All the chaplains were tired in this last battle in North Africa, but many were refreshed by a welcome visit from Padre McKenzie who searched them out in the front line and comforted them. For a year the Division had endured constant action, movement, and stress, and it was only natural that the men should be thoroughly tired at the end although some of the chaplains considered that more could have been done to keep them fresh. The chaplain was in an ideal position to know what the troops were thinking, for like the civilian policeman he appeared to wander around and watch people working. He normally enjoyed the confidence of senior officers, and thus knew the inside story of many matters of policy and strategy; his daily visiting and personal interviews made him well acquainted with the hopes and fears of the other ranks, while his frequent contact with brother chaplains gave him a good general picture of the life of the Division.
Many chaplains considered that morale was a subject that did not receive proper attention, believing that the spiritual and mental happiness of the men were sacrificed for physical health. The welfare services supplied by the YMCA and the Church Army were excellent and owed much to the splendid co-operation of the Army authorities. The Army Postal Service delivered mail with unfailing regularity to all places and on all occasions, and letters from home, whether received at Base or in the middle of a battle, were very important in maintaining morale. The supply of radios, army newspapers, bands, and concert parties did much to keep the men bright and alert, but more could have been done. The modern civilian soldier has a background of education and mental activity unknown in earlier wars, and unless these intellectual appetites are satisfied he will become a prey to boredom and fear. Air Marshal Tedder. Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Middle East, was thinking of this when he asked for the formation in Cairo of that successful club known as ‘Music for All’. where cultural magazines and classical music were avidly sought by his Royal Air Force sergeants and other servicemen.
In the 2nd NZEF periods between battle were devoted almost entirely to training and physical exercise. The chaplains believed that no daily training syllabus was complete without one period page 75 specially designed to exercise the mind. Quizzes, spelling bees, and cultural lectures would have been better than nothing, and the chaplains believed that such periods could have been arranged with valuable results.
Some of the following suggestions could have been put into practice, but the suggestions are not as important as the implications behind them, namely that the soldiers should have been given much more mental exercise and that this could have been supplied quite easily:
Reinforcements in Maadi should have had some teaching on battle psychology in which some of the following points could have been emphasised:
Most men are frightened in battle, but you don't look as frightened as you feel. It is a man's duty to disguise this fear and keep high the morale of his friends.
The longer you stay in a trench the more frightened you get The best cure for fear is activity.
Night attacks usually appear at the time to be complete failures but next morning things often look a lot better. First reports of an attack are usually absurdly false and pessimistic.
A man has usually greater reserves of nervous energy than he thinks and the use of this extra bit wins battles.
Training should include one or two lectures on Army organisation so that the soldier could appreciate what contingencies cause the normal and infuriating succession of cancelled orders. It is hard to see what danger there would be in Base officials and administrators having an opportunity of ‘putting themselves onside’ with the fighting soldier, and it would be invaluable if some exaggerated ideas of muddle and silly ‘red tape’ were thus removed.
Time should be set aside for frequent lectures on war aims and world events. It was frequently said that the New Zealander is too wise to be fooled by propaganda, and this is largely correct: but this very wisdom would have helped him to enjoy the truth when it was ably expressed. Such lectures would depend for their success upon the right men being found to give them: those who possessed the two essential talents—knowledge of a page 76 subject and the ability to speak in public. Men of this type were rare, very rare, but they did exist and with care a good team could have been found. For example, there was in the Division a history lecturer from Otago University who could give really inspiring lectures on the growth and constitution of the British Empire, lectures which crowds of men attended in their spare time. There was a foreign correspondent from a great newspaper who could speak on world affairs, and an Artillery officer who had worked in a Russian factory. These men could always get packed audiences for evening lectures, but their talents should have been used throughout the whole Division in the daily syllabus. Their success would have depended entirely upon their gift for public speaking for the soldier had his fill of dull instructors, though one brilliant exception was Major Jasper Maskelyne, of the British Army, a well-known figure on the London stage. His lectures on security to New Zealand troops were extremely witty and packed with valuable information.
There was room for a system of informal talks describing the different aspects of the war effort. In this instance a high standard of public speaking would not have been necessary, provided there was an opportunity for questions. The ordinary soldier would have been interested and cheered if he could have heard something of the work of a fighter pilot, of a man serving with the Commandos, the Long Range Desert Group, or with submarines —just to mention a few.
The system of Padres' Hours would undoubtedly have been of benefit to morale.
Urgent overhaul of British Broadcasting Corporation news bulletins should have been demanded, with one programme designed for civilians and another for soldiers. The Libyan debate which followed the fall of Tobruk suggested that we had everything save good Generals. This may or may not have been the truth but it was discouraging information for the troops. Later the BBC set about preparing the civilians for the possible loss of Alexandria and Egypt. Perhaps civilian morale needed such preparation, but it was depressing for the soldiers, fighting in the Alamein Line, to hear that the BBC half-expected them to lose the battle.
The chaplains were convinced that the men should be given some mental training for battle, that they should know what they were fighting for, and that they should enter an attack not only with knowledge of their weapons and physical health, but also with alert minds stimulated and strengthened by regular mental exercise.