535 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

LONDON, 28 June 1942

As I had received no notification of a War Cabinet meeting on Saturday evening after the Prime Minister's return from the U.S.A.

meeting to-day Sunday. Attlee said that there was not. I then said that my Government would be waiting most anxiously for a report on the Prime Minister's Mission, but as there was being no meeting I would feel compelled to cable to Australia saying that notwithstanding the Prime Minister's return there had been no meeting of the War Cabinet. This I felt would create a feeling of considerable surprise in view of the importance of the Mission and the seriousness of the position in Libya. On my saying this Attlee admitted that there had been a meeting of Ministers last night. To which I replied that that did not appear to me to be going to help the position very much as I would have to cable that there had been a meeting but that I had not been invited to attend.

This somewhat flat statement disturbed Attlee considerably and he suggested that had he not better come and see me at once. As he was out at Stanmore I did not feel that that was quite necessary but I said I would go out and see him.

I went straight out and had a long talk to Attlee when I put the position very flatly to him. I told him that when Evatt [2] had first come over here I had given him a Memorandum [3] setting out exactly what had been agreed with regard to Australia's representation in London in the exchange of telegrams between our respective Prime Ministers and also what the two Prime Ministers had said in public statements with regard to the basis of our representation.

I told Attlee that after pointing these things out in the Memorandum I set out the facts showing that actually the understanding arrived at had not been implemented. When I gave Evatt the Memorandum the day after his arrival, he had left little unsaid as to what he was going to do, vis-a-vis the British Government.

During his visit and as he had come under the spell of the Prime Minister, that attitude had changed so that when the time of his departure arrived he was quite definite that it was essential to avoid having a row with Winston. At the same time he was indicating that he wanted me to take on the job of Australia's Representative when he left.

I told Attlee that I had made it clear to Evatt that I was not prepared to take on the job unless he, Evatt, had a showdown with the Prime Minister. The lines of such showdown I suggested were with the utmost friendliness and without in any way having a row, he, Evatt, had to point out to the Prime Minister that in the past what had been arranged with regard to our representation had not been carried out, that it was essential it should be if serious trouble with the Australian Government was to be avoided and that Evatt should ask the Prime Minister for his co-operation in ensuring that the matter would be put right.

I told Attlee that Evatt had assured me that he had had that conversation with the Prime Minister, but my own impression was that the conversation was of a very mild character. I said, however, that in addition to ensuring the position of the Australian Government I had to safeguard my own position as if Evatt left this country in an atmosphere that everything had worked satisfactorily in the past and during his visit, the whole responsibility for the arrangement breaking down, if it did break down, would fall upon my shoulders and would be attributable to my incompetence. In order to avoid this situation being created I had cabled to the Prime Minister setting out exactly where the position stood and making it clear that I understood my job to be to try and put it right, if possible without friction. [4] I pointed out to Attlee that this being the basis of my taking on the appointment, if I found in fact I could not put it right, I would have no option but to say to my Government that I was not prepared to carry on. This, I suggested, would be a most unfortunate situation to arise.

I urged upon Attlee that he must see to it that I was not placed in that position and I pointed out to him that it would be much wiser for them to have me in the picture to too great an extent rather than too small. I would always be willing to treat as completely confidential anything that fell outside my particular job and to be reasonable with regard to anything that fell inside it.

I tried to put the case to Attlee strongly but without emphasising the almost blackmailing element that lies in it because the United Kingdom Government in its present position could not possibly allow me to resign on the basis that I could not get the necessary information to carry out my task. This would be such a confirmation of the one-man Government idea, quite apart from the large issue of the position of the Dominions.

Attlee was most apologetic about last night, expressed his agreement with everything I had said, and undertook to see that anything of the sort would not occur again.

On this basis I accepted the position and said I would not make an issue with my Government as a result of my not having been summoned to the meeting last night. I told Attlee, however, that at some point I would have to have the matter out with the Prime Minister himself, but in view of the atmosphere at the present moment I would leave it for the time being and take it up with the Prime Minister at a later date.

I am accordingly sending the Prime Minister a cable giving an indication of what took place at the meeting last night, which Attlee reported fully to Me. [5] My impression is that the meeting was not a very important one and they did not, in fact, get down either to a real discussion of the Prime Minister's visit to America or the present situation in Libya. A good deal of the time I gathered was taken up with considering how the censure motion in the House will be handled.


[AA:M100, JUNE 1942]

1 Winston Churchill visited the United States between 17 and 27 June to discuss strategy in Europe, the Atlantic and North Africa and the co-ordination of nuclear research.

2 Minister for External Affairs.

3 Dated 3 May. On file AA:M100, May 1942.

4 See cablegram S34 of 4 June on file AA:M100,June 1942.

5 See cablegram 92A of 28 June on the file cited in note 4.

[1], I rang Attlee up and asked him whether there was to be a