Problems of 2 NZEF
CHAPTER 11 — Relations with General Headquarters
Relations with General Headquarters
AT the beginning of the war it was tacitly assumed and accepted that United Kingdom military authorities would have operational control of the expeditionary forces of the Commonwealth. As far as New Zealand was concerned, this position was accepted throughout, without more than an occasional comment on the conduct of operations, the most notable instance being the bitter remarks passed by the Prime Minister over the Leros operation in 1943. Other Dominions were more critical, and Australia for one exacted a closer control over her troops. It is unlikely that in the future any Commonwealth country will be prepared to accept United Kingdom control to the same degree. It may even happen that part of the United Kingdom army may find itself under the control of one of the Dominions.
This is not the place, however, to write a treatise on the direction of Allied forces, about which many of the leaders in the last war have already expressed themselves. Nor is it the concern of this volume to write about the operational control of the Division, which is being covered in other volumes, and which will provide much material for comment and criticism. The subject of this chapter is the relationship between HQ 2 NZEF and the British headquarters with which it dealt; but a few words may be devoted to the connection between the various British headquarters themselves.
In North Africa the operational control of the fighting formations in the field was first exercised by Western Desert Force, and then from September 1941 onwards by Eighth Army, and it was under this latter formation that our Division worked. The headquarters of the army corps, intermediate between the Army and the divisions, is disregarded, as it was very much a fluctuating quantity. The supreme control throughout the Middle East, including the control of all rear areas, was exercised by General Headquarters, Middle East Forces; and it was this headquarters that allotted troops either to Eighth Army or to the other areas for which it was responsible, e.g., Syria. It was GHQ which moved the Division to Syria in early 1942 and placed it under Ninth Army. General Headquarters' control was strategic in the broadest meaning of the term.page 167
Unfortunately the picture becomes a bit confused owing to the peculiar relationship between GHQ and HQ Eighth Army, whereby the former exercised a close control over the latter, until in the crisis of mid-1942 the two headquarters were nearly merged. However, from the standpoint of HQ 2 NZEF there was no confusion as we dealt with GHQ alone, and had no dealings with any army headquarters. General Headquarters controlled all administrative matters in which we were concerned – movements, locations of rear establishments, equipment, supplies, formation of units and so on.
In Italy there were two field armies, Fifth and Eighth, controlled by a superior field headquarters called, first, Allied Armies in Italy (AAI), and then later 15 Army Group. Everything outside the immediate army area was controlled by General Headquarters, Central Mediterranean Force, which was located first at Algioes and then at Caserta, near Naples. Again the Division dealt with one of the armies or with the Army Group, while HQ 2 NZEF dealt with GHQ.
Before discussing the relations between GHQ and HQ 2 NZEF a word must be said on a delicate point that, properly speaking, is outside this volume, namely the right of the GOC to communicate direct with the New Zealand Government, and particularly to inform it of forthcoming operations. It is not proposed to attempt to settle the vexed question of the rights of the commander of a small national army vis-à-vis the Commander-in-Chief, but merely to record that only good will on both sides made it possible for the GOC to send to the Government all the information he thought advisable.
The problem was, in the main, a personal one for the GOC; but once or twice, owing to his absence in the forward area, the invidious task fell to an officer of HQ 2 NZEF of taking the GOC's proposed cable to the Commander-in-Chief and obtaining his approval to the wording. To steer it past the Commander-in-Chief was not so difficult as to steer it past his immediate staff!
