207 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister

Cablegram unnumbered LONDON, 3 May 1940, 1.24 p.m.


Your telegram of 30th April [1]: Dominions Office advises as follows [2]-

'Report by British Broadcasting Corporation was based on Reuter message from Capetown, and similar report had already been broadcast from New York on previous day. As the report was very circumstantial, including reference to visit to the liner by the Governor-General of South Africa [3], British Broadcasting Corporation, who were of course not aware of the real whereabouts of the liner, broadcast it in good faith. On receipt of representations from the New Zealand Government the report was omitted from later broadcasts. The report was also published in the United Kingdom press, some of whom had received [it] from their own correspondents at Capetown.

The United Kingdom Government appreciate the importance of maintenance of the reputation for reliability of British Broadcasting Corporation news but questions of great difficulty arise. It would be possible for enemy agents to start rumours in any part of the world and note. though travels freely about the world outside the United Kingdom censorship, it is either suppressed when it comes under the control of United Kingdom censorship [4] or is not included in the broadcasts issued by the B.B.C., although otherwise published freely in the press of this country. There is little doubt of the German authorities starting rumours and making claims that are untrue in the hope that they may check their lack of knowledge by drawing a denial from the United Kingdom Government. It is generally the United Kingdom policy to prevent adding to the enemy's knowledge in this way and they consider that it would be most regrettable if they were to do, by interference by censorship or by suppression of B.B.C.

announcements, what they are careful to avoid doing explicitly by official statements or denials.

From the above it will be seen that the news had been released from Capetown and had already reached other parts of the world outside the British Empire, in particular New York, and had been re-broadcast from there before reaching London. In these circumstances there would have been no point in suppressing the news by the United Kingdom censorship as the information would already have been received by the enemy from neutral sources.

Enquiries are being made in South Africa as to the reason for allowing the despatch of this report but it is possible that the report was only released by South African censor when it was known that the information had already reached neutral countries, as it appears from another press cable which was apparently not noticed by B.B.C. or the press that the New York Herald Tribune stated the QUEEN MARY was in Capetown on 3rd April. It will be appreciated that the action of the censorship authorities in London was in no way a reversal of their policy not to release news about the arrival or departure of British ships at or from ports within the jurisdiction of allied censorship. The report in question is not the first misleading report about the whereabouts of these liners that has reached United Kingdom from a British source; in fact the press of 13th April published in [sic] Stefani reports from Rome based on telegram from Ottawa to the effect that the QUEEN MARY in Halifax to embark Canadian troops for Europe. Enquiries are being made in Canada as to the reason for the release of report but meanwhile in accordance with the principles mentioned above no attempt was made to censor the report in the United Kingdom.

Please supply copy of this correspondence to the United Kingdom High Commissioner. [5]


1 Document 189.

2 No closing quotation mark appeared in the original document.

3 Sir Patrick Duncan.

4 The first part of this sentence was mutilated in transmission.

In the original the words here reproduced in italics were underlined and marked 'as received'.

5 Sir Geoffrey Whiskard.

[FA: A3195, 1.2940]