242 Mr P. Liesching, U.K. Acting High Commissioner to Australia, to Lord Stanley, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 165 (paraphrase) 31 August 1938,


Your secret telegram of 29th August, Circular B.203 [1] addressed to the Commonwealth Government. The Prime Minister [2] has decided, in view of the gravity of the situation as described in your telegram, to summon an urgent meeting of the Cabinet for to- morrow (1st September). He wishes to obtain its concurrence in the despatch of a telegram conveying the views of the Commonwealth Government on the situation generally, and particularly on the support which, in the event of Germany seeking a forcible solution of the Czechoslovakian problem and the United Kingdom becoming involved in war, could be expected from Australia. He is actuated by the desire that his Government should not be attacked politically on the charge of silent acquiescence in the United Kingdom policy irrespective of Australia's interests, as well as by the desire that the Commonwealth Government should, to the best of their ability, present their considered views on this contingency. He is conscious that a war involving Great Britain will, in fact, see the Commonwealth committed to active participation, but is more anxious that the views of this Government should be made clear and that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom should not overestimate the ultimate moral support obtainable here in a conflict over the Czechoslovakian issue.

The Prime Minister acceded to my request in an interview this afternoon that he should tell me his own views informally. Subject to his being able to overrule Mr Hughes' [3] much more bellicose outlook he expects them to prevail and they may be summarized rather baldly as follows:-

Begins.-The Czechoslovakian problem is not a question on which war for the British Empire can justifiably be contemplated. The question may well be asked, it is true, where one is to call a halt in the policy of preserving peace by concession, but that might have been asked even better in previous cases where aggression has been permitted to succeed. The present threat, if it should materialize, is better justified by a history of Czech repression, is not one obviously directed against British interests, and is likely to put the United Kingdom in a position where she strikes the first blow. It will be said of the United Kingdom that while other aggressors have gone unpunished, she, from motives of self-interest, only brings her force to bear in the name of international justice when Germany is the offender.

The oppression of the Roman Catholics (as a Catholic himself he holds the strongest views) and the barbarities of Germany to the Jews are horrifying, but they do not outweigh the fact that it would be a mistaken policy to treat the Sudeten issue as a casus belli heralding havoc for the British peoples. Mr Lyons is aware of the clear language used towards France (your telegram Circular B. No. 137 of 22nd May [4]), but still feels that he has reason to fear that the United Kingdom and with her the Commonwealth may awaken to find themselves involved in a war arising out of what might be viewed as a second-hand commitment via France's treaty obligations. The Labour Party here, in spite of all their open antagonism to dictator States, would, he considers, wholly share these views. -Ends.

After to-morrow's Cabinet, I shall be seeing Mr Lyons and shall telegraph again if the supplementary interpretation of any direct message sent by the Commonwealth Government seems necessary. You will realize that Mr Menzies [5] and Sir Earle Page [6] are still at sea.

1 Not printed.

2 J. A. Lyons.

3 Minister for External Affairs.

4 Not printed.

5 Attorney-General.

6 Minister for Commerce.

[PRO : DO 114/94]