48 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, to Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister

Cablegram 14 LONDON, 22 August 1941, 6.58 p.m.


Your telegrams 4339 and 4[4]31. [1] Your views were brought at once to the notice of the United Kingdom Government and I have now received the following reply:-

'Concern expressed by Government of Australia about the effect on Sautot [2] and New Caledonia of the appointment of Commandant d'Argenlieu as High Commissioner has been shared in London and the matter has been discussed at length with the Free French Headquarters. D'Argenlieu has now been officially gazetted on direct orders of General de Gaulle [3] who is at present in Syria and Sautot has been advised so that there is no possibility at this date of reversing the position.

On the other hand it is certain that General de Gaulle has not been influenced by either Bayardelle [4] or Brunot [5] and one of d'Argenlieu's first duties will be to clear up contention in Tahiti. On present information there is no intention of leaving Brunet there.

General de Gaulle's main preoccupation is military. He is greatly concerned [by] [6] developments in the Far East and d'Argenlieu's chief function will be to organize defences of the Island in close collaboration with the Dominion Authorities concerned. As a distinguished naval officer he has particular qualifications for this task and is taking with him some twenty Free French Officers to assist him. He is a co-member with Sautot on the Council of Defence and enjoys high prestige in Free French movement; he is also a senior member of the Carmelite Order.

Free French Headquarters are satisfied that relations between him and Sautot cannot but be of the friendliest. De Gaulle has been at special pains to spare Sautot's feelings. He maintains him as a member of the Council of Defence and has decorated him with the Cross of Liberation. French believe that d'Argenlieu and Sautot will agree on some division of responsibility which will be mutually satisfactory.

The United Kingdom Government were glad to learn from the Commonwealth Government's telegram 4431 of 14th August that Sautot has been reassured by telegram from d'Argenlieu. They understand however that he proposes to establish his headquarters at Noumea and the suggestion in the last paragraph of Commonwealth Government's telegram is being conveyed to Free French Headquarters.' I had myself watched the activities both of Brunot and Bayardelle with some misgiving and had suspected that Bayardelle might be planning intrigues against Sautot. You will have seen from External Affairs Department telegram 489 of 1st July [7] that Bayardelle had apparently got on the right side of Pleven [8], Cassin [9] and Muselier. [10] You will see, however, from United Kingdom reply that they are emphatic that de Gaulle has not been influenced by either Bayardelle or Brunet.

I agree entirely with your view about the undesirability of the appointment of high officials from outside. D'Argenlieu has no knowledge of Pacific and his experience of French colonies has been mainly in the West Indies.

At the same time I believe that success of his mission to French Canadians suggests that d'Argenlieu will be able to adapt himself to Frenchmen of a very different type from those of republican France. As you know French Canadians, after the collapse of France, lost one of their main interests in the war and their sympathies have been pro-Petain [11] rather than pro-de Gaulle.

The United Kingdom High Commissioner in Canada [12] confirms the tact with which d'Argenlieu handled his mission and the success with which it was attended despite the fact that he had no backing from either the Canadian Government or the United Kingdom High Commissioner.

Massey [13] bears this out.

I am encouraged to think that d'Argenlieu may be successful in New Caledonia by reason of the fact that he is reputed to have kept aloof from French politics and furthermore because he appears to be in no way a careerist. The view held in some quarters here is that the appointment is a mistake on the ground, which is not without substance, that de Gaulle has too few men of d'Argenlieu type around him in London.

I think it might be a good idea if d'Argenlieu were to pay a visit to Australia at an early stage, and you might consider the desirability of telegraphing the United Kingdom down these lines.


1 Corrected from the London copy on file AA:A2937, Free France.

Cablegram 4339 is published as Document 36. Cablegram 4431 (dispatched 13 August) is on file AA:A1608, D41/1/9, iv 2 Free French Governor of New Caledonia.

3 Leader of the Free French movement.

4 Secretary-General of the Free French administration in New Caledonia until March 1941 5 In charge of the Free French administration in Tahiti.

6 Corrected from the London copy on file AA:A2937, Free France.

7 On the file cited in note 6.

8 Rene Pleven, who was then on a mission to the United States on behalf of the Free French movement.

9 Legal adviser to de Gaulle.

10 Commander-in-Chief of Free French naval forces.

11 French Head of State.

12 Malcolm MacDonald.

13 Canadian High Commissioner in the United Kingdom.