205 Attlee to Chifley

Cablegram 355 LONDON, 9 November 1946, 6.35 p.m.


I am sure that you would wish to know at once that we have come to the inescapable conclusion that it is necessary for us to have a permanent scheme of compulsory national service for men. You will, of course, be hearing full details in due course, but the main features of the scheme are- I. That it is to include every able-bodied man, regardless of class, trade or occupation.

II. That the term of embodied service is to be 11/2 years and that thereafter every man is liable to 51/2 years service in the Auxiliary Forces, i.e., a total of 7 years service in all.

III. That it is to be introduced on 1st January, 1949, to date to which our present compulsory service scheme would remain in operation.

2. You will realise that the economic, industrial and financial implications of this decision are very grave. In the economic field for example, it is quite clear that the maintenance of forces of the size we contemplate under the scheme will make heavy inroads on man-power, which would otherwise be employed in helping to restore the economic life of the country. On present forecasts it looks as if the gap between availability and requirements in men for all our purposes will be very wide indeed and we can hardly see how it can be bridged. Similarly, in the financial field, we calculate that the maintenance of our forces under the scheme will cost about 750 millions a year. When compared with our average pre-war expenditure on defence which was not much more than 100 millions a year you will realise what this means.

3. You will remember that during the Conference of Dominion Prime Ministers last April and May, a paper was circulated (P.M.M.(46)3) [1], summarising the military commitments of the United Kingdom and the economic and financial implications of the drastic measures that it had been necessary to take in order to fulfil them. It seemed clear from the discussion on this paper that you were much impressed by the burden which this country is bearing in the field of defence and you agreed to consult your Ministers and technical advisers as to how you could help. We await your views on this point with the utmost interest.

4. You will remember also that a paper by the British Chiefs of Staff (P.M.M.(46)20) on the machinery for inter-Commonwealth collaboration in defence matters was discussed at considerable length during the Conference (see in particular, the minutes of P.M.M.(46) 10th Meeting of 2nd May). There was general acceptance of the broad principles at issue, and all the Dominion Ministers who were present at this meeting agreed to discuss the matter with their ministerial colleagues and technical advisers on their return to their respective countries. We have not yet heard anything further from you on this matter and I need hardly say that we are most anxious to have your views.

5. I am sending a similar message to other Prime Ministers.

1 Actually P.M.M.(46)31. See Volume IX, Document 265.

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