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262 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister

Cablegram 157 LONDON, n.d. [on or before 17 September 1938]


For Prime Minister In my opinion Dominions Office telegram Number B.233 [2] gives somewhat false impression of Prime Minister's [3] conversation with Hitler in that it tends to give impression that Hitler was more or less issuing an ultimatum to Prime Minister whereas conversation appears to have been, while extremely frank on both sides, of a most friendly and useful character. German position is clearly as set out in Dominions Office telegram Number 233 and there appears no doubt that decision is either to acquiesce in principle of self-determination or face almost inevitable war.

Prime Minister's view that if principle accepted Hitler will agree to reasonable conditions in its application probably right.

United Kingdom Government unanimous that principle of self- determination should be accepted. French at meeting tomorrow will be urged to accept principle also and then joint United Kingdom and French pressure would be put on Czech Government to agree.

If this programme followed in my view greatest importance attaches to how case is presented if irreparable damage is to be avoided by the action being interpreted as surrender to force and dictation by Hitler with consequent shattering blow to British prestige.

Highest hopes have been raised and admiration aroused by Prime Minister's unprecedented and courageous action. If only result is apparent complete surrender reaction would be disastrous.

In my view line taken must be somewhat down following lines: that Czechoslovakia was created after war composed of mixture of nationalities [4]; Saint Germain treaty bases and' Benes' own memorandum provided for the equitable and fair treatment for the minorities in particular German minority; that Czechs have not accorded to minorities treatment provided for in the treaty; that United Kingdom has been urging Czech Government for years to do so; that in recent months matter has come to head; that all efforts to bring about a settlement have failed; that events of recent weeks have shown impossibility of Czechs and Germans living together under conditions visualised in treaty; that time has arrived when German minority must be given opportunity of determining their own future; that unless this is done Czechoslovakia must remain a danger spot to peace of Europe; that this is a case such as was contemplated by Article 19 of the Covenant and would have been dealt with under that Article had the League of Nations functioned as its creators hoped. United Kingdom and French Governments therefore accept principle of self- determination and Prime Minister will discuss with Herr Hitler method whereby principle can best be applied.

While this attitude will be subject to a great deal of criticism, if well put and resolutely maintained it will I believe be generally approved. When one realises the alternative is almost inevitable world war, it is essential that it should be. When one remembers that Czechoslovakia is an arbitrarily created nation where majority of Czechs have not carried out conditions on which nation was created, that Sudeten Germans have undoubtedly been badly treated and that there is much to be said for the Sudeten German case, it is unthinkable that in order to preserve Czechoslovakia in its present form the world should be plunged into war.

If principle of self-determination is accepted other questions will arise for example method whereby independence of Czechoslovakia can be safeguarded.

Will cable with regard to these later. [6]


1 The copy of this cablegram retained by Bruce (See AA :

AA1970/556, item 6(2)) was dated 18 September, but the stamp on the Canberra version indicates that it was received on 17 September.

2 Document 263.

3 Neville Chamberlain.

4 Bruce's version read 'mixed nationalities'.

5 Bruce's version read 'Treaty of St Germain based on'. The St Germain Treaty, signed on 10 September 1919, provided inter alia for the incorporation of the former Austrian territories of Bohemia and Moravia into the new state of Czechoslovakia.

6 Document 267.

[AA : A981, CZECHOSLOVAKIA 18, ii]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History