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

252 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

page 224

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

24 February 1943

Further to my telegram of 11 February. For your information, the return of the 9th Australian Division has not had any unsettling effect on the men, who appear keen to see this campaign through. I am certain, however, that the policy of returning men after three years' service has much to commend it.

I have now had an opportunity of discussing discreetly with the Brigadiers the question of implementing the policy, and I feel certain a satisfactory scheme could be arranged when the Division is withdrawn from its operational role. It has been pointed out that many First Echelon men are in key positions, but these could be replaced, just as battle casualties are replaced, without interfering with the efficiency of the Division. As suggested, the change can be most easily effected during the period of reorganisation.

With the object of arriving at a fair solution which would cause the maximum satisfaction and the least criticism here and in New Zealand, the following suggestions are made.

There is no doubt that some men would not wish to return to New Zealand until the end of the war, but leaving the matter to choice would place the individual in an invidious position. It is felt that length of service overseas should be the sole basis of selection, that selection should be by ballot, and that return to New Zealand should be compulsory without right of appeal. Further, it is felt that the men returned to New Zealand should be given the right to return to the Middle East at a later date should they so desire. We should, of course, be glad to have them back and would keep jobs for them.

With regard to officers, a quota of one per twenty-five men, up to and including the rank of major, could be selected on the same conditions. Officers above the rank of major would have to be considered individually, but a quota could be included in each group returned.

There are 1400 of the First Echelon with the Division here and 1800 in the 4th Brigade and other units at Maadi and elsewhere. It is assumed that only part of this total would be returned to New Zealand at one time. In making a selection, questions such as age, marriage, number of children, &c., might be taken into consideration, but as all would be sent back in due course it is felt very strongly page 225 here that selection by lot, as recommended above, would be the fairest and would cause the least controversy.

Lastly, I feel that it would help the smooth running of the scheme if the policy was not announced until it was ready to be implemented. The men here would be withdrawn from the Division after the ballot and would go to Base for return to New Zealand on duty. The Government's policy could be announced at the same time here and in New Zealand, together with the names of the first group returning.