158 Sir Earle Page, Special Representative in the United Kingdom, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram P8 LONDON, 4 December 1941, 1.50 p.m.


On the receipt of Halifax's telegram, M.412 [1], after consultation with Bruce [2], I urged that Australia as being the most vitally interested Dominion in the Far East should participate in framing the reply or if that was not possible at any rate should be fully consulted before it was sent. After long argument, a compromise was struck by the proposed reply being brought down to the Defence Committee meeting where I was able to secure insertion of that part of Clause 2, Circular M.418 [3], dealing with the Netherlands East Indies, reading:- 'We note particularly the President's [4] statement that in any direct attack on ourselves or the Dutch we should all be together. We fully endorse this statement.' I urged that the cable should be briefer and simpler, that in view of the tone and the terms of the President's statement one comprehensive sentence could take the American aid for granted in the case of attack on British possessions, on the Netherlands East Indies, or on Kra Isthmus, and this would fix this point definitely in an official document. The balance of the cable in that case would be devoted to saying exactly what we propose to do in the three remaining eventualities named by the President. It is impossible however to alter the form of a cable in a meeting of twelve or fourteen. [5]

Clause 2 does make the position definite. It assumes that an actual invasion and a movement of considerable troops by water south are the same thing and suggests joint issue of a warning to Japan regarding Indo-China.

The President's suggestions regarding Thailand are met in three and four.

I took the opportunity of the presence of practically the whole War Cabinet to secure some clarification on the five points raised in your telegram 765. [6]

(1) China Cabinet thought that the proposed position should remain as it was, that America would take the lead here.

(2) Japanese attack on Thailand It was felt that the statement of America's attitude in Halifax's telegram had radically changed this issue so far as Kra Isthmus was concerned. The assurance in reply to Halifax covered the position now.

(3) Japanese attack against Russia In this the feeling of War Cabinet was that we should try and attune our attitude to that of the United States, who were certain to be engaged in any war that took place with Japan and would need to be consulted. As the action suggested by Australia depends on reciprocal aid of Russia, Cabinet did not think that the question would immediately arise as the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs [7] felt sure that Russia was not yet prepared to give such reciprocal aid especially if the Japanese attack looked to be concentrating on the South.

(4) Netherlands East Indies The last two sentences of Clause 2 which I had inserted cover the position.

(5) Portuguese Timor Eden said that an important question on the defence of this area had been raised by the Dutch which was immediately to be considered with them.


1 See Document 157, note 1.

2 High Commissioner in the United Kingdom.

3 Document 157.

4 Franklin D. Roosevelt.

5 Bruce also was dissatisfied with the reply to Halifax, describing it as 'a somewhat draughty reply to a most forthcoming attitude on the part of the President'. He had suggested that the U.K. Govt send Halifax a further cablegram instructing him to tune his presentation to the atmosphere in Washington but doubted that this would be done and hoped that R. G. Casey (Minister to the United States) might be able to persuade Halifax to take this course. See cablegram 116 of 3 December (repeated to Washington as no. 86) on file AA : M100, December 1941.

6 Document 153.

7 Anthony Eden.

[AA : A1608, A41/1/1, XXV]