285 Note of Meeting of U.K. and Dominions

Representatives on 27 September 1938

LONDON, 28 September 1938

PRESENT: Mr MacDonald and the Dominion High Commissioners

After last night's Cabinet, Mr MacDonald [1] saw the Dominion High Commissioners and informed them of the latest developments of the situation.

While they were waiting for Mr MacDonald to come out of the Cabinet, the High Commissioners for Canada [2], Australia [3] and South Africa [4] had been discussing the position and as a result of their discussion asked for some further talk with Mr MacDonald after the officials had left the room.

At this further talk, in which Mr Dulanty [5] joined, but not Mr Sandford [6], the High Commissioners in turn made it clear that their view was that war between Great Britain and Germany on the issues now outstanding would not be justified, and that while their Governments would probably end by coming in they would do so reluctantly and without the conviction that the war had been inevitable.

MR BRUCE and MR TE WATER strongly urged this view on behalf of their Governments and thought that the ultimate effect of the Dominions becoming involved in war under such circumstances must be most seriously to endanger the future unity and cohesion of the Commonwealth.

MR MASSEY expressed his fear that the minority of Canadians who were not favourably disposed towards the British connexion would, long after the war was over, continue to use the fact that Canada had become involved in it to reinforce their view.

MR TE WATER thought that South Africa would be most unwilling to fight on this issue and that the result of becoming involved in war would be to strengthen enormously the position of those hostile to the British connexion.

MR DULANTY took the same view.

The discussion then turned on the question of whether any useful action could, at this juncture, be taken by Dominion Prime Ministers, possibly by sending messages which the Prime Minister [7] would refer to in the course of his speech in the House of Commons, and whether such action would make it easier for the United Kingdom Government to keep out of war.

After considerable discussion, it was agreed that Mr MacDonald had done and was doing all that could be done to keep the Prime Minister informed of the Dominions' point of view, and that no further action by the Dominion Governments was possible at the moment.

MR MACDONALD said that he thought the discussion had been a most useful one. But he contested the view that, if war came, it would not be fought on a question of principle. The principle involved was negotiation versus force. He pointed out that Hitler's conduct had at times been such as to give rise to justifiable fears on the part of the United Kingdom Government that his objects were in fact wider than those he admitted in public statements. In this case the United Kingdom Government must be entitled to take the view that its vital interests were at stake.

D[EVONSHIRE] [8]

1 Malcolm MacDonald, acting for the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs.

2 Vincent Massey.

3 S. M. Bruce.

4 C. W. te Water.

5 Eireann High Commissioner in London.

6 F. T. Sandford, Secretary, New Zealand High Commission in London.

7 Neville Chamberlain.

8 The Duke of Devonshire, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs.

[PRO : DO 114/94]