To return to the real subject of this chapter – it must be said that the relations between GHQ and HQ 2 NZEF, both in Egypt and Italy, were good from first to last. We could not have asked for greater consideration or for greater appreciation of our work, and many times it was most moving to be told how much New Zealand troops were admired. Such arguments or differences of opinion as did arise were conducted in an atmosphere such as surrounds friends or members of a family, without any element of bitterness or bad feeling. It would have been unnatural if differences had not occurred; but the never-failing good feeling removed any sting and ensured that discussions were conducted in an atmosphere free of strain.page 168
Both in North Africa and in Italy it took us a little time to assert our separate identity as a national army, albeit a small one. Both the GHQs had expected a Division; but neither had expected such a large tail, nor had appreciated how much we were self-contained and how much we would wish to increase our degree of self-containment. Sometimes in the early days there were sharp words, as when, for instance, some officer at GHQ could not see why we wanted pay offices and welfare institutes of our own; but without too much delay GHQ accepted the position. If we learnt a lot from British headquarters, it can be said also that they learnt from association with us, and became better as time went on in their role as the headquarters of a group of Allied forces.
On occasion we must have been difficult children – and here it must be said that GHQ, both in Egypt and Italy, had a lot of children to humour. The number of nationalities represented in the troops in the Mediterranean area was greater than has been realised. General Headquarters in Cairo had not one Dominion contingent to handle but three – Australians, New Zealanders, and South Africans – together with Rhodesians, Indians, Free French (a task in themselves), Poles, Greeks, Czechs, Yugoslavs, and Arabs; and over and above these were the troops from East and West Africa, Palestine, Basutoland, Bechuanaland, Somaliland, Malta, Ceylon, and others. General Headquarters in Italy, itself an integrated British-United States organisation, in addition to many of those itemised above, had a force part British part American, with another Dominion, Canada, and another foreign country, Brazil. The task of either GHQ was unenviable in having to humour all these different peoples, all with their national characteristics, and some trying to assert their national identity and exalt their national prestige. We tried to remember that we were not the only ones making requests or producing difficulties. The number of countries with which GHQ had to deal must always be remembered when one is inclined to criticise any action it took.
General Headquarters was functioning in a dual capacity, first as the headquarters of an Allied army, and second as the headquarters of the British forces alone – by which is meant those forces for which the United Kingdom was financially responsible. Occasionally these two roles were in conflict, as the staff at GHQ did not keep the distinction clearly in mind. Only one series of administrative orders was issued, and in these orders a great part dealt with matters which affected British troops only – pay, leave, enlistment matters, separation allowances, transfers and so on. Mixed up with this would be an order that applied to all troops – transport, traffic control, rations, equipment, etc. The fact that part of the orders was obviously not intended to apply to Allied troops led to the page 169 situation that Allied troops began to ignore GHQ orders altogether, treating them all as inapplicable. On the suggestion of HQ 2 NZEF, GHQ MEF ultimately indicated which orders were applicable to United Kingdom troops only, the assumption being that the remainder applied to all troops; but even then the position was not always clear, and in Italy we came under a different GHQ and had to start the campaign all over again. And even after GHQ had understood the position and was specifying whether orders were applicable or not, there still remained subordinate British headquarters in commands and areas, all of which issued their own orders, and some of which had New Zealand units under their command. We had instances of Area Commanders trying to make New Zealand units – mostly from the non-divisional engineers – comply with orders that obviously were intended for British troops only. In December 1941 we issued NZEF Order 683, reading as follows:
General Orders—Applicability to 2 NZEF
The administration and legal position of 2 NZEF is sometimes at variance in certain respects with the position regarding British Service troops. In consequence, orders issued by any higher formation (e.g., GHQ MEF) are being marked whether applicable to all troops under the command of the formation, etc., or else are indicating that they are or are not applicable to certain categories.
HQs of Armies, Commands, Areas, Sub-areas and Formations have been instructed, before issuing orders, to consider whether they should specify that any particular order should not apply to 2 NZEF. If in doubt, they will refer to HQ 2 NZEF.
Time may often not permit of this, but there should always be sufficient time for higher formations to refer to the senior 2 NZEF officer under their particular command.
HQs of Armies, Commands, Areas, etc., have been directed to send copies of any orders about which there may be any doubt as to applicability to HQ 2 NZEF. If necessary, HQ 2 NZEF will advise if any order should be amended to suit the legislation or administration of 2 NZEF.
