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132 Bruce to Curtin

Letter LONDON, 5 March 1943

Now that some 9 months have passed since I became the Accredited Representative of the Australian Government to the United Kingdom War Cabinet I feel I should send you a report of the developments over that period.

My starting point must be to examine what was the intention when you entered into your arrangement with Mr. Churchill in January 1942. [1] I will not burden this letter by setting out in detail this back history but I enclose herewith a Note which I have had prepared [2], which gives the story from the time when Sir Earle Page first initiated the discussions, up to the beginning of August last.

At that date the position was that while difficulties had been encountered it was felt that it should be possible to give effect to the original intention and I was entrusted with the task of finding ways and means of so doing, This I have endeavoured to do during the intervening period and the broad conclusions I have reached are- 1. That Australian representation to the War Cabinet cannot be implemented in the specific manner visualised at the time when the agreement was entered into, nevertheless, 2. That in practice we are working on a basis that achieves the objective we had in mind, namely, that the Australian Government should be adequately informed of all essential facts, developments, and trends of policy, and should have an opportunity of exercising an influence upon decisions taken.

In this letter I propose to give you the reasons which have led me to these conclusions.

The conception in Page's mind when he made his recommendations to you was that Australia's Accredited Representative should be in fact, even if not so officially declared, in the same position in the War Cabinet as a United Kingdom Member. [3]

There have, however, proved in practice to be difficulties in the way of giving effect to this conception. These difficulties arise from two main causes- (A.) The personality of Mr. Churchill, and (B.) The fact that the War Cabinet is not a War Cabinet except in name.

With regard to (A)-Mr. Churchill in his own person combines the most remarkable qualities of drive, initiative and leadership together with an intense individualism which makes it impossible for him to work with, and utilise, the Members of the War Cabinet in the way for example that Mr. Lloyd George [4] did. The result is that while Mr. Churchill is to an unexampled extent the leader of the nation in war, his relations with the War Cabinet are such as to be almost unconstitutional. Great decisions are taken and arrangements are made, e.g. with the President of the United States of America, without the Members of the War Cabinet being informed until after the event.

The Prime Minister's colleagues, however, realise how great he is as a war time leader, and that it is impossible to expect a heavily burdened man of 68 to make fundamental changes in his methods. They have accordingly, with one notable exception, i.e.

Sir Stafford Cripps, acquiesced in the position as it is, although all of them, I think, find themselves from time to time considerably embarrassed by the anomalous position in which they are placed by having to accept responsibility for decisions in regard to which they have had no reasonable opportunity of expressing their views.

With these embarrassments I have some sympathy.

The decisions taken by the Prime Minister, however, are mainly concerned with the strategy and operations of the war. In these questions he has an intense interest, besides possessing wide imagination, great initiative, and unsurpassed drive.

In the conduct of the war the great thing is to get on with the job. This the Prime Minister is doing and his colleagues must acquiesce in his working by methods which are the only ones that enable him to give the best that is in him.

While the Prime Minister does not use his War Cabinet in the accepted manner in regard to questions concerning strategy and operations this does not mean a purely one-man direction of the war. He utilises the Service instrumentalities, i.e. the Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Planners, etc. While he uses his great personality to influence their recommendations and appreciations in the direction in which his own mind is working he does not dominate them to the extent that many people believe.

As the war has gone on these Service instrumentalities have exercised an increasing influence and have been able, particularly the Joint Planners, to blend their hard realism with the imaginative genius of the Prime Minister.

With regard to the difficulties which individual Members of the War Cabinet experience in ensuring adequate consideration and the formulation of definite policies in connection with matters they regard as of great importance I have less sympathy.

While the Prime Minister's mind is mainly concerned with the actual conduct of the war and he is impatient with regard to other matters, I am convinced that his interest and support can be aroused if he is approached in the right way.

Unfortunately none of his Colleagues in the War Cabinet appear to possess the necessary force or personality to do this although Morrison, who recently joined the War Cabinet, is showing distinct signs that he may have the necessary qualities.

This point of the inadequacy of the Members of the War Cabinet is one of considerable importance to us.

It means that matters of vital concern to Australia, e.g. Post-war problems, do not receive the consideration they should.

It may well be that on such questions the Dominions will have to exercise their influence to a greater extent than they have in the past.

