272 Note of Meeting of U.K. and Dominions Representatives

Extracts LONDON, 23 September 1938, 12 noon

MOST SECRET

PRESENT

Malcolm MacDonald, acting for Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner for Australia C. T. te Water, High Commissioner for South Africa Vincent Massey, High Commissioner for Canada F. T. Sandford, Secretary, New Zealand High Commission J. W. Dulanty, High Commissioner for Eire The Duke of Devonshire, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs Sir Edward Harding, Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs E. G. Machtig, Assistant Under-Secretary, Dominions Office C. W. Dixon, Assistant Secretary, Dominions Office

MR MACDONALD explained the situation as it had been left after the conversation on the previous day between the Prime Minister [1] and Herr Hitler. He expressed the view that the issue raised by Herr Hitler's insistence upon the occupation of the Sudeten-land by German troops would be regarded by public opinion in the United Kingdom as one of critical importance on three grounds.

(1) Such an occupation constituted a most serious departure from the Anglo-French plan which presupposed a period of peace during which those inhabitants of the Sudeten-land who desired to leave for some other part of Czechoslovakia would be free to do so. In the event of an occupation, this would probably prove impracticable and there would be no confidence of safety for such persons remaining in the Sudeten-land having regard to what had happened in the case of previous Getman occupations of territory, e.g., Austria.

(2) In their proposals in regard to the cession of the Sudeten areas, the United Kingdom Government were endeavouring to bring about a territorial change by peaceful means. Forcible occupation of these areas by Germany would be a challenge to the whole principle of peaceful negotiations, which had been accepted by the Czechoslovak Government as well as by the United Kingdom and French Governments.

(3) Such forcible occupation would seem to be a clear indication that Herr Hitler was not content, as he had suggested at his previous talk with the Prime Minister that he would be content, with the incorporation of the Sudeten Germans in the Reich, but that he intended by forcible means to secure something more than what he had said was his aim.

Considerable discussion of the situation took place and the views expressed by Dominion Representatives in the course of the discussion may be summarized as follows.

[matter omitted]

MR BRUCE expressed the view that, if there were to be any hope of securing for action by the United Kingdom Government, whatever that action were, the support of public opinion in this country and in the Dominions and also the support of foreign countries, it would be necessary that the United Kingdom Government should take their stand on the basis of principle. In their proposals as to the cession of the Sudeten areas, they had already done so; this was a great and generous gesture on behalf of the principle of self-determination. Now the situation was one involving the principle of force as against negotiation as a method of settling international questions. If the United Kingdom Government were to take their stand upon this principle and were able to establish that what was at stake was this principle, then they might expect the support of public opinion and of foreign countries. If, however, they failed to do so, there was a serious risk that on a future occasion when it was desired to make a stand against German aggression, no support from foreign countries would be forthcoming.

[matter omitted]

MR MACDONALD shared Mr Bruce's view, but pointed out that this, of course, did not preclude the possibility of some compromise-which did not infringe the principle involved-such as the establishment of an international force, in which Germans would be included, for the maintenance of order in the transition period. The Prime Minister's messages clearly indicated that he was ready to consider some compromise on method.

1 Neville Chamberlain.
[PRO : DO 114/94]