All 2 NZEF units will adhere to all orders issued by HQs of Armies, Commands, Areas, etc., under which they have been placed for command, if a failure to do so is liable to upset the whole effect of the order throughout the Area or Command concerned.
If, however, the order is in conflict with 2 NZEF custom, representations on the matter will immediately be made to the HQ of the Army, Command, Area, etc., concerned, and in cases of doubt or difficulty, direct to HQ 2 NZEF.
The order is clumsily worded, but the intention is clear. We put ourselves on side by including paragraph (4). As an example of the confusion that occurred, there had been a case where a local page 170 Area Commander prescribed certain inoculations, and our units objected as they had already been inoculated under NZEF arrangements. It cannot be said that HQ 2 NZEF was ever inundated with requests for advice under paragraphs (2) and (3); but the order was at least helpful to our units.
One of our most persistent troubles in North Africa was on the question of detachments; and here there was a basic difference between the views of 2 NZEF and those of GHQ. To the latter a division was an ad hoc assemblage of units, consisting of so many regiments of cavalry, all with strong regimental traditions, so many regiments of artillery (Ubique, etc.), a few companies of engineers, also with pride in their ubiquity, and a number of battalions drawn from probably nine different regiments, again with nine varieties of regimental pride – all brought together temporarily and just as easily separated again. Some divisions developed a divisional spirit and a strong one – 51 (Highland) Division is an example – but even with that division it was not certain that its units would remain unchanged indefinitely.
The New Zealand Expeditionary Force and the New Zealand Division made up a national army in miniature. We were all first and last New Zealanders with a strong national pride. The esprit de corps was primarily national, and not attached to the unit to quite the same degree as in the British Army. Unconsciously at first, and then more consciously as time went on, we liked working with our own people and disliked being detached from them, until there was a cohesion in the Division that no British division ever possessed, no matter what its record. This cohesion ran right through the Expeditionary Force.
From the British standpoint, there was no objection at all to detaching part of a division, one out of many. From our standpoint there was every objection to detaching a part of the Division, the only one. In the various volumes covering the operations of the Division, this point will appear as it affected the tactical employment of our troops. We are concerned here with detachments outside the forward areas.
We must at the outset be fair to GHQ, especially in the Middle East. An attempt has already been made to express an understanding of the difficulties confronting GHQ with so many nations represented in the command. It must now be said that it also had great difficulties in providing men for the million and one small jobs that go to make up a military force in the field, especially when that force is operating in a foreign land. There were never enough British troops to go round and certainly not enough to handle the manifold tasks outside the actual fighting. Further attention is given page 171 below to the question of New Zealand's share of base and line-of-communication duties. It will be enough to say here that we did realise that it was unfair to expect the United Kingdom to carry the whole burden.
Quite early in 1940 we were asked by GHQ if, under certain circumstances, we would be prepared to find men for special duties, in fact to help run the railways in the Middle East if it became necessary to take them over from civilian control. Hard on the heels of this came requests for signals and MT personnel for the newly-formed Western Desert Force. At a later stage there were requests for personnel for guard duties, which duties were always in themselves most varied. The understanding was that these detachments would be required for temporary duty only. At least, that is what GHQ said (both then and in the future), although one cannot help thinking that the assurances were given with the unexpressed prayer that something would turn up that would stop having to implement them. That we believed at the time that the duties were only temporary is confirmed by the words in a cable to New Zealand, ‘as these detachments are for a short duration’.
By July 1940 a large part of the First Echelon had been lent for various duties, some tactical ones, but others administrative. Then the time came when the GOC arrived back from England, the Third Echelon arrived from New Zealand, the Second Echelon was under notice to come to Egypt from England, and concentration of the whole force became a necessity, at least from our standpoint.