In some respects my position is almost more difficult than that of a United Kingdom Member of the War Cabinet. I am responsible to you, and through you to Australia, for seeing that the Commonwealth War Cabinet is fully informed with regard to all matters of major importance and that Australia is able to exercise an influence upon decisions that are taken. This has, from time to time, necessitated my being somewhat insistent in expressing views and demanding information. This insistence has at times, I am afraid, irritated the Prime Minister, over-burdened as he is, and having, as I believe he has, a certain resentment in his mind that one of the Dominions should have insisted upon being accorded a position different from that of the other Dominions in connection with the conduct of the war.

These irritations have, however, been smoothed out when we have had an opportunity of meeting and of frank discussion. One point, however, with regard to myself is, I think, still rankling with the Prime Minister, and I feel I should advise you of it.

After I had had a long talk with him on the 21st September last [5], which ended on a most admirable note, I wrote him a letter on the 25th September. With this letter I enclosed a Note setting out some apprehensions I had felt with regard to the way the War Cabinet was functioning. [6] I have since had reason to believe that the Prime Minister was considerably annoyed at the contents of this Note which he regarded as a criticism upon his leadership.

It was nothing of the kind but was merely a statement of the position as I saw it and which was sent solely, as I said in my letter, with a view to being helpful. What I actually said in my letter was- 'I am hopeful that in our conversation on Monday night I convinced you that my one desire is to render you all the assistance in my power. That I believe I can best do by the most complete frankness. In that belief I am enclosing a Note which I made some three weeks ago. I would have hesitated, prior to our conversation, to have sent you this Note in the form in which I originally dictated it lest it might have given you a wrong impression of my attitude towards yourself Now I have no such apprehension however little you may agree with the views I express.' When I sent the Note to the Prime Minister I realised that there was a risk that, with his strong sensitiveness to what he considers to be criticism, it might cause annoyance. I felt, however, that as I had an obligation to you to keep you advised of the position here as I saw it, it would have been most treacherous of me to be communicating with you setting out the defects I saw in the way the War Cabinet was functioning without having told the Prime Minister what was in my mind.

I would like to send you a copy of my letter and the Note which I sent to the Prime Minister, but, as it was an entirely personal communication sent on the basis of a friendship extending over a great number of years, I do not feel I should do so without obtaining the Prime Minister's consent.

While I have felt that I should advise you of this personal incident it does not materially affect the point I am making. That point is that after my experience of the past 9 months I am convinced that it is impossible to bring about a position whereby Australia's Accredited Representative, no matter who he might be, with the exception of you yourself, as Prime Minister, would be accorded a position in the War Cabinet equivalent to that of the United Kingdom Members. Even if he were, this, in view of the manner in which the War Cabinet functions, would not meet Australia's requirements of full information and an opportunity of influencing decisions.

With regard to (B) the fact that the War Cabinet is not in any sense an Imperial War Cabinet, but is the United Kingdom Cabinet dealing with all questions of policy whether directly concerned with the war or not, is one which I think was not clearly enough visualised by us when your agreement with Mr. Churchill was made.

His phrase, reported to you in my telegram No. 122 A. of the 2nd August 1942 [7]-

'His Majesty's servants in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland must have the right to sit alone' might be open to challenge if the sole duty of the War Cabinet was the conduct of the war. When, however, it is realised that the War Cabinet is the only Body of United Kingdom Ministers where differences of opinion can be ironed out and decisions reached as to the attitude to be adopted by the United Kingdom in regard to questions of domestic concern, e.g. the Beveridge report [8], or even to matters of wider significance where the United Kingdom's individual interests are vitally concerned, Mr. Churchill's attitude is not open to objection.

You will realise how embarrassing it would be for you if there was an Accredited Representative of the United Kingdom present at all meetings of your Cabinet even those at which you were attempting to reconcile differences of opinion between your own colleagues.

On the question of my attending meetings of the War Cabinet we have therefore had to try and provide some common-sense arrangement. This broadly is that I do not attend when domestic questions are under discussion. This, however, does not quite meet the case as it is difficult in war time to determine beforehand what the Cabinet may have to deal with when it meets. This difficulty we must deal with as best we can.

The broad fact that emerges from what I have said above is that we have to recognise that in practice Australia's Accredited Representative cannot function quite in the way that was contemplated when the arrangement was entered into.

In my view, we have to accept the present position. This, I think, we can well do because, as I have indicated in my second conclusion above, I believe in practice we are now working on a basis that achieves the objective that we had in mind, namely, that the Australian Government should be adequately informed of all essential facts, developments and trends of policy, and should have an opportunity of exercising an influence upon decisions taken.

