266 Note by Bruce of Conversation with Attlee

[LONDON], 31 August 1943

I went and had another bout with Attlee on the subject of my position.

I asked him whether Stalin's communication had been circulated to the members of the War Cabinet. [1] On this he rather hedged, and suggested he did not think it had been. To this I replied I was quite certain it had as Bevin had certainly seen it. I said, however, that that was quite immaterial.

The point was that it was quite impossible for me to tolerate the position where a discussion took place at the Cabinet on a communication that I had never seen. I pointed out to him why such a procedure made the position impossible was that this particular matter was one of vital interest to us, and how it was handled might well involve whether we were going to get landed into a third war or not.

I then visualised to him the possibility that my government might take the gravest exception to the line the United Kingdom was following. If, however, I had been present at a discussion where the line had been agreed upon there would be a quick answer for the United Kingdom by simply saying that the Australian Accredited Representative had been present. I said, however, that it was an impossible position for me that I could not take an intelligent part in a discussion if I had not seen the document round which it was centred.

I also pointed out to him that it would have been perfectly simple for me last night to decline to take any part in the discussion, giving as my grounds that the relevant documents had not been circulated to me, with the result that I would have precipitated a first-class row.

I told Attlee frankly that I had about another month to run [2], and the only possible way I saw of evolving some reasonable method of consultation was for me to carry on until such time as there was a Prime Minister who had not the personal characteristics of the present Prime Minister. This I would be prepared to do if I could get reasonable facilities to carry on my job. If, however, I could not satisfy myself that I was getting such facilities, I would feel compelled to tell my Prime Minister that I was not prepared to carry on, and to strongly urge him not to appoint anyone else until we got a clarification of the position.

This, I stressed to Attlee, appeared to me an undesirable consummation, and it rested with him to effect an alteration that would make my position at least tolerable. If that could not be done, I saw no alternative but to precipitate a crisis.

Attlee as usual agreed with everything I said, and it was just like punching a sponge for any result that one can hope to achieve.

S.M.B.

1 Stalin had replied on 25 August to a joint message from Churchill and Roosevelt, accepting the proposal for a meeting of Foreign Ministers and the terms of the Italian surrender, and restating his desire to establish a U.S.-U.K.-Soviet military- political commission to co-ordinate negotiations with governments dissociating themselves from Germany. For further details see Sir Llewellyn Woodward, British Foreign Policy in the Second World War, HMSO, London, 1971, vol. II, pp. 576-7.

2 Bruce's appointment was subsequently extended for a further twelve months from October 1943. See Curtin's letter of 27 September on file AA:M100, September 1943.

[AA:M100, AUGUST 1943]