Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume II
256 — The Hon. F. Jones3 to the Prime Minister
The Hon. F. Jones3 to the Prime Minister
I have discussed the questions of the future employment of the Division and the return of long-service personnel with General Freyberg.
Provided the war in North Africa ends shortly, it would seem advisable not to withdraw the Division from active operations until the campaign is over.
As you know, the Division has taken part in all the fighting since June last, and General Freyberg is of the opinion that at the close of this campaign opportunity should be taken to carry out a general reorganisation of the Division. The 4th Armoured Brigade has to be re-absorbed, the services require to be adapted as a result of becoming an armoured formation, and combined training will be necessary. It would be approximately three months from the close of the Tunisian campaign before the Division would be ready to take the field in any future operations.
I suggest that Parliament be asked to empower War Cabinet to agree to the Division being used for future operations after reorganisation is complete, subject to the usual safeguards in operation between the United Kingdom and New Zealand Governments as to the employment of the Division.
I feel that we should press the British Government to issue the 4th Armoured Brigade with equipment with the least possible delay so that the Division can take the field complete. The 4th Armoured Brigade has now been at Base training with incomplete equipment page 229 for eight months, and it is highly desirable that this period should not be extended beyond the time required by the Divison to reorganise.
The return of long-service personnel has been considered in great detail, including the implementing of the conditions set out in your telegram of 22 April. General Freyberg is of the opinion that the scheme can be introduced without loss of efficiency provided that it is done gradually. He considers the New Zealand Government's plan could be implemented satisfactorily during the period of reorganisation.
The following figures are of interest: Of the First Echelon there are at present serving with the Division 207 officers, 1334 other ranks; with the 4th Armoured Brigade, now at Maadi Camp, 52 officers and 485 other ranks; and with non-divisional and Base units, &c., 154 officers and 911 other ranks, making a total of 413 officers and 2730 other ranks. Of this total 125 officers and 373 other ranks were married on enlistment.
The figures for the Second Echelon are as follows: Still serving in the 2nd NZEF—323 officers and 2653 other ranks, of whom 121 officers and 529 other ranks were married on enlistment.
For the Third Echelon: 262 officers and 2900 other ranks are still serving, of whom 107 officers and 665 other ranks were married on enlistment.
General Freyberg considers that there will be no difficulty in giving preference to married men who have had the longest service overseas. Size of family could also be taken into account.
As there are no records here showing ‘only sons’ that information would have to be supplied by New Zealand. Does this refer to only surviving sons? If not, I consider the implementing of your suggestion would inevitably create difficulty, as for instance in cases where a family is comprised of males only and all are serving. It might be possible to deal with this category by the existing machinery for compassionate leave.
The only real difficulty appears to be the question of applying the principle of meritorious service in active operations. All three echelons entered active operations at the same time and the Second and Third Echelons have seen more fighting than the First. It would be impracticable to examine individual cases and it would be most invidious to try to compare meritorious service between echelons.
It is felt by General Freyberg that the fairest method would be to accept length of service overseas as the determining factor in selecting categories for return. Preference within that category could be given, firstly, to married men, secondly, to single men who have served in the field, and thirdly, to single men in non-divisional and Base page 230 units. This procedure, it is felt, would meet the conditions suggested in your cable and could be carried out in turn with the Second and Third Echelons and later drafts.
The order of return would then be, excluding for the moment the question of only sons:
Married men in the First Echelon.
Single men in the First Echelon who have served in the field.
Single men in the First Echelon in non-divisional and Base units.
Married men in the Second Echelon.
Single men in the Second Echelon who have served in the field.
Single men in the Second Echelon in non-divisional and Base units; and so on.
Where any category exceeds the number of vacancies, selection should be by ballot.
