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Problems of 2 NZEF



Last but not least in the field of welfare comes the Education and Rehabilitation Service (ERS). From first to last there was a strong feeling among many senior officers of 2 NZEF that an educational page 254 scheme was out of place in a fighting force. One officer, an eminent lawyer in civil life, put it simply when he said that men should put their books away while serving in the force. It was thought that if men devoted themselves to training for war, and keeping themselves physically fit, they would have no time for anything else. If men started taking courses in this and that during the war, it was bound to distract their attention from the real matter in hand, the defeat of the enemy.

Whether or not that is a correct opinion, the fact remains that for the first four years of the war we took no steps at all to set up any form of educational service, and looked on rehabilitation as something that authorities in New Zealand would handle after the men got back. To refrain from taking any action to provide education for the men serving in units is understandable, and can be defended; but no defence at all can be put forward for our delay in doing something of this nature for men in hospital, and especially for those on the New Zealand roll, whether fit or not. This was probably our greatest omission of the war. It should have been possible – it was possible – to arrange that men on the New Zealand roll either resumed their broken studies, scholastic or technical, or else started something new, and in any case were made ready in some degree to take their places again in civil life. Our defence can only be that Headquarters was also busy getting on with the war in its own way, and had little time to think about what would happen to men once they left the force for New Zealand. It must be pointed out also that even an ERS takes men to run it, and that our available pool of men would have been reduced if we had started such a service. The pros and cons of starting the ERS in, say, 1942 might well have formed the subject of the philosophical inquiry suggested on page 190.

By about the middle of 1943 we were under a mild fire from New Zealand on this subject, the reason probably being the introduction of an army education service there. During the first phase of the furlough scheme in the second half of 1943, when a number of senior officers were on leave in New Zealand, discussions on this subject were held with members of Cabinet and with Army Headquarters, and it was agreed that an ERS scheme should be started in 2 NZEF, the director elect being sent from New Zealand. It was not until the middle of 1944 that the scheme was ready – at least three years too late.

Even then there was suspicion from serving members of 2 NZEF, or rather those members who were actively engaged in the field. It was still thought that nothing should be done to distract soldiers from waging war; and in addition there was the strong feeling that page 255 men not in the field should not get an advantage over those who were. This latter feeling had caused trouble in previous years, for from 1940 to 1942 it had been arranged by the University of New Zealand that some reputable body in Cairo (e.g., the British Council) should conduct examinations on its behalf for such men as could sit. This procedure then ceased, partly because men could not keep up their studies, and partly because the only ones who ever could sit were those who happened to be serving at Maadi or in other sedentary employment. There was a lot of truth in this latter contention, as more often than not the Division had been in the field on the critical dates.

So one way and another the new ERS had a stormy passage in its first few months, even though it had never been intended that the scheme should apply to anyone not on the New Zealand roll for as long as the war lasted. Until the war ended, there was no idea of interfering with men in the field. There could be no two opinions about the need of the work for men on the New Zealand roll, and gradually more and more facilities were provided for them, including preparation for and supervision of University examinations. An authoritative Rehabilitation Committee was formed to discuss and settle the broad outlines of the work. Book work was comparatively easy, but trade training difficult.

While the war lasted, the active work was thus confined to those on the New Zealand roll; but the main task of the ERS was to prepare for the immediate post-war period, and here again there were difficulties with officers serving in the field. Preparation for post-armistice work had to go on while the war was still going on too. Preparations had to be such that as soon as fighting ended a complete scheme would be ready to go into top gear without delay. The scheme required staff, and while a good part was sent out specially from New Zealand, we had to rely to a large degree on 2 NZEF; but it was impossible to draw anyone from the Division. Rightly enough, winning the war was still the first task; but at that stage there was room for a little flexibility. However, the ERS had to go ahead with what staff it could get, and in the main was ready when the time came. Schools were started where selected personnel attended for concentrated instruction; but the greater part of the work was done either by correspondence or by work within units. As it happened, the time from the end of the war to the repatriation of the bulk of the force was short, and the ERS did not have as great a part to play as had been expected. However, what work it managed to achieve was of some value, and went beyond the commonly voiced opinion that all it was worth was to fill in men's time and keep them out of mischief.