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16 Bruce to Curtin

Cablegram 123[A] LONDON, 2 August 1942, 10.30 p.m.



Following is copy of the draft telegram referred to in my note to the Prime Minister (my telegram 122[A] [1]):-

'In my conversations with Evatt, prior to his departure from London [2], and in our exchange of telegrams-my telegram S34 of 4th June [3] and your reply [4]-it was agreed that the arrangement entered into in January last, that Australia should be kept fully advised in regard to developments in major policy and afforded the opportunity to express her views before decisions were taken, had not in practice worked out as had been hoped, and that my task as Australia's Accredited Representative in War Cabinet was to endeavour, without friction, to effect a change so that the understanding would be fully implemented.

This task, during the past seven weeks since I took over as Australia's Accredited Representative, I have been endeavouring quietly to carry out. While one can hardly say that officially any great improvement has yet been effected, unofficially considerable progress has been made and I am still quite hopeful that a satisfactory basis can be arrived at if a premature crisis can be avoided.

Developments in the past week have however tended to make this somewhat doubtful. On Friday of last week, Hopkins, Marshall and King arrived in this country with the object, so far as I can ascertain it, of reviewing with the Government and Chiefs of Staff here our broad strategy of the war and in particular of determining the course to be pursued in relation to what is popularly, but inaccurately, known as the Second Front.

All my official information with regard to this visit is confined to a confidential statement made by the Prime Minister to the ordinary weekly Cabinet meeting last Monday that the United States Delegation had arrived.

Discussions have now been going on for nearly a week, but I have not been summoned to any meeting of War Cabinet for the purpose of considering the wide aspects of the problems involved and of laying down the broad lines of policy to be followed.

As a result of these discussions with American representatives, decisions of transcending importance will be taken and probabilities are that the first you, as a Government primarily concerned, and I, as Australia's Accredited Representative, will hear officially of them will be when they are a fait accompli.

This can hardly be described as carrying out the undertaking given to you that Australia would be kept fully advised in regard to developments in major policy and afforded the opportunity to express her views before decisions are taken. [5] Nor can it be said to be in line with the statement in the Prime Minister's telegram to you (Dominions Office telegram 126 of 28th January) [6] that "the Accredited Representative would have the full right to be heard in War Cabinet in the formulation and direction of policy".

This situation raises in a concrete form the question of the position of the Australian Government and of myself personally.

As a result of the Prime Minister's statement in the House of Commons that the United Kingdom had expressed their willingness to receive Australian and other Dominion representatives in War Cabinet [7] and Australia's subsequent action in appointing an Accredited Representative to sit in War Cabinet, the public both here and in Australia have formed the view that Australia is playing a responsible part in the higher direction of the war. If in fact Australia is playing no such part, it is difficult to justify the continuance of the present arrangement and, in my view, the position has got to be rectified or Australia should withdraw her Accredited Representative from War Cabinet. In my opinion, ways and means of avoiding the latter course must be found. Such an action would tend to undermine confidence in all Empire countries in British higher direction of the war, would have disastrous repercussions in the United States and other Allied countries, would afford ammunition to critics of the present United Kingdom Government and would form a basis for enemy propaganda that cannot be contemplated. [At the same time we cannot] [8] leave ourselves in a false position, [and continue] to bear responsibility for decisions with regard to which we have had no opportunity of expressing our views. Our task is to find a solution of the problem.

If the visit of the American representatives had not precipitated the question, I had proposed without consulting you to put the whole position to the Prime Minister in the frankest way and to seek his cooperation in finding a remedy. As, however, in the near future, before I have had time to approach the Prime Minister, you may be advised of fundamental decisions as to which you might well expect to have been consulted, it seems to me necessary to inform you of the actual situation. I still feel, however, that the wisest course to pursue is that I should have a full and frank personal conversation with the Prime Minister and this I will do at the earliest opportunity, subject to your instructing me otherwise.

As to the most practical way of solving the difficulty, I feel that it can best be found by adopting the principle laid down in your telegram to the Prime Minister, 81 of 27th January [9], in which you say that you wish "it to be made quite clear that the Commonwealth Government's request implies and means full membership of the United Kingdom War Cabinet with all its rights and privileges unless and until an Imperial War Cabinet is constituted".

Although the question of constitutional practicability of "formal membership" of United Kingdom War Cabinet was discussed in subsequent telegrams [10], the granting of rights and privileges of a member of the War Cabinet to Australia's Accredited Representative was not challenged. Only by according such rights and privileges can I see the intention behind the appointment of Australia's representative to the War Cabinet being given effect to and such representative being placed in a position in which he can effectively carry out the task assigned to him. Even with such status accorded to him, the Australian representative will have a difficult task in which he will have to display great discretion and tact. Without such status his task is an impossible one.

The finding of a solution of the problem is rendered no easier by the recent announcement of the appointment of an Indian representative to the War Cabinet. This position can, to my mind, only be met by adopting the principle that the Indian representative is only entitled to be fully consulted on questions directly affecting India-a principle which we have always refused to accept.' Ends.


1 Document 15.

2 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. V, Documents 481, 491, 504 and 508.

3 On file AA:M100, June 1942.

4 Cablegram 204 of 5 June on the file cited in note 3.

5 See Document 248, note 4 in the volume cited in note 2.

6 In PRO:PREM 4/43A/14.

7 On 27 January. See House of Commons, Parliamentary Debates, 5th series, vol. 377, cols 613-14.

8 Words in square brackets have been corrected from Bruce's copy on file AA: M100, August 1942.

9 On the file cited in note 6.

10 See cablegrams 82 and 126 of 28 January on the file cited in note 6 and Document 319 in the volume cited in note 2.

[FA:A3195, 1942, 1.30591]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History