New Zealand Engineers, Middle East
By Lieutenant-General the Lord Freyberg, vc, gcmg, kcb, kbe, dso
I take it as a great compliment to be asked to contribute a foreword to the History of the New Zealand Engineers in the Middle East. Throughout the 1939–45 war the Engineers served in the forefront of the battle with the 2nd New Zealand Division. They saw the recognition of their new value in war through the development of minefields and the necessity for acquiring skills in, first, the laying of our own and then the lifting of the enemy protective minefields. Readers of this history will note how the sappers' new duties took them into the most forward of the fighting throughout the campaigns in North Africa.
When the Division moved to Italy the role of the engineers grew even more important, because in that hilly country roads and bridges were vital to a mechanised force such as 2 NZ Division. This campaign made great demands on the sappers, for the success of operations depended largely upon their ability to build bridges quickly, frequently under fire, to clear minefields and to maintain roads under all conditions.
The non-divisional engineers, working away from the Division, were little heard of; it may come as a surprise therefore to the New Zealand public to learn that the non-divisional sappers built and operated sawmills in England, North Africa and Italy, and produced tallies unsurpassed by any other Forestry Groups; and that they formed and built a railway track from Similla, near Mersa Matruh, to the outskirts of page vi Tobruk, a total of 275 miles, 250 of which were laid and completed in 265 days—another outstanding performance in military engineering. For many months New Zealand train crews drove across this Desert Extension railway at night without lights, and defied the enemy air forces' not inconsiderable efforts to prevent them.
In addition, harbours at Aqaba, Safaga, and Adabiya on the Red Sea were largely built through the work and supervision of the non-divisional engineers. In the Middle East from the Turkish frontier to the Sudan and from Safaga to Algiers, there are few names on the maps that stir no memories for the New Zealand non-divisional sappers.
I hope this history will be widely read.
Deputy Constable and Lieutenant Governor,Windsor Castle 1 March 1961