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279 Note of Meeting of U.K. and Dominions Representatives

Extracts LONDON, 26 September 1938, 10.15 a.m.


Malcolm MacDonald, acting for Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner for Australia C. T. te Water, High Commissioner for South Africa Vincent Massey, High Commissioner for Canada F. T. Sandford, Secretary, New Zealand High Commission J. W. Dulanty, High Commissioner for Eire The Duke of Devonshire, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs Sir Edward Harding, Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs Sir Harry Batterbee, Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Dominions Office E. G. Machtig, Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Dominions Office N. E. Archer, Dominions Office

MR MACDONALD said that the position reached was that the Czechoslovakian Government were not prepared to accept the proposals in the German memorandum [1], and the French Ministers had indicated a like attitude on their part. We did not feel that we could put any pressure on the Czech Government to accept. The Czech refusal of the German proposals 'in their present form' was unconditional. A meeting was now in progress between the United Kingdom and the French Ministers at which Mr Chamberlain [2] was exploring the possibility of his taking a fresh initiative in mediatory action.

In reply to questions from Mr Massey and Mr Bruce, MR MACDONALD said that it was hoped that the further reply promised by the Czech Government would indicate precisely what modifications that Government desired in the terms proposed in the German memorandum.

The French Government, whilst rejecting the proposals as they stood in the memorandum, were hoping that some modification of these might be possible. The French Ministers had so far given no specific replies to the inquiries addressed to them by the United Kingdom Ministers as to what the French Government meant when it said that it would fulfil its obligations towards Czechoslovakia if that country were attacked.

MR BRUCE said that he had been in telephonic communication with his Prime Minister. [3] Subject to confirmation by the Commonwealth Cabinet, the view of his Prime Minister was that the United Kingdom ought not to get involved in war on the present issue; that the United Kingdom should work for the acceptance of the proposals in the German memorandum, subject only to a clear understanding that the frontier thereby established was guaranteed by Germany and hence that any further encroachment would involve a definite moral issue. Mr Bruce desired this view to be regarded as confidential Pending its confirmation by the Commonwealth Government as a whole.

MR DULANTY said that he had not received his Government's views as to the proposals contained in the German memorandum, but that they had supported the Anglo-French plan, and he felt that they would incline to the views expressed by Mr Bruce on the memorandum.

MR TE WATER concurred. He said that he felt it imperative to find a way out, and that his Government would be most reluctant to accept the idea of a war resulting from a refusal to accept the German memorandum.

MR MASSEY also supported the views expressed by Mr Bruce. He inquired whether it would not be possible to secure Mr Roosevelt's [4] intervention. He felt strongly that this would be valuable in its effect on world opinion, even though it was not successful in influencing Herr Hitler.

The other Dominion Government representatives supported Mr Massey's proposal.

At this point information was received that Mr Roosevelt had sent communications to Herr Hitler and Dr Benes [5], and a summary of these communications was later made available to the meeting.

MR TE WATER said that he felt that the time had now come when he should express himself without reserve. He felt that every effort should be made to secure as favourable terms as possible for the Czechoslovakian Government, but that in the last resort failure to improve on the terms of the German memorandum should on no account involve the British Commonwealth in war. The terms of that memorandum might be difficult of acceptance, but such difficulty was an incomparably lesser evil than a world war. He drew attention to Mr Roosevelt's statement that force would provide no remedy and said that his Government would be in whole-hearted accord with this view. If the Germans insisted on their terms to Czechoslovakia, it was obvious that the use of force by the British Commonwealth would provide absolutely no remedy. He inquired whether it would be of assistance to the Prime Minister if he were to be furnished with an expression of the views of the Dominion Governments to this effect, adding that he felt it most important that the French Government should know that a war about Czechoslovakia was not one in which the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations would participate.

MR BRUCE did not dissent from the views expressed by Mr te Water, but felt that Mr Chamberlain should already be aware of the views of the Dominion Governments. He said that Mr Chamberlain would now learn of the attitude which was being adopted by the Commonwealth Government and would understand that the other Dominions would not be less definitely opposed to war than Australia.

MR MACDONALD said that he had already conveyed the views of the Dominion Governments to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and that he felt that it would be better to defer any further communication from the Dominion Governments until information was available as to the Prime Minister's proposed new initiative and the results of Mr Roosevelt's initiative. He suggested that information on these two points might become available after the Cabinet meeting at noon.

It was accordingly agreed to defer the question of taking this action.

[matter omitted]

The High Commissioners all indicated that if it did come to war, the Dominions would, however reluctantly, be in sooner or later on the side of the United Kingdom.

1 Not printed; see Document 274, note 2.

2 Neville Chamberlain, U.K. Prime Minister.

3 J. A. Lyons.

4 Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. President.

5 Dr Eduard Benes, President of Czechoslovakia.

[PRO : DO 114/94]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History