Through my long association with individual Members of the Government, my contacts with the Departments engaged in the prosecution of the war, and the excellent work of my Service Advisers, I feel that I have been able to keep you reasonably well informed of all essential facts and of developments and trends of policy here.

The information I am able to obtain from these various sources, particularly in regard to strategic questions, is certainly greater than that available to the majority of the Members of the War Cabinet.

The extent that one can influence policy depends upon one's personal relations with Members of the Government both in and outside the War Cabinet, with the Departments concerned, and with individuals specially dealing with specific matters, e.g. Keynes.

In this respect the position appears to be satisfactory and the amount of influence one can exercise progressively increasing, To indicate how this works I give you the following instances of matters of major importance, apart from questions directly concerned with the prosecution of the War in the Pacific, with which I have been actively concerned- (a) Substitution of an early major operation in North Africa for a delayed frontal attack on Europe- (My telegram No. 17 A of 21st January 1943) [9]

(b) Intensification of campaign against U-Boat menace (My telegrams Nos. 62 A, 63 A, 64 A, 65 A and 66 A of the 11th April 1942) [10]

Establishment of Cripps' Committee (My telegrams No. 194 A of 21st November 1942 [11] and No. 214 A of the 16th December 1942) [12]

In this matter what one could do was greatly helped by my close contacts particularly with Cripps and Leathers, and the conversations I had with Smuts during his visit.

(c) Opening of discussions with the United States of America with regard to Colonies- (My telegram No. 209 A of the 12th December 1942) [13]

(d) Post war problems- (i) Political (ii) Economic (My telegrams Nos. 199 A of 30th November 1942 [14]

205 A of 3rd December 1942 [15]

18 A of 21st January 1943 [16] and 37 A [17] and 38 A of 16th February 1943 [18]) On the Political aspect of these problems my close association with Cripps and Eden, to whom the War Cabinet referred the matter, has afforded me most valuable opportunities.

The interest which I have been able to arouse in Morrison has also been of great value.

On the Economic side my relations with Keynes have been of great assistance to me.

I have written you I fear at somewhat inordinate length. I have done so however deliberately because I feel you should have the whole picture.

My own considered judgment is that we should continue to work on the present lines which, on the whole, I think are yielding reasonably satisfactory results.

I do not pretend I find my own position a peculiarly pleasant one.

This I am prepared to put up with so long as you feel I can be of service to you.

For anyone coming here fresh to the job, and particularly for a Minister, the position would be intolerable. He would find himself able to achieve little, if anything, through the War Cabinet and until he had been here for some considerable time he would not be in a position to exercise his influence by the methods that I have been able to adopt.

This would be a position that no man who was any good would put up with for long and the probabilities are that he would either have a row with the Prime Minister, which it is essential should be avoided, or he would advise you that the idea of an Australian Accredited Representative is unworkable, and recommend the discontinuance of the experiment. This also would be most unfortunate.

You will have gathered from what I have written above that the conclusion which I hope you will reach is that there is no need to attempt to redefine the position of the Accredited Representative of Australia so long as I am holding down the job. I suggest, however, that you should give some thought to the situation which would arise in the event of my being wiped out by a bomb or for any other reasons ceasing to be Australia's Accredited Representative. In such circumstances my own view is that it would probably be desirable, in the interests both of your own personal relations with Mr. Churchill and also of the relations of Australia and Britain, that the responsibilities of the position should be redefined.


1 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. V, Documents 248 (note 4), 259, 262, 289 and 304; and cablegrams 82 and 126 of 28 January 1942 in PRO:PREM 4/43A/14.

2 On file AA:A1608, H33/1/2.

3 See Document 175 in the volume cited in note 1.

4 U.K. Prime Minister 1916-22.

5 See Document 51.

6 See Document 52 and First Enclosure thereto.

7 Document 15.

8 Published in November 1942, this report by Sir William Beveridge laid the foundation for social and economic welfare programs.

9 On file AA:M100, January 1943.

10 All cablegrams are on file AA:M100, April 1942.

11 On file AA:M100, November 1942.

12 FA:A3195, 1942, 1.50896.

13 Document 91.

14 See Document 86, note 1.

15 Document 86.

16 See Document 101, note 3.

17 Document 121.

18 On file AA:M100, February 1943.

[AA:A1608, H33/1/2]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History