250 Memorandum by Department of External Affairs

Extract 13 January 1941



[matter omitted]

Free French Movement in Australia 43. In Australia, while, in accordance with the wishes of the French Government that its diplomatic and consular relations with the British Dominions should be retained, the Commonwealth Government has continued to recognise the French Consulates, it has openly co-operated with M. Brenac, General de Gaulle's appointee as leader of the Free French Movement. It is true that, in view of the continued recognition of the French Consulates in Australia, it has not been possible for the Commonwealth Government to grant any form of official recognition to M. Brenac, but at the same time close contact has been maintained with him and the Movement. The position in Australia in this respect differs from that which obtains in Canada where the situation has remained ambiguous. The French Ministern [1] is still in Ottawa, but a nation-wide organisation, formed by General de Gaulle in the Dominion soon after the collapse of France, is also in existence.

This organisation, however, does not appear to have received any encouragement or 'unofficial' recognition as yet from the Dominion Government, nor is anything known of any active steps being taken for the recruitment of volunteers for General de Gaulle.

44. From the foregoing summary, it will be seen that the attitude of the Commonwealth Government towards New Caledonia and the Free French Movement in general has been largely dictated by practical necessities. For the political and economic reasons already mentioned, there has been no alternative to a policy of co- operation with and assistance to New Caledonia. So far as the French Government is concerned, the action taken by the Commonwealth Government in relation to New Caledonia cannot be regarded as inimical to its interests. On the contrary our policy is calculated in the long run to preserve the integrity of French possessions in the Pacific with a view to the eventual restoration of the French Empire.

CONCLUSIONS 45. Even so, the degree of association between the French National Committee and the United Kingdom, Australian and New Zealand Governments represents a substantial incursion into the jurisdiction of the French Government. The accusation made in July by the Vichy Government that we were interfering with French overseas possessions can be refuted on the simple grounds that in each case in which a territory has gone over to de Gaulle it has been in accordance with the will of the local population. As against this can be set the undertaking given by the United Kingdom Government of naval assistance in the defence, even against Vichy, of all French Colonies which adhere to de Gaulle, together, of course, with the various financial subsidies and other forms of economic help which are already in operation.

46. The fact must be faced that in proceeding to these lengths on the one hand and in being compelled by force of circumstances on the other to continue to recognise the local representatives of Vichy, British policy has brought about an anomalous, and in the long run untenable, situation. From this there seem to be only two ways of escape:

(a) By breaking entirely with Vichy; or (b) By so conducting relations both with de Gaulle and with Vichy as in due course to restore something of French unity, although this would necessarily fall short for a long time to come of renewed participation in the war of the French as a whole.

47. Alternative (a) is not in question and at no time has it been, except as a possible consequence of the actions of the Vichy Government itself. On the other hand it does not seem that (b) has yet been clearly envisaged. Co-operation with de Gaulle has been accompanied by a genuine endeavour on the part of the United Kingdom Government to improve relations with Vichy, but the two objectives have so far been unrelated. It is a matter for consideration now whether events have not moved far enough to warrant some attempt to co-ordinate the two aims. If the actual assistance we are likely to get in the prosecution of the war from the Free French is weighed against the long term advantages of at least the benevolence of Metropolitan France, French North Africa, Syria and Indo-China, there can be little doubt which will count the more heavily. Certainly the first is not worth pursuing at the expense of the second.

1 Rene Ristelhueber.

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