There was the greatest difficulty in getting the detachments back, and even some degree of acerbity shown by the heads of the staff at GHQ. The GOC was compelled in the end to cable the New Zealand Government and ask for its support in any action he might have to take, and armed with the promise of this support, which was immediately given, had to be very firm with GHQ. In the end the troops were sent back, but not with very good grace, and the Division was able to concentrate. This event had the result that the GOC laid it down that the purpose of 2 NZEF was to maintain the Division, including keeping it up to establishment. Only then could troops be used for other duties. The course of the war thereafter made us on occasion depart from this principle; but a principle it remained. We considered that, by keeping the Division up to establishment, we made a contribution to the winning of the war just as good as, and indeed better than, if we allowed our troops to be employed on other duties, essential though those duties might be.
One can sympathise with Commanders-in-Chief when one reads General Wavell's ‘Note for the New Zealand Division’ issued at the end of December 1940, and intended to explain why the Division had not been used for the current campaign in Libya. He page 172 explains that he would have had to consult the New Zealand Government, so jeopardising secrecy, and goes on to say, ‘I therefore decided, somewhat reluctantly, not to use the New Zealand Brigade, and to use instead the 16th Infantry Brigade, which I could do without reference to anyone’. It is these last few words that have a melancholy sound – ‘which I could do without reference to anyone’. This was written about the employment of New Zealand troops alone. If one looks at the list of national forces under GHQ, given on page 168, one will have some idea of the difficulties of the commander of a multi-national army.
The various duties for which GHQ asked us to supply men had to be done – if not by us, then by someone else, with a strong probability that it would be British units that had to suffer. The demands on GHQ were unending and, it must be remembered, were very often for duties which had nothing to do with fighting. Here are some of the major establishments and tasks for which men had to be found, all of them in rear areas: manning ports and controlling all movements by sea, land, and air; running railways; assembly of vehicles shipped to the ports in a knocked-down condition; storage of bulk equipment; storage of bulk rations and stores and their distribution; large-scale repairs to everything; internal security and guards; construction work of all kinds; traffic control in rear areas; mapping and distribution of maps – and it may be taken that these are only a few of the tasks that have to be done and which cannot be ignored.
In such argument as has so far appeared in this volume it has been maintained that New Zealand could not confine her army effort to the provision of a Division alone, but had to accept the responsibility of also finding a sufficiency of personnel for training depots, welfare, hospitals, and the immediate maintenance of the fighting troops. The next stage is to decide whether or not New Zealand should provide troops for other general duties in the theatre of war or should leave it to the United Kingdom to find them from metropolitan or colonial troops. If New Zealand decides not to supply men for these duties, it would be as well to advise the United Kingdom Government accordingly at the beginning, so as to avoid the embarrassments that might occur between the commander of the New Zealand force and the British commander-in-chief. What our proportion should have been in North Africa, what number of troops we should have provided cannot be stated with accuracy. Only once during the war were we given any figures. In August 1942, dealing only with the rear organisation in Egypt and Palestine, GHQ said that in proportion to the total numbers serving in the Middle East we should be finding 502 officers and 2566 other ranks for our share. At the time we might have been page 173 providing about one-tenth of these figures with any degree of permanency, although we were able to point out that only a month previously 1100 out of 2300 available reinforcements had been on temporary duty in Cairo and Alexandria. It was quite impossible for us to find the numbers given above, especially as at the time we had had no reinforcements for nine months; but we felt we must help at a time of strain, and so managed to scrape up some men of lower medical grade for additional duties.
