Command organization established in the wake of the repatriation of the Officer Commanding A Company, Lieutenant Gray.

KF Wilson made this Official Information request to New Zealand Defence Force

Response to this request is long overdue. By law New Zealand Defence Force should have responded by now (details and exceptions). You can complain to the Ombudsman.

From: KF Wilson

Dear New Zealand Defence Force,

In August 1939 a special force of 2 officers and 30 ORs under the command of Lt HWS Gray were despatched from NZ to garrison Fanning Island to protect the cable station there. It was found necessary to remove Lt Gray from command after two months, and
the steamer Aorangi was diverted to the island, embarked Gray and another sick soldier in late October, and they were returned to NZ on 4 November. A relief, Capt GP O'Leary, left NZ shortly after, arriving at Fanning Is in late November.
The sole remaining officer on Fanning Is, Capt AA Lovell, was a medical officer and therefore unable to exercise military command, so it seems a non-commissioned officer must have had to have been formally placed in command while no commissioned officer able to exercise command was present.
The information I seek is the precise details of:
1. The name and rank of who was placed in command of this force, aka A Company, Fanning Island Garrison, during November 1939?
2. Was the individual awarded a field promotion in order to take command, or was command exercised as a non-commissioned officer?
3. A copy of the document (presumably a cable sent to the Cable & Wireless facility on Fanning Is) sent to the individual detailing the terms of the command to be exercised.

The background details of this incident were provided some years ago by a Private who was on Fanning Island and in A Company at the time. He asserted that an NCO took command but could not recall his name.
I have consulted the available material in the NZ Archives, notably the formal narrative compiled by Army Headquarters (DA 401-361/1), but there is no information located on the re-establishment of command consequent upon Gray's departure. As the appointment of the person to exercise command is a formal undertaking, and the duty being undertaken was delicate and on behalf the British Government, it is inconceivable that the CGS at the time was not intimately involved in the appointment, he having issued the original orders to Gray.
If there were any marked departures from normal practice in executing the change of command on this occasion, I would be grateful for any comment or contemporary appraisal by staff officers. In particular, I would value any assessment on whether this situation of an NCO executing formal command of a deployed unit on operational service was unique in NZ Army annals.
Purely as an interesting narrative, it is my intention in due course to fashion a short article for publication in the Volunteers, the journal of the NZ Military Historical Society, and I am therefore anxious to portray the incident accurately.

Yours faithfully, KF Wilson

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From: KF Wilson

Dear New Zealand Defence Force,
Have just realised I made an error in my original request when I stated that "The sole remaining officer on Fanning Is, Capt AA Lovell ...". That is incorrect. Lovell arrived in December 1939. The other officer on the island at the time Lieutenant Gray was relieved of command was Lieutenant C.W. Thomas, an Engineer.
I have also found in Conflict in Kiribati by Peter McQuarrie at p.26 that the most senior NCO listed in the Army Staff Narrative, Corporal Campbell Prentice, is listed as a Sergeant Major, and this may be germane to my request.

Yours faithfully,

KF Wilson

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From: Ministerial Services
New Zealand Defence Force

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Good afternoon Admiral Wilson,


Thank you for the update to your request.  To date, no information has
been located within readily retrievable files held by the New Zealand
Defence Force.  Subject matter experts have suggested there may be some
information of relevance within the personnel files of the individuals you
have identified.


At the moment there is a significant volume of requests for personnel
files that are being processed.  The Defence Force is in the process of
increasing the number of staff available to carry out this work, but there
exists a significant waiting period (no less than 7-8 months at the
moment) before copies of the files could be provided to you.


An alternative approach, if agreeable, may be to have the relevant files
retrieved for you to view at Trentham if you are able to travel.  Please
contact [3][NZDF request email] to confirm this approach and
the files will  be requested.


Kind regards


Corporate and Ministerial Services

OCDF, Office of Chief of Defence Force
New Zealand Defence Force





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From: KF Wilson

Dear Ministerial Services,
Thank you for the update.
1. Are you able to advise whether there is any access to the two most obvious files that may bear on the information sought from the "Sources" quoted in the Army General Staff Narrative, viz.:
a. A Coy confidential file C43/2114, and
b. A Coy general file D300/1/20.
A search on those two parameters returns no records in Archway.
2. Access to the personal files is only germane with respect to that of Corporal C. Prentice 800375 to determine if there is any record of a promotion while in command. Are you first able to advise if that file is indeed available, please? It would be some time before travel to Wellington is feasible for me, and I enquire if it would be acceptable to nominate a trusted Wellington resident to view the file on my behalf to ascertain if any such record exists?
3. Irrespective of the above actions and outcomes, will a response to the end part of my request still be able to be formulated, i.e., comment or contemporary appraisal by staff officers on:
a. That an NCO taking command of a deployed force was unique in the NZ Army, and
b. Whether the circumstances surrounding the NCO taking command (apparently by arresting the CO) represented an acceptable and legal undertaking.

Yours sincerely,

KF Wilson

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