’, which were added to in succeeding years. A full list is given in Appendix VIII, and some examples of the shorter ones in Appendices IX to XIII. Some were intended to be of use for personal problems, e.g., compassionate leave, marriages, compensation for loss of kit; some were to help units for certain administrative work, e.g., regimental funds, traffic accidents, welfare, control of photography; one or two were designed to collect into one place the action required of a number of people for one transaction, e.g., drafts for the United Kingdom or New Zealand, disbandment of units; a good number merely collected into one place a mass of separate orders dealing with pay, Second Echelon, postal service, and base kits. Probably few of the last class were ever read, whereas the others had some practical value. It appears that Headquarters was afflicted with the common complaint of issuing too much paper, and that we would have been better advised to cut the list down by half, particularly as few units ever had a complete set of the instructions, despite our attempts from time to time to find out deficiencies and replace them.

At this point it is opportune to repeat that printed orders are easier to read than cyclostyled ones. We did not have a printing unit until January 1942, which was much too late. It would have been of great help from the start, and it should be one of the units which accompanies the first contingent overseas. It is not just a luxury, for it is an admirable example of the principle that everything possible should be done to make things easy for recipients.

One aspect of this problem of the dissemination of orders to which a satisfactory answer was never found was that of passing on orders issued by GHQ. There were two facets, first the applicability page 269 of the order, and second how it was to be distributed. The first facet has been dealt with in Chapter 11, where it is stated that a completely satisfactory answer was never found. The second facet was within our own powers. The number of copies of GHQ orders was limited, and did not reach down to units. In the end HQ 2 NZEF assumed the task of repeating the appropriate ones in 2 NZEF Orders, one reason being that HQ 2 NZ Division would thereby be spared the task. As each issue of GHQ orders was received, the appropriate administrative head (medical, pay, legal, ordnance, etc.) was asked his views about our repeating any order that was marked as applicable to all troops, and which came within his province. At least that was the general idea; but very often in the heat of the war the officer concerned was either not consulted or was away at the time, and the order was first put aside and then forgotten altogether. On the whole it never seemed to matter, and there is no record of any trouble occurring because a GHQ order did not reach 2 NZEF units.

Second NZEF orders might have been better arranged. Reading them today gives the impression of a bit of a muddle; and in fact we were almost as bad as GHQ, in that genuine 2 NZEF orders containing something that mattered are mixed up with repeats of GHQ orders and other things included merely as information. On one or two occasions we issued a consolidated volume of 2 NZEF orders, but it is doubtful if it was of any value.

If any headquarters is going to issue orders, it is better to make use of them as much as possible, and avoid a multiplicity of separate instructions and bits of paper. The ideal would be that everything, every form of order or directive, was issued through one source, so enabling the recipient to keep a careful check on what he received and make sure that he had missed nothing. That method is impossible, however, if for no other reason than that a lot of what is issued is secret or goes only to a limited number of recipients.

The crisis of July 1942 found HQ 2 NZEF with a mass of back files and correspondence, a lot of which was either of no importance at all, or had only historical interest. We had been remiss in not having periodical purges of files, and either sending unwanted files back to New Zealand for storage or destroying them. Anyhow, we had a good bonfire at the time.