There was at least one fallacy in GHQ's contention. Whereas most British formations were always below establishment, often tragically below, our own Division was always reasonably well up to establishment, even at a lean time such as late 1942. If we were not contributing in one way we were doing it in another. There are other weaknesses in GHQ's argument, for it had not taken into account how much we were self-contained; but it cannot be denied that we were not quite pulling our weight in rear areas. The standard figure of personnel required in a theatre of war to maintain one division was from 1941 onwards taken as 40,000, i.e., to maintain a division of about 19,000 required another 21,000 in the theatre at any one time, employed on duties of every kind from the base port up to the area immediately behind the division, and including reinforcements, base camps, hospitals, depots, workshops, transportation units, and everything of any kind that goes to the making of an army. Our maximum numbers in 2 NZEF were 36,000, and our average was 31,000; and for three years we had some 2000 non-divisional troops in the field in addition to a division. We were thus very far from providing our share of all the rear requirements. Whether or not we should have provided them is another matter, which would have had to be decided on the inter-governmental level. One thing will be certain in the future, that the GOC in the field will be asked to help, just as we were in the last war.
Our reinforcement pools were a constant attraction to GHQ. It is understandable that when GHQ saw some thousands of men under training in Maadi, there was an irresistible urge to ask that they be lent for other duties, principally for guards, for which the demand was unending in a theatre of war where depots were developing at a phenomenal rate.
In November 1940 we were asked to send what reinforcements we had to help garrison Crete. It was just as well that the GOC did refuse, for we would certainly never have got them back. In 1943 GHQ asked if they could be used as beach parties for the landing in Sicily; but at that time the force was in the throes of the first furlough scheme, and we had to refuse. About the last occasion of any note was when in September 1944 we were asked page 174 to lend reinforcements for garrison duties in Greece, which had just been reoccupied. Here we refused for reasons which had nothing to do with alternative employment for the men. In this case we wanted to keep clear of Greek politics, having had quite enough while we were training the Greek Army.
All the cases quoted above were for men for duty in the base and line-of-communication area. There were, in addition, cases where GHQ asked that we should form units for duty in the field. Sometimes we complied. During the Libyan campaign from November 1941 onwards we supplied some signals, ASC and medical units, which lasted until well into 1942. The Long Range Desert Group was, of course, the outstanding example. Had Japan not entered the war, we would have formed a number of corps units as part of scheme FFC 36, which would have had the effect of relieving some British units from the duty of supporting our Division. Both in 1942 and 1943, GHQ asked us to form a parachute battalion, being good enough to say that the initiative of the New Zealander was specially suitable for a unit such as this; but we were firm, and with the second request for this unit the custom came to an end, and GHQ MEF never asked us again.
In Italy the position was different from the start, and the only units we ever formed were on our own initiative to give better support to the Division. In any case the nature of the war had changed, and the country was a European one, where the civilian population could be used for duties not suitable for local labour levies in the Middle East. We were asked once to supply the personnel for an ambulance train, but begged to be excused.
Before leaving this question, it must be pointed out that all the duties for which GHQ asked us for men had to be done by someone; and one has more than a suspicion that it was British troops that came to the rescue. We did not send men to Greece in 1944; but British troops had to go there, and became involved in putting down a civil war. Those who criticise the British Higher Command might remember for a moment or two the varied duties that fell to the fate of a commander of an Allied army operating in foreign lands.
Here it might be pointed out that British troops had no furlough or replacement scheme comparable with the one operating in 2 NZEF from mid-1943 onwards. We are proud of what we did in the war; but it should be remembered that the British Army took the strain for a longer period than we did.
It will be clear from all that has been said above that at heart we were sympathetic to GHQ's requests, and were understanding of its difficulties; but it must be said also that we thought that GHQ dissipated the efforts of the troops by making too many detach- page 175 ments from complete units for special tasks, instead of allotting larger tasks to whole units. The custom was known to the Division in the form of ‘battle groups’, ‘monthly columns’, and such like. It took other forms in rear areas. Our non-divisional engineers were distributed in small packets all over the Middle East. In January 1942, 21 Mechanical Equipment Company, 250 strong, had detachments from Halfaya on the Egyptian-Cyrenaican border to Rutbah wells in Iraq, including one detachment at Aqaba in Transjordan. Others were nearly as bad. The task of a company commander in those circumstances was wellnigh impossible.
