360 Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs, to Mr A. T. Stirling, External Affairs Officer in London

Cablegram unnumbered CANBERRA, 22 February 1942

To be decyphered by Stirling alone. To be handed by him to Sir Stafford Cripps [1] alone.

Begins 1. We are relieved and delighted at your appointment and are sure that the change will benefit the allied cause immediately.

2. I am very grateful at your message [2] and your sympathetic understanding of the difficulties we have encountered with those in the United Kingdom responsible for the higher direction of the war. They have been employing a propaganda machine in the Information Department which has made it very difficult to counter them whenever public issues have emerged.

3. Three days ago we decided that our A.I.F. veterans from the Middle East who are prevented from going to the N.E.I. to stop the southern thrust of the Japanese should return to Australia which in all the expert appreciations has been recognised as one of the two fundamental bases from which the offensive against Japan must ultimately be directed. I regret to say that in my opinion pressure of a very unconscionable character has been and is being exercised upon this government to revoke its decision. For this Churchill himself is largely responsible. Page [3] has been used to hold up the convoy and other representatives of ours have been involved. Finally Churchill has addressed a most insolent and peremptory telegram to the Prime Minister [4] which has arrived this afternoon. May I hope that you will make it your business to see it and to see our reply to it. [5] (It is numbered D.C. 233.) 4. The defences of this country are in such a state and are known to be such that any decision by our government to permit the A.I.F. to fight in Burma and India would cause upheaval. Rightly or wrongly the people feel that having given all the assistance possible to the allied cause they have been let down badly by Churchill. Indeed his message hardly conceals his own disinclination to help us. Moreover he endeavours to intimidate us by using his influence with Roosevelt to prevent the United States from sending reinforcements here for the purpose of waging war against Japan. I know of nothing more discreditable than the message. It is seriously calculated to alienate the relationship between the two Governments. It is plain that the dispute must shortly come to a head if Churchill is allowed to remain where he is and to be permitted to address this sort of document to the Prime Minister of a great Dominion.

5. I will make only two references to his cable. The citation of 'inexcusable betrayal' refers to the following: Churchill had repeatedly assured us that Singapore would be defended to the last. Our soldiers were suffering severely in Malaya where they were acting as a rearguard to stop Japanese advances. At this moment we were told that the Defence Committee in London was seriously considering the evacuation of the fortress itself. We described how this would be regarded in view of the assurances. As it was the whole campaign was shockingly conducted and the only leader who showed the slightest tendency to fight the Japanese was Bennett in charge of our division. We have lost this division and we can afford to lose nothing more or this place will be indefensible.

6. It is obvious that things cannot go on as they are. Churchill seems to have a deep hatred of labour governments and a resentment of independent judgment which make it almost impossible for us to work with him.

7. I do appeal to you in the interests of solidarity to do something quickly lest the facade of unity to which you rightly attached importance is destroyed by your own government.

8. Please also obtain through Bruce [6] cables D.O. 127, Page 28 and Page 29. [7] Bruce will help you.

EVATT

DEPT FILE MI, MINISTERPERSONAL TELEGRAMS]

1 U.K. Lord Privy Seal from 19 February.

2 Document 339.

3 Special Representative in the United Kingdom.

4 John Curtin. See Document 352.

5 See Document 357.

6 High Commissioner in the United Kingdom.

7 See Documents 336 and 345 and Document 348, note 3

[FLINDERS UNIVERSITY LIBRARY: EVATT PAPERS, ATTORNEY-GENERAL'S