507 Mr A. T. Stirling, External Affairs Officer in London, to Lt Col W. R. Hodgson, Secretary of Department of External Affairs

Cablegram ET35 LONDON, 29 May 1942, 6.45 p.m.


For Hodgson for Prime Minister [1] from Evatt. [2]

Your S.L. 21. [3] Exchange of officials with Japan.

(1) Following is summary of United Kingdom reply to my representations to Attlee [4] and Eden [5] on behalf of Bowden and staff and Ross (my telegram ET.16 [6]). Begins:

When negotiations were initiated possibility of insisting on the inclusion of Malaya, Hong Kong and North Borneo carefully considered and conclusion reluctantly reached that attempt to do so would inevitably be refused by Japan and probably wreck the scheme. (This was presumably before we were consulted, see D.O.

Tel.No. 386, April 28th. [7]) This meant abandonment by United Kingdom Government of all prospect of repatriation of over 3,000 British officials and by Netherlands Government of release of their nationals in N.E.I.

At that stage Portuguese Timor was still nominally under the control of the Portuguese and the U.K. Government did not ask for its inclusion.

Course of negotiation has now reached a possibly critical stage.

Japan have the whiphand over the British Empire in view of the great disparity in numbers, and little doubt that they are prepared to use it.

Bowden. Assuming his evacuation were possible this would make him a solitary exception to all British subjects in Malaya. United States have also been unable to secure repatriation of any of their nationals in Malaya. Furthermore Bowden's present whereabouts unknown.

Ross. According to latest advice from Portuguese Government (Dominions Office telegram No. 268 May 25th [8]) guerilla fighting still proceeding in hills. Japanese therefore have no effective control of Portuguese Timor and would probably be unable, even if willing, to effect Ross's removal.

Special nature of the two cases, in view of Australian Government's undertaking and of number of Japanese in Australia, is fully appreciated. Only 52 of these Japanese however were originally in Australia.

In the light of the above felt that no attempt should be made to follow up case of Bowden but that, in a last minute hope, communication might be addressed to Japan re Ross. While request should be put to Japan as forcibly as possible it should be agreed in advance that, if Japan refuses, Commonwealth Government should be prepared to withdraw conditions attached by them to exchange and agree to it proceeding on basis at present arranged. Summary ends.

(2) I strongly dissent from above and adhere to view expressed in my telegram E.T.9. [9] I think arguments are trifling and specious. I am opposed to returning to Japan the Japanese internees and think we would be blamed by public for taking so great a risk to our security. Australia has whiphand over Japan, and we should be prepared to use it in order to keep faith with Bowden and Ross.

I suggest matter might be allowed to wait until I can consult you and explain personally my impressions gained here of the problem.

1 John Curtin.

2 minister for External Affairs.

3 Dispatched 16 May. On file AA:A981, Consuls 13, i It asked Evatt to submit to the U.K. Dominions Office that (i) the number of Japanese proposed to be repatriated from Australia would far outweigh the number of Australians to be repatriated from Japan;

(ii) despite repeated inquiries, no information had been received from the Japanese Govt about V. G. Bowden, formerly Official Representative in Singapore, and his staff (see Document 333, note 1); and (iii) the Commonwealth Govt would not agree to the proposed exchange unless Bowden and David Ross, formerly Consul in Dili (see Document 337, note 5), were included.

4 U.K. Dominions Secretary.

5 U.K. Foreign Secretary.

6 Dispatched 19 May (On file AA: A4764, 2). It reported that Evatt had taken up with the U.K. Dominions Office the points raised in the cablegram cited in note 3.

7 On the file cited in note 3.

8 Oil file AA: A981, War 72.

9 Document 488.

[AA:A981, CONSULS 13, i]