Unfortunately we were on weak ground when it came to complaining about the moves of the non-divisional engineers, who by the terms of their formation were under the operational control of British authorities. It was only natural that GHQ should think that this gave it full authority to move units as it wished; but it had forgotten, or rather had not appreciated, that the units came from another country and were part of that country's war effort. The trouble saw the light of day for the first time in November 1940 when a press message from London stated that New Zealand troops were in Greece. The first HQ 2 NZEF knew of it was when a cable was received from the New Zealand Government asking us for information about it. It must be remembered that at this time New Zealand units had not been in action anywhere. The New Zealand Government had already been told by the United Kingdom Government that there was no truth in the message, so that it was doubly unfortunate when it transpired that a detachment of 9 Railway Survey Company, 56 in number, was in Greece. The detachment had been moved there by the Transportation Directorate of GHQ without the knowledge of the staff of GHQ, and certainly without the knowledge of HQ 2 NZEF. It should be said that the Directorate was quite in order in acting on its own authority, as far as GHQ was concerned; in the conference that followed the Directorate admitted that it had never realised for a moment that HQ 2 NZEF should either be consulted or informed, and the same applied to other branches at GHQ dealing with our units – engineers mainly. The units were believed to be under the unfettered control of GHQ. We pointed out that the troops sent to Greece, while strictly speaking not combatant ones, were the first to enter a theatre of war outside North Africa, so that the people of New Zealand must be interested in the move. General Headquarters was firm that while it regretted this occurrence, it must retain the right to move the non-divisional units as was necessary, and also to make such detachments as were required. We were not satisfied with this, and consulted the New Zealand Government; but the latter was of the opinion that GHQ had right on its side, and that page 176 we should not try to restrict its freedom of action. For a while thereafter we were a bit of a nuisance to the branches at GHQ which controlled our units, as we were forever asking what moves they proposed to make, what detachments were being sent off to a new war and so on. After some months of this, however, the moves of the Division became more important than the moves of small units, and perforce we accepted the position – which remained that while GHQ never did advise us of proposed moves, somehow or other we found out, generally from the units themselves. The real explosion came after most of the units had been disbanded, when, as has already been recounted, the Long Range Desert Group was launched into the ill-fated Leros operations without a word being said to either the GOC or the New Zealand Government. For as long as the Group had been operating in North Africa all had been well, for everyone knew that at any one moment the Group might be in action somewhere; but this sudden appearance overseas was too much. The result of the acrimony that followed was that the Group was disbanded and the personnel absorbed into the Division.
The wide dispersal of our non-divisional units meant that we had to take extra steps to make sure that the units shared in our welfare arrangements. Moreover, where possible someone from HQ 2 NZEF tried to visit all the bits of the units from time to time, so as to prevent them from thinking that they were forgotten men.
Our experience makes one think that in any future war it would be unwise to let small New Zealand units pass from the control of the New Zealand headquarters. It would be better if New Zealand's contribution to the general pool were to take the form of complete responsibility for one large task, e.g., controlling an area or running a port, instead of forming a number of small units for scattered small tasks.
The financial arrangements for the Expeditionary Force were really not our concern. We knew that initial equipment was to be paid for at cost, and that subsequent replacements would come under some sort of capitation scheme. Initial issues ended in effect when the Division went to Greece, although it would have been difficult to determine a date when one system really ended and the other began. When we heard in a roundabout way that discussions had started with the United Kingdom Government to settle the financial arrangements, we offered to send our financial adviser (the Chief Paymaster) to give what help he could. The offer was not accepted; and it was not until April 1943 that we were informed of the arrangements made, these being that a lump sum was to be paid for initial equipment and for maintenance up to 31 July 1942, and a monthly sum for maintenance thereafter.page 177
The paragraph of the Financial Arrangements that is relevant to the theme of this section is the following:
It is understood that this arrangement covers the equipment and maintenance of New Zealand Land Forces from United Kingdom army sources according to United Kingdom army scales and standards. If the New Zealand Government or its authorised representative requires a standard or scale higher than the relevant United Kingdom standard or scale, the New Zealand Government will be responsible for meeting any additional expenditure arising therefrom.
