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225 Note by Bruce of Conversation with Evatt

[LONDON], 16 June 1943

Evatt rang me up at about 10. o'clock this morning on the telephone [1] and was insultingly rude to me with regard to my having asked Dr. Coombs to come and see me at 10.15 before the meeting with regard to Post-War Commercial Policy. What he said was that he would not tolerate my interfering in matters he was conducting and that I had no business to have asked Coombs to come and see me.

I replied to him over the telephone that he was being insultingly rude, and I suggested it would be a little more appropriate if he had anything to say to me that he should do it personally and not over the telephone. At this stage of the conversation the telephone went off. I subsequently sent a message that I wanted to see him and went up to Grosvenor House at 12 noon. I was shown into a room into which Evatt came about 2 or 3 minutes after. When he came in he asked me to sit down, but I replied that I did not propose to do so as I had merely come to tell him that I regarded what he had said over the telephone as insultingly rude and I was not prepared to allow anyone to speak to me as he had. To this Evatt said that I had already said over the telephone that he was insultingly rude; that he was very angry at what I had done.

I said that what I had done did not even enter into the picture, it was his manner of dealing with it. The only point was that I was not prepared to continue personal relations with him if he behaved in that manner and had merely come to tell him so, and to add that while I was prepared to give him any assistance in my power it must be on an entirely impersonal basis. I was adopting this attitude because our personal relations were a matter of no importance in view of the great task we were both engaged upon. I said, however, there was one point I must clear up and that was whether anyone else was present in the room when he had spoken to me in the morning, as if anyone was present I would have to send for that person and make clear exactly what my attitude was.

Evatt's reply was that there was no one present and it was just as if he had been talking to me in that room.

A somewhat humorous episode then occurred by my adding that he had made the matter worse by his childish attitude of hanging up the receiver. To this he replied that he had done nothing of the sort, and he thought I had. I immediately said that I must apologise for having suggested that he had done anything so stupid and I did so quite unreservedly.

I then added, while I was prepared to give him any assistance in my power I must ask that he would not make the position more difficult by offensive outbursts.

At this stage Evatt proceeded to say somewhat grudgingly that he was sorry that in the heat of the moment he had gone quite as far as he had on the telephone.

To this I said that completely altered the position and I went over and shut the door and said I was now prepared to sit down and discuss with him what was the trouble.

Evatt said that he greatly resented my sending for Coombs behind his back and interfering in matters that the Government had entrusted to him to handle.

I replied that I had done nothing of the sort. That I had suggested to Coombs he should come and see me this morning before he went to the United Kingdom meeting on Post-War Commercial Policy. My only object in doing so was to suggest to Coombs that he should insist on the United Kingdom outlining their thoughts on the matter and not allow the United Kingdom to put the Dominions in the position of having to put their views first. I said that probably any discussion on the subject of the meeting with the United Kingdom would have been confined to one or two minutes as my main desire to see Coombs was to learn from him what had taken place at Hot Springs with regard to the Food Conference. I also said that if it had not been for the shortness of time and the fact that he, Evatt, must have been very exhausted by his long air trip, I would probably have suggested that we should have had a full discussion between Evatt, Coombs and myself, before Coombs went to the Conference, because there was a considerable amount of background that I would have been able to give them.

Evatt's reply to this was that in all these matters that he was dealing with his authority must be maintained, and my cutting into the picture would tend to undermine it. This was a clear indication that what he is suffering from is an inferiority complex and is afraid that in some way his people will get the impression that I am really the person responsible for guiding them and not Evatt himself This particular episode was disposed of by my saying that I had not the slightest desire to interfere in any way with what he, Evatt, was doing but my only desire was to help in any way I could. I added, however, that it was very difficult to help if there was any suspicion in his mind as to what my attitude was. It was therefore desirable that I should define to him exactly where I stood. I did this by saying that my loyalty was to the Government in Australia and particularly to the Prime Minister, for whom I had the highest personal regard.

I said that in all matters I would do everything I could to help, but that if I disagreed with the line the Government was taking I would not hesitate to say so and would do this by cabling personally to the Prime Minister. Even if my views were not acceptable to the Government, I would still continue to do everything in my power to implement their policy up to the point where my disagreement was so profound that I did not feel I could conscientiously give my best service to them, in which case I would immediately tender my resignation to the Prime Minister.

I stressed to Evatt that I had very few virtues, but loyalty happened to be one of them and he need never have any fear that I would do anything behind his back or that of the Government, but would frankly say what was in my mind if I were in disagreement.

Evatt strangely enough said he accepted that as being my position and said he had so informed the Government when he returned to Australia last year, as he had felt I had supported him in every way after the first few days. I asked him what he meant by saying 'after the first few days' and he replied that when he first arrived he felt that I resented his presence here as undermining my position and that I had not been in complete accord with the Government policy with regard to the Pacific.

I told him there was not the slightest ground for the idea that I resented his presence here; that I had no feeling on the matter whatever, and so far as the policy in the Pacific was concerned he was quite wrong, because I had never changed my views with regard to it in any way.

This point was left on that basis, and I certainly did not get from Evatt any clear statement as to what grounds he had for basing the idea that I had at any time, even in the first few days of his last visit, done anything save loyally support him in what he was trying to do.

At this stage of the conversation he came back to the point of how we were to work together and I reiterated that my only desire was to be helpful, but that if we were to succeed he must restrain his temperament as I would not tolerate rudeness.

Evatt's reply to this was that I had a considerable power of being offensive myself I said that I was not very conscious of that power but if I had got it I would certainly not exercise it by being rude. To this Evatt replied that possibly I was not aware of when I was being offensive and I have a certain suspicion he may have some justification there although the offensiveness would be made almost more offensive by being exercised with an infuriating courtesy.

The final point we came to was that I said to Evatt that when I had discovered he had not hung up the telephone to end the conversation, as I imagined, I had apologised to him for having entertained the suspicion of his having behaved in so stupid and childish a way. I pointed out that he had apparently harboured the same idea about me, but I had not yet heard him apologise for having had such a thought.

This I believe he did not see at all and his line was rather to argue that it would have been a perfectly natural thing to do to hang up the telephone. This, however, was only a rather amusing episode at the end.

The sum total of the conversation was that I think we have considerably cleared the air and I do not think I will have any further grounds for complaint of Evatt's being offensive to me personally.

Towards the end of the conversation Evatt asked me whether I had got my information as to the conclusion of the arrangement with regard to aeroplanes for the R.A.A.F. from a personal telegram the Prime Minister had sent him, Evatt. [2]

I said I had not, and I had seen no personal telegram from the Prime Minister dealing with this subject. I told him I had got my information from the Chiefs of Staff Organisation, that I had seen nothing in writing with regard to it and, when I put the question to him as to whether he had arrived at a satisfactory arrangement, I was not at all certain that my information that he had was correct.

Evatt then asked me what was the position with regard to personal telegrams coming to him and I said that I was under the impression that any telegram sent by the Prime Minister or Member of the Government to him, Evatt, which was marked 'personal' would be sent direct to him; that there would be no distribution of it and that Duffy, at Australia House, would be the only person who would know of its contents. This I said, however, that I would check up and if it were not so I would see that instructions to that effect were given. [3] I said with regard to all other telegrams that came through the people under my control I would see them all, although if they were personal ones I would probably take no notice of them.


1 Evatt had arrived in London from the United States the previous day.

2 This appears to be a reference to the cablegram cited in Document 222, note 7.

3 In an addendum to this note Bruce recorded that Duffy had confirmed Bruce's understanding of the way in which personal cablegrams for Evatt were handled.

[AA:M100, JUNE 1943]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History