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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume I

Position in Egypt

Position in Egypt

Since leaving Egypt the situation there seems to have deteriorated and as soon as we have disposed of the possibility of an attack upon this country I shall make my way back to the First Echelon. It is of interest to note that when I arrived here I found that people outside the War Office did not realise how meagre was the margin of safety in Egypt. I was glad, therefore, to be asked by Mr. Churchill to come and dine with him at Downing Street. As a result of my attitude on defence he asked me to write for the use of Cabinet an appreciation of the situation in the Middle East. It was not easy for me to do this as I was busy training the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and I had to complete my appreciation while I was on our full-scale exercises at Coleman's Hatch. When it was finished I sent it to the Prime Minister who, in spite of the fact that I attacked the Government policy of concentrating upon the defence of England at the expense of the Middle East, had it published and circulated to the members of the War Cabinet and the Committee he had appointed to look into the position in the Middle East.

page 143

I asked Mr. Churchill if he would mind my sending a copy of my appreciation, which is most secret, for your information and he readily agreed, so please find a copy attached.1

The Prime Minister then asked me to dine and stay the night at Chequers with him, and we stayed up very late talking about the problems that beset us in Egypt. I feel, therefore, that some good may come of this because I spoke very freely of our difficulties.

Mr. Churchill was fully informed about our Division and asked me to send messages of thanks to New Zealand for all that has been done in these very difficult times.

I have now been given another paper by the Prime Minister to prepare for the War Cabinet. It is upon an operational role, and this I have almost finished.

I was much impressed and comforted by Mr. Churchill's grasp of the situation and I believe that my frank exchange of views with him may have beneficial interest in the Middle East.

Finally, my views on the Middle East can be taken as those expressed in my appreciation to Mr. Churchill. I am apprehensive that we may not get our reinforcements there in time. If we can hold Egypt and then later on reinforce it with a large, fast-moving, armoured force, together with an Air Force capable of protecting our columns, we can capture Libya from the Italians without having to do very much fighting.