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Problems of 2 NZEF



If trials and troubles are any justification, then the various bodies that made up our Public Relations Service merit a chapter to themselves. The service comprised the Public Relations Officer, war correspondents, broadcasting unit, cinema units, still photographer, official artist, newspaper and archivist, all, except perhaps the last, ‘organs of publicity’.

It must be said at once that the trouble referred to, save in the very early period, had little or no effect upon the work of the various parts. We had every reason for thinking that the results were good. All parts of the force had their initial troubles, extending over a long or short period; but with Public Relations the period was longer than most.

Our difficulties in getting any war correspondents at all have been mentioned in Chapters 2 and 3 above. We never knew the exact reasons which led to the outcome that all correspondents were military personnel paid by the Government, and were not representatives of the New Zealand press; but discussions, not to say controversy, between the Government and the press, difficulties in selecting personnel, and basic suspicion in the Government of any outside publicity caused absurd delays before any proper appointments were made. We were forced to make one or two interim appointments ourselves; and it may be said now that after a few correspondents had come out from New Zealand, later appointments came from competent newspapermen from the Expeditionary Force itself.

A qualified war correspondent arrived from New Zealand in early 1941, the intention being that he should be our Public Relations Officer; but he was unlucky enough to be captured in Greece. A cinema and a broadcasting unit arrived about the same time, and meanwhile the GOC had appointed an official artist out of hand.

One way and another they were a difficult lot, all showing some degree of temperament, and cumulatively they caused more work at Headquarters than did any other branch of 2 NZEF services; but at the same time it must be said that Headquarters was not always very clever in the way it dealt with them. Figuratively speaking, the staff at Headquarters were always rubbing the bruises they had incurred through getting mixed up in the problems of the Public Relations Service. Sooner than have to deal with them all individually, we decided to go on with the idea of a Public Relations Officer, and to make him responsible for all the branches. The PRO page 125 was intended to keep his finger on the pulse of the force, have a full knowledge of what was happening, or going to happen, throughout the force, and decide where and when any of the units or individuals should go at any one time. The PRO was to ensure that all the activities of the Division and the other NZEF units were adequately covered and reported to New Zealand – and it has already been indicated that despite troubles this object was achieved.

Unfortunately we had difficulty in finding a suitable officer for the appointment of PRO, and most unfairly thrust it upon officers unskilled in publicity, who struggled manfully with a task that might wellnigh have driven them to distraction. It was not until the middle of 1943 that the service settled down into a steady routine. Part of the blame rested with Headquarters. We had not appreciated the degree of specialisation and technical training required in publicity, but had thought that conscientiousness and hard work would alone be sufficient. Good work was done, and some foundation established for the future; but a thorough knowledge of all the aspects of publicity was really an essential for the appointment.

Our public relations staff, being military personnel and paid accordingly, were prevented from having the free roving commissions, with apparently inexhaustible expense accounts, of the representatives of great British or American publicity agencies. Association with these men, some of them world famous, went to the heads of a few of the members, and we had to take firm steps to bring them down to earth again.

The broadcasting unit had an unfortunate start owing to differences of opinion among the members, and took a little time to get into its stride; but thereafter it did excellent work, including the much-appreciated scheme by which men could record short messages to their families to be broadcast later over the air in New Zealand. This unit had throughout a very good liaison with its parent department in New Zealand.

The cinema unit was sometimes accused, most unfairly, of being merely a recorder of travelogues. The force operated throughout the war in photogenic areas – Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Libya, Italy – and it was part of the duty of the unit to film scenes in these areas. It fulfilled its duty of taking scenes in the field also, and could not be accused of neglecting war for peace.

Probably it is in the nature of still photographers to be less obtrusive and more subdued than their more mobile brethren. This was one part of publicity which seemed to keep out of trouble and merely got on quietly with the job.

The status of war correspondents and of the personnel of the broadcasting and cinema units was not satisfactory. They were page 126 appointed ‘with the status of lieutenants or captains’. It would have been better to give them military ranks outright – better for their work, and better for them if they were captured. The same point will be made when speaking of our welfare staff.

The official artist was taken closely under the wing of the GOC personally. The results of his work were good, and met with the commendation of the troops, the highest praise of all, but sometimes he did get away from the control of the PRO.

The NZEF Times was started in 1941 and continued till the end of 1945. From the first it was a ‘news’ paper only, and did not open its columns to correspondence, nor did it express any views on the problems of 2 NZEF – other than humorously. It tried to include a lot of news from New Zealand, and published war correspondents' articles and other matter about the happenings within the force. It was subjected to some criticism from the troops for not publishing letters to the editor and other contributions; and it must be admitted that there was a difference of opinion about the policy adopted. There was no doubt that the paper lost a bit of life thereby and gave no opening to contributions that would have come from all over the force; but when we used to read about the turmoils that were stirred up from time to time by army papers, both British and American, we were thankful that we were well out of it. ‘Fair comment’ so easily merges into indiscipline, or is unsettling to morale. It is probable that the policy we adopted was too rigid, and that it was only the difficulty of framing satisfactory rules for an alternative that led to our taking the line of least resistance.

The Archivist is discussed below on page 129.

Headquarters never looked on its handling of publicity as one of its successes. The main requirement is a thoroughly qualified Public Relations Officer; and provided that care is taken to have a suitable officer ready to step into the post, a future Headquarters will be spared many worries.

Unfortunately, as will be mentioned again in Chapter 10, we never had a satisfactory liaison with the Director of Publicity in New Zealand. We had the greatest difficulty in obtaining material from New Zealand – film scenes of the old home town and so on – and such New Zealand news as was sent us was poorly chosen and did not keep us in touch with what was happening in the homeland. Moreover – and this was most disheartening – we could never find out what use was made in New Zealand of the press, cinema, and photographic material which we sent back. We knew that the broadcasting unit's messages to next-of-kin were put on the air; but this was only learnt through subsequent letters from the next-of-kin, and not because of official advice. Taking it all in all, it was a regrettable state of affairs.

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