NZ6 NZ Infantry, Egypt WWII
On 3 September 1939, the New Zealand government declared war on Germany, and on 6 September authorised the mobilisation of a force of 6,600 volunteers for active service. By 5 October enlistment totalled 14,983 and the New Zealand government could offer Britain a complete infantry division in three echelons of 6,600 each to serve in the middle east. General Bernard Freyberg was selected to command this second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF).
In Egypt, the divisions' training camp was at El Maadi, close to the training grounds of New Zealanders in the previous world war. While some transport and signals elements did take part in General Wavell’s first Libyan campaign in December 1940, it wasn’t until April 1941 that the NZ division as a whole engaged the enemy.
The Greece campaign rapidly degenerated into a rearguard action in the mountain passes of Olympus and Serbia, and then to an evacuation. Worse was to follow, for the remnants of the division were sent to help defend the island of Crete from the greatest airborne invasion in history. New Zealander Charles Upham won the first of his two Victoria Crosses during the battle for Crete, which was over in a week. The total casualties were more than half the division’s Crete force.
These bitter defeats were soon to be followed by the divisions major successes in the campaigns of North Africa and Italy. Many family homes in New Zealand display mementos of the NZ Divisions' time in the middle east, and the Imperial set portrays men of the division as on parade in Egypt. They wear the 'lemon squeezer' hat, 1937 web equipment and short trousers for desert warfare.