479 Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister, to Mr A. T. Stirling, External Affairs Officer in London

Cablegram SL8 CANBERRA, 3 May 1942


For Evatt [1] from Curtin.

1. Political situation in New Caledonia has been unstable during last six months and has now reached crisis due to recall of Sautot [2] by de Gaulle. [3]

2. In August 1941 Commonwealth Government made strong representations to Free French Headquarters through High Commissioner [4] against appointment of d'Argenlieu [5], stating that such appointment from outside over head of popular and tried administrator did not contribute to political stability which was our objective. Please see especially 4339 of 9th August, 1941.

3. Ballard [6] now in Australia and his reports both telegraphic and verbal indicate growing tension due to arbitrary methods, high-handed action and extravagance of d'Argenlieu Mission.

Further he has been most uncooperative with his Allies. We had to appeal direct to de Gaulle on question of construction of aerodromes [7], and his relations with American Commander General Patch are reported by new American Attache Australia [8] to be unsatisfactory as regards co-operation and mutual collaboration.

The trouble has now come to head.

4. We have received following telegram from Australian Air Liaison Officer, Noumea [9]:

Begins: As all other telegraph services are under d'Argenlieu's control New Caledonia delegation are anxious following telegram be despatched to General de Gaulle immediately:

Quote: General de Gaulle, London. As it is impossible to communicate with you direct owing to strict political surveillance we are obliged to turn to our Allies. The recall of Governor Sautot has caused intense feeling throughout the whole island. We are all convinced that you have been very much misinformed and badly advised. On behalf of 90 per cent of the population and unanimous decision of the Administrative Council of New Caledonia we beg you to withdraw your decision and instead to recall immediately the Mission de Gaulle whose rapid departure is demanded by people of New Caledonia. It is our duty to warn you that if the present decision rests grave disorder will break out and that the Mission will be expelled by force causing great scandal which we are trying to avoid. We beg you to believe that we speak on behalf of the whole population with the exception Mission de Gaulle. We remain faithful to the Governor named by you in September 1940 and to yourself. Signatures Pierre Berges, President Administrative Council; Mouledous, Vice President Administrative Council; Captain Dubois, Chief [of] Militia, Cross of Liberation; Pognon, Cross of Liberation; Massoubre, Mayor of Noumea. Unquote.

Captain Dubois, Commanding Officer Free French Military, interviewed d'Argenlieu today and as spokesman for New Caledonia demanded d'Argenlieu and his Mission leave the country immediately. D'Argenlieu broke down and cried. Local population are absolutely determined that Mission must go. Country people bringing arms into Noumea but demonstration outside Sautot's residence this morning quite orderly. Ends.

5. Following has also been received from Australian Official Representative's Office, Noumea:

Begins: On receipt of instructions Sautot sent a telegram to General de Gaulle accepting the decision. However, he later changed his attitude and yesterday handed High Commissioner a second for transmission to de Gaulle stating that in view of New Caledonia's desire for him to remain he cannot consent to leave.

Further developments seem unlikely before receipt of reply to this message. Meanwhile Sautot appears determined to stay in any event;

it is difficult to estimate the strength of support on which he could count in the event of an actual conflict with the High Commissioner, but the latter is more unpopular than ever, and I believe Sautot's supporters are contacting the country population.


6. We dislike taking sides in a Free French dispute but it is obvious some action must be taken to remedy position and maintain unity at present juncture.

For this reason feel that we should submit telegram to de Gaulle as requested. [10]

1 Minister for External Affairs (in London).

2 Free French Governor of New Caledonia since September 1940, whose recall to Free French headquarters in London was announced on 29 April.

3 President of the Free French National Committee.

4 S. M. Bruce. See Documents 36 (cablegram 4339) and 48.

5 Free French High Commissioner for the Pacific.

6 Official Representative in New Caledonia.

7 See cablegram 770 of 5 December 1941 on file AA:A981, Pacific II.

8 This is probably a reference to Colonel Karl F. Baldwin, who took up duty as U.S. Military Attache in Australia in April.

9 Flight Lt E. McColl.

10 Bruce and Stirling discussed this cablegram with U.K. Dominions Office officials on 5 May, when it was agreed that the U.K.

Foreign Office should draft a communication to the Free French authorities (see note on file AA:A2937, New Caledonia). De Gaulle, however, had already confirmed the recall of Sautot and on 5 May the latter was compelled to board a ship for New Zealand to begin his journey to London. See file AA:A981, New Caledonia 1, ix.

[AA:A981, NEW CALEDONIA 1, ix]