The words ‘according to United Kingdom scales and standards’ are simple ones, and should at first sight present no difficulties; but as the Division was rarely, if ever, working to the identical organisation of a United Kingdom division, and was often larger than a United Kingdom division, it was difficult to say what exactly were the scales and standards applicable. Our base and line-of-communication organisation was another complicating factor; for although the British Army had bases and lines of communication of its own, the different sizes of our units, and the different ideas about welfare and maintenance held by British authorities and our own, again made it almost impossible to say whether or not any equipment of ours was within United Kingdom scales. Headquarters 2 NZEF at one stage decided to become fully mobile and so wanted extra trucks; some of our medical and dental units had no equivalent in the British service; our welfare was definitely on a higher scale than theirs – all these things, and many others, helped to make a confused situation. Were the tanks issued to the Armoured Brigade in 1942–43 to be looked on as fresh equipment or as normal maintenance? In what category was the extra equipment added to the Divisional Engineers in 1944?
Occasionally the branch of the staff at GHQ concerned with issues would express some doubt whether or not we were entitled to something, but in the end would heave a sigh and give the necessary authority, saying sadly that when the New Zealanders decided they wanted anything it was easier to agree at once than to refuse and subsequently withstand sustained pressure. Sometimes when we produced a war establishment for a divisional unit that showed clearly an excess of equipment over British scales, GHQ would not give us the excess unless Divisional Headquarters obtained additional authority from the army headquarters in the field; and in fact we always made it clear to our own units that while our war establishments were conclusive as far as concerned manpower, they were not necessarily so for equipment. But one way or another we always seemed to get what we wanted. The financial authorities at GHQ knew of the position and realised that often we were drawing stores and equipment to which we were page 178 not entitled if there had been a strict adherence to the words ‘according to United Kingdom scales and standards’. The point is that they never did interpret the words literally, and in every way treated us with consideration and generosity. There was never any doubt in our own minds that we were getting the best of it.
In February 1940 the War Office, through the High Commissioner in London, asked the New Zealand Government whether staff officers of Dominion formations could be regarded as available for duty with British formations and vice versa; and whether the same arrangement could apply to brigade and unit commanders and seconds-in-command. The War Office favoured pooling resources. The inquiry was referred by the Government to the GOC, and by him referred in turn to the officers who at the moment would be affected by any such arrangement, viz., brigadiers and selected COs and staff officers. It was early in the war, and we looked at the request from a purely New Zealand standpoint. While we would have had no objection to New Zealanders moving on to higher command and staff appointments with British formations, we could not bring ourselves to agree to the reverse, as we did not think that officers from the United Kingdom would be able to handle New Zealanders. This was of course one-sided, and could not be put forward as an official opinion, so that the only thing to do was to advise against the proposal, which was done. The New Zealand Government then advised the War Office that New Zealand commanders and staff should be retained for service with the Expeditionary Force.
This can be considered as a narrow and shortsighted view. The size of British formations gave scope for wider activities than would ever be available within 2 NZEF; and it seems unfair that outstanding New Zealanders should not get their chance to show what they are capable of. But to be fair the scheme should operate both ways, and here our opinion of ourselves gets in the way. We thought in 1940, and continued to think throughout the war, that New Zealanders gave of their best only when commanded by New Zealanders, and that there could be no question of a British unit or formation commander serving in 2 NZEF. About staff officers we were perhaps not so rigid, although if pressed we would probably have said that it would be better if we relied on our own efforts.
