377 Note by Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, of Conversation with Mr Clement Attlee, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

I saw Attlee this afternoon and told him I was very concerned at the obvious strained relations that were growing up between the United Kingdom Government and the Australian Government. [1]

I said quite frankly that Winston's attitude was one of extreme annoyance with the Australian Government and an attitude that they were taking up an impossible and unreasonable position.

I suggested that this was not the situation but that the Australian Government definitely believed that there was no true appreciation here of the importance of Australia as a base or adequate plans for reinforcing it and consequently they felt compelled to insist on the return of their own Divisions.

Attlee did not challenge my description of Winston's attitude but expressed every desire to get rid of the present friction.

I put to him that the way that could be brought about was by showing Australia that there was a real appreciation of the defence of Australia as a great base in the Pacific and the jumping off spot for a counter offensive against the Japanese when the time came.

To convince Australia of this it was necessary to show them that there was a definite plan for the reinforcement of Australia and the time and manner in which it was contemplated to carry it out.

I put it to Attlee that if accompanying the proposal for the diversion of the 7th Division to Burma there had been information of any such plan, I felt that the reply from the Government in Australia would have been very different.

Attlee quite realised this and said that there was no doubt but that the importance of Australia as a base was fully recognised and was at this moment the subject matter of an exchange of views between the Chiefs of Staff and the Chiefs of Staff Committee in Washington.

I admitted that that was probably true but I stressed the necessity for getting the machinery working more rapidly and more efficiently. I said a good deal on this subject, from none of which Attlee dissented. It is another question, however, whether he will take any action to bring about the desired result.


[AA:M100, FEBRUARY 1942]

1 Bruce reported this conversation to the Prime Minister, John Curtin, in cablegram 35[A] of 27 February (on file AA:A816, 52/302/142).

[LONDON], 26 February 1942