It is suggested that the scheme should be implemented as soon as reinforcements arrive, assuming the Division is free from operational duty. General Freyberg considers he could release 500 men over and above those released by the extra 500 being despatched. This means, assuming the Division is then at Base, that up to 1000 men could be sent back to New Zealand by the earliest available ship after the arrival of reinforcements.
Officers present certain special difficulties as a very large proportion of the senior officers, including many commanding officers, belong to the First Echelon. I feel they should be released on a quota basis by selection. The initial quota will be one officer to twenty other ranks. The position is to be reviewed from time to time and the quota increased as circumstances enable this to be done.
For certain more senior officers whose responsibilities and duties have been most arduous, it would be advisable to arrange special leave to New Zealand for short periods as they can be spared.
It is considered here that any of the 2nd NZEF personnel should be allowed, if they so wish, to come back later to the Middle East.
It is most desirable that you should give some indication of what action is to be taken with the men when they reach New Zealand, e.g., are they to be liable for further overseas service, and if so, what length of leave with pay are they to receive, or are they to be discharged, &c.
There is a small number of men who enlisted in England in 1939–40. Presumably, if they so wish, they should be given leave to England. Their subsequent disposal is complicated by possible liabilities under United Kingdom legislation. For instance, in the event of being discharged, would they be liable for further service with the United Kingdom Forces?page 231
Men in sufficient numbers to complete the relief of the First Echelon should be despatched from New Zealand at the earliest opportunity. This means roughly 2500 all ranks over and above the 500 already arranged for.
Once this scheme of reliefs is started it could follow through with the Second and Third Echelons, but the rate of release will necessarily depend on the rate that replacement personnel will arrive, the availability of shipping, and the operational situation at the time.
I suggest for your consideration that you negotiate with the United Kingdom authorities to have one vessel so placed at your disposal as to ensure the conveyance of the men released and of those to relieve them.
It will, of course, be necessary for the normal reinforcement drafts to continue.
At the present moment the Railway Construction and Maintenance Group is really employed only part time, and the Railway Operating Group is not employed. In due course, members of these units will be returning to New Zealand as part of the Second and Third Echelons, &c. It is for consideration whether the Government should now reduce overseas commitments by not providing reliefs for this personnel. The two Groups would thus gradually disappear.1 The Army Troops Companies and Mechanical Equipment Company are fully employed, but their retention here is open to consideration by the Government. The Government could reduce its manpower commitments overseas by the gradual return of all these units or by using them as reinforcements for the Division.
Regarding cases of graded men now at Base, these will continue to be reviewed on medical grounds as at present and will continue to be returned at an increasing rate. Those who are graded through the result of wounds or sickness suffered whilst with the Division will be dealt with under the scheme of release given in detail above.
It is fully realised that any scheme of this nature must bear the closest examination. It would be impossible to satisfy all those interested, but I feel that there would be the minimum of criticism here and in New Zealand if length of service overseas is decided upon as the basis for fixing categories. Length of service is fact page 232 and easily determined. Merit, on the other hand, is very much a matter of opinion on which views are certain to be heated and divergent, especially where husbands and sons and wives and mothers are concerned. The scheme as suggested would be simple to put into operation and regulate, and its fairness as a policy would be unassailable by the men here or in New Zealand.
General Freyberg has a copy of this telegram.
A further telegram on other matters follows in a few days time.
1 In a telegram dated 3 May, Brigadier Stevens advised that General Headquarters, Middle East, proposed to use the Railway Construction and Maintenance Group and the Railway Operating Group in forthcoming operations and had asked whether there would be any objection to such employment. The request was considered by War Cabinet, which decided to defer its decision until Parliament had reached a decision on the future role of the Division. In a telegram to Headquarters 2nd NZEF on 5 May, the Prime Minister said that War Cabinet also felt ‘that no decision should in the meantime be taken on the breaking up of the units as suggested in Mr. Jones's message of 30 April until Parliament has come to a decision on their use in future operations.’ He added that as Parliament did not meet until 19 May no decision was possible before that date.