218 Note by Bruce of Conversation with Churchill

[LONDON], 10 June 1943

I had about three quarters of an hour with the Prime Minister. I told him the reason I had wanted to see him was mainly personal but that it had wider repercussions which justified my taking up his time.

I then told him that my time was very nearly run out [1] and as it was possible my Prime Minister might ask me to continue there were two specific questions I wanted to clear up with him before making up my mind whether I would agree to go on. The first question was whether he had any personal dislike to me; and the second was whether he felt any resentment or antagonism because of the Note I had sent to him with regard to the War Cabinet, in August last.

[2]

With regard to the first question the Prime Minister was almost overwhelming in his assurances of his regard for me personally and he referred to the fact of the many years we had known one another.

With regard to the second he said 'Oh! that is the Memorandum in which you said I was a very good Prime Minister for the emotional period of the war'. This was somewhat of a travesty of what I had said in the Memorandum but it showed quite clearly that he had it in his mind and that it had caused him some feeling. He said, however, that he had no resentment or antagonism towards me with regard to the Note I had sent him-that he disagreed with it entirely and then started on a dissertation justifying the way in which he ran his Government.

I rather interrupted this on the basis that the question was really not whether I was right or talking nonsense, the matter was one as to the Prime Minister's attitude towards me, because of what I had said. I then told the Prime Minister that I had realised that he would be in complete disagreement with what I had said and I rather expected him to send for me and ask me what the hell I thought I was talking about and that in any event it was none of my business how he ran his Government. This, however, he had not done and I had really heard nothing with regard to the matter which had left the impression on my mind that possibly he was resentful of my action.

The Prime Minister said that he had thought of replying to my letter but had come to the conclusion that it was better not to do so but he hoped that it had been acknowledged. [3] He then proceeded to say that it was unthinkable that I should not continue and, using his pet word agreeable, he said that if there was any question of my not going on, and it would be agreeable to me, he would desire to cable to my Prime Minister. He then proceeded to say why he would be so opposed to my going, down the lines that I had been in this job for some time; that I had been fully taken into their confidence; that I knew everything that was going on, and it would be most unfortunate if anyone else were substituted for me.

The strange thing about the Prime Minister is that I think he quite sincerely believes that I have been given all the information possible and been taken fully into their confidence.

On this aspect of the question I told the Prime Minister I was sure that there would be no necessity for him to intervene in the matter, but what I really wanted to clear up was that there was no personal dislike or antagonism towards me on his part. This he assured me was the position and was most friendly.

I then referred back to the Note I had sent him in August last, and said I wanted to make clear to him exactly what my position was with regard to that Note. I said that I had sent it to him first because I believed the way one could be most helpful was by saying exactly what one thought, even if one recognised that what one was saying would not be very acceptable. I pointed out, however, that there was a second and possibly a more important reason and that was that my primary loyalty was to my own Prime Minister to whom, holding the views I did, it was quite inevitable I would from time to time have to send communications which would be a reflection upon the way the War Cabinet was being run. To do this behind his, the Prime Minister's, back without ever having said anything to him directly would, in my view, have been the blackest treachery and it was because of that I had felt impelled to send him my Note.

This was clearly a new thought to the Prime Minister and one which had not previously struck him. It clearly made an impression upon him and I think cleared the atmosphere to the point that it left in his mind the impression that even if at times I was a little difficult and awkward, I was at least reasonably decent and could be expected to so behave.

The Prime Minister then again reverted to Evatt's visit and said that while he was here he would sit in the War Cabinet, but added that he felt it was most desirable that I should also attend the War Cabinet meetings so as to maintain the continuity of representation. How far this will be acceptable to Evatt remains to be seen.

The Prime Minister also referred to the importance of the Monday night Cabinet meetings, and I believe he is honestly under the delusion that they are very important and the right to attend them means that one is being taken completely into the Government's confidence.

I did not feel it worth while challenging this view. He then made a general reference to the question of Australia's representation in the War Cabinet and pointed out that neither Smuts nor Mackenzie King had desired to pursue the same course and added that in any event the necessity for it had been lessened by the departure of the Australian troops from the Middle East and the removal of the immediate danger of invasion from Australia. This I challenged and said I would never accept that view as it seemed to me to be a complete misconception of the relations between this country and the Dominions.

At this stage the argument looked like becoming a little hectic, but the incident passed over by my maintaining my attitude as to the actual position of a Dominion Representative in the War Cabinet. This part of the conversation, however, demonstrated once more that the Prime Minister has no conception of the new relationships between the different parts of the Empire.

I then put to the Prime Minister two points with regard to my position if I were to continue as Australia's Accredited Representative. I told him that while I thought Bridges tried to be helpful, the general attitude seemed to be that nothing should be sent to me which was distributed to the War Cabinet unless there was a very good and special reason for sending it. I urged that the very reverse should be the attitude and that everything that was distributed to the War Cabinet should be sent to me unless there was some very good reason why it should not.

To this the Prime Minister went into one of his usual dissertations on the subject of the necessity of confining the running of a war to the fewest number of people and stressed that about once a month he had to send a special note round in order to ensure that distribution of secret and confidential documents was kept to the smallest number possible.

This matter was left on the basis that the Prime Minister would have a word with Bridges. The next point I raised was the question of my sending Notes from time to time on particular subjects where I had any thoughts which seemed to me worth while the Prime Minister considering. He said he would welcome such notes and that [they] would be most carefully considered and he suggested that anything I had sent in the past had received such consideration.

With this I told him I entirely agreed, but it seemed to me it was all being dealt with on too formal a basis. What I wanted was to have an understanding with him that I could send him any thoughts I had and that after looking at them he would either send me a Note saying they were damn nonsense or would ask me to come and have a talk with him. He immediately proceeded to say that he would never think of doing the first of those things, to which I replied that I wished to heaven he would.

The final point I got on to was the question of his seeing me, and I think he had a certain guilty conscience on this subject that there was something in what I was saying.

I pointed out to him that although I had been the Australian Representative of the War Cabinet for nearly 12 months he had never on any occasion of his own volition sent for me. I suggested that that was very nearly insulting to me, in view of the position I was supposed to hold. His reply was that he saw very few people, instanced that probably he did not see a fifth of the number of people that the President saw, and stressed that he did nearly all his work by dictated notes. I replied that I quite appreciated how heavily pressed he was, but that after all from time to time he did see a number of people and all I was suggesting was that occasionally he might send for me. This, as I indicated above, I felt he regarded as being rather a point he had overlooked.

The conversation also covered some aspects of the war situation but they were not very material as I managed to steer him off every time he started off down this line.

We also had some conversation with regard to Evatt's gift of the Duckbill Platypus, upon which the Prime Minister was quite humorous and left the impression on my mind that he regarded Evatt's great gesture of sending the Platypus as sheer nonsense.

[4]

The conversation was quite cordial throughout and I think has done a good deal to clear the air.

S.M.B.

1 Bruce's appointment as High Commissioner was due to expire in October.

2 While Bruce had sent Churchill a note in August (see Documents 14 and 15), he is here referring to a note written and forwarded to Churchill in September (see Document 52, First Enclosure).

3 See Document 55.

4 The platypus was dispatched from Australia in September 1943 but died on the voyage to England. Churchill subsequently asked Evatt if the Royal College of Surgeons could have the animal stuffed to replace a specimen lost in the blitz on London. See Evatt's cablegram 252 of 25 October (FA:A3196, 1943, 0.29331) and Churchill's cablegram 357 of 22 November (on file AA:A989, 43/300/4/3).

[AA:M100, JUNE 1943]