In the end the traffic, never extensive, was nearly all one way. There was no case of a British commander serving with the Division, and only two cases of British staff officers, and these arose from the GOC agreeing to the exchanges for limited periods. When the period was up, the exchanges were ended and were never repeated. A few New Zealanders, however, served with British page 179 formations as staff officers, the appointments being fortuitous and not part of a design. A few officers who had special skills and whose abilities we could not use to the full moved across to the British service, with our blessing, as most of them received promotion that might not have been available with 2 NZEF. There was one outstanding case where British Headquarters took from us one of our best brigadiers and gave him command of a division.
It is difficult to come to any decision about this question. Probably the action taken was a fair enough solution, i.e., a small number, coming from those for whom there is not adequate employment with the Dominion forces, should move away into the British service; but it still leaves the one-sided arrangement that the Dominion force does not take anyone from the British service.
No objection could be taken to any of these moves: but there was a class of move about which we were not so happy. As the war went on in North Africa, the position arose that any branch at GHQ, or almost any unit in the British rear services, would jump at the chance of getting Dominion officers on their strength, as all were perpetually shorthanded; with the result that periodically some officer would apply for a transfer to the British service, on the plea that he would get a much better job there, or that his peacetime avocations would be assisted thereby. Sometimes, though not often, we would agree, one of our reasons – not entirely commendable – being that the officer in question was not much in favour in 2 NZEF; but so often the reasons seemed to be purely selfish ones, and we did not like the plea of ‘getting a better job’. Our view was that officers had joined 2 NZEF to give it of their best, and not to go sailing off somewhere else merely because the prospects were more pleasant there. In any case we had to be firm, for the British Army was quite prepared to take all that offered, and we might have been left shorthanded in turn. In a few cases we were genuinely irritated because the officer concerned, after making a plea to be allowed to transfer because he would get a better job than in 2 NZEF, then discovered that welfare arrangements, for instance, were much better in 2 NZEF than in the British service, and wanted to be allowed to retain those benefits – in other words, to get the best of both worlds.
Our only trouble was to make sure that the small number we allowed to transfer did not become a flood; and moreover, that GHQ did not skim the cream away from us. While this might have been – probably would have been – for the good of the service in the broadest sense, we preferred to keep our good as well as our not-so-good. The problem remains an arguable one.
At frequent intervals during the war GHQ asked us for personnel to be commissioned into the British Army, saying that the standard page 180 of our NCOs was so high that the proportion who would make good officers was above that in the British service. From time to time we let a few go, but not to the extent that GHQ would have wished. Our idea was to keep the standard of 2 NZEF high in every way, and not to diminish it by letting our best be taken away from us. A case can be made out for a more generous release of New Zealand personnel; but again there is room for difference of opinion.
Most of these troubles occurred while we were serving in North Africa. When we moved to Italy we kept self-contained from the first, and this question of transfer to the British service did not arise.
The change from Egypt to Italy had one disadvantage, in that we had to start all over again to train the new GHQ in ‘knowledge of New Zealanders’, and especially in the realisation that we were a small national army, and not merely a detached division. It took a while to achieve this; but even then it was a shorter time than had been necessary in Egypt, when both GHQ there and HQ 2 NZEF were learning their jobs. It was irritating to have to start all over again; but as some of the trouble arose from part of the staff at GHQ being Americans, and as it was always exhilarating to deal with them, there were compensations.
The attitude of GHQ towards Dominion troops, and in particular towards New Zealanders, has been expressed by an impartial observer. General Mark Clark, in his volume Calculated Risk, says first that ‘….ominion troops who are very jealous of their prerogatives…. have always been given special consideration by the British’1; and again, The British were exceedingly careful in the handling of New Zealand forces because they were territorial troops responsible only to their home government and it was necessary to use tact to work harmoniously with them.'2
With these opinions New Zealanders must be in full agreement; and this chapter must end with another tribute to the helpfulness, generosity, and consideration always given to us by GHQ, both in North Africa and in Italy.
2 Ibid., p. 298.