Problems of 2 NZEF
After the First World War the war diaries and other records left by units had been of little help, so that historians had to start afresh to collect material. It is not suggested that war diaries provide all the material required in the compilation of a history, but they do at least provide, or should provide, some sort of foundation.
In an endeavour to improve on this situation for the future, an archivist was appointed early in 1941. Initially he was placed under the Public Relations Officer, largely for administrative reasons, but partly so that he could be put into the picture and know on what aspects of his work he should concentrate at any one time. Later in the war he was made an independent authority. His work was first to see that war diaries were kept in a proper manner, and then to collect material which might be of value to historians after the war. As part of this latter duty, he was the supervisor of unit historians; but as all we did was to exhort units to keep some sort of unit history, and as practice varied, his influence in this connection varied also. He subsequently produced a short series of provisional accounts – of the ‘popular’ variety – of the various campaigns, which had a good reception.
War History Branch has reported since the war that the Archives Branch unquestionably justified itself, but that it could with advantage have been expanded to become a proper Historical Section, with powers to collect battle narratives from units. It does seem that we were not firm enough about unit historians; but it will always be difficult to get units which are involved in the heat of battle to give any thought to possible advantages for historians in the future. The staff of a central historical section, carefully chosen as suitable for the interrogation of battle personnel who are probably very tired at the time, might have gone far to replace unit historians.