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327 Bruce to Curtin

Letter LONDON, 15 November 1943


I attach hereto copies of an exchange of letters which I have recently had with the Prime Minister. [1] These letters speak for themselves. It is necessary, however, that I should give you something of the background to them.

At the end of a War Cabinet meeting, at which I was present, on the 4th October, the Prime Minister referred to the forthcoming Foreign Ministers' Conference in Moscow. [2] The Prime Minister's attitude was that the Conference was of an entirely exploratory character and the main objective would be to ascertain what was the Russian attitude to the various matters that would come under discussion.

This attitude appeared to be accepted by all those present and it looked as though there was to be no discussion. In these circumstances I felt I had to intervene. The line which I took was that the matters to be discussed at the Moscow meeting, as embodied in the draft United Kingdom and U.S.A. Agendas, which had been sent to the Dominions [3], were of vital importance. In these circumstances it seemed to me it was not sufficient merely to send the Agendas to the Dominions but that they should also be advised as to the general instructions which were being [given] [4] to Eden as to the line he was to follow with regard to them and as to the direction in which he was to endeavour to steer the Conference.

This view the Prime Minister rather contested and maintained that the Conference was only exploratory and that there was no necessity to determine the attitude to be adopted in respect of specific questions beforehand.

Cripps was the only person present who supported me. He urged that it would create a very bad impression on the Russians if our attitude was merely one of listening to what they had to say and putting nothing constructive forward ourselves.

The upshot of the discussion was that the Prime Minister indicated that there would be a special meeting of the War Cabinet to consider the matter before Eden left.

I conveyed the above briefly to you in my telegram No. 178A. [5] On the day after the Cabinet meeting, to which I have referred above, I learnt privately that a special meeting of the War Cabinet was being convened for that evening, to consider the Moscow Conference Agenda, but that it was not proposed that I should be invited to that meeting.

I felt that I could not let my not being invited go without protest and that it was better to raise the question before, rather than after, the meeting. I accordingly wrote my letter of the 5th October to the Prime Minister.

On the morning of the 6th October, Cranborne told me that the Prime Minister had asked him to see me and explain why he had not felt able to invite me to the meeting of the War Cabinet the previous evening. The explanation was down the lines of the Prime Minister's letter to me of the 6th October, which I received later in the day. [6]

I told Cranborne that in view of the importance of the questions to be considered by the Moscow Conference I could not regard this explanation as satisfactory. I had, however, learnt in the interval [7] that the meeting of the War Cabinet the previous evening had really achieved nothing, but had merely had a discursive and academic discussion with regard to the future of Germany and had not got down to the real issues to be considered in Moscow. I accordingly told Cranborne that as there was to be no further meeting of the War Cabinet to consider the matter and I had made arrangements for an opportunity for full discussion with both Eden and Strang [8], I would, for the moment, let the matter rest where it was but I pointed out that I would have to raise it again when the Moscow Conference was actually in session. This I did in my letter of the 19th October to the Prime Minister. [9] The rest of the correspondence speaks for itself and I need not weary you by referring to it in detail. The upshot of it is that, subject to your agreement, after you have read the correspondence the matter will remain in abeyance until you come to London. This, as a result of the last cablegram from here with regard to a Prime Ministers' Meeting, I am hopeful will be in April. [10]

While I urged you in my personal telegram No. 107A. of the 26th October [11] to come to London this year and am naturally disappointed that it is impossible for you to do so, I think I have managed to persuade everyone who matters here that owing to the vital questions you have to deal with in Australia your decision was a necessary one.

I trust that my having handled this matter without prior reference to you will be in accordance with your wishes. I realised that in view of the arrangement you made with the Prime Minister with regard to an Australian Accredited Representative in the War Cabinet [12] the issue was one of first importance. Because of this realisation I have had some doubt whether I should not have referred it to you rather than handled it myself. I felt, however, that if I did so you would have had to take a strong line, almost inevitably leading to considerable friction between you and the Prime Minister and quite possibly resulting in your withdrawing the Australian Accredited Representative in the War Cabinet on the grounds that the arrangement entered into when he was appointed was not being implemented in the manner that had been contemplated. Such a result would have led to publicity and controversy which to my mind must be avoided if by any means possible. I also felt that both you and the Prime Minister here are at the moment far too heavily preoccupied to be worried by this issue.

In view of these considerations and bearing in mind that I had placed the facts before you as to how the arrangement for an Australian Accredited Representative was working in my letter of the 5th March [13], to which you so generously responded on the 1st June [14], I decided, rightly or wrongly, that I had better deal with the matter myself and attempt to find a way out without bringing you in.

I have been influenced in taking the line I have by the fact that the question is more one of principle than substance. As the position has worked out we are obtaining either officially or unofficially very full and early information with regard to all matters of substance. We are not, however, being afforded that full opportunity of expressing our views in the War Cabinet before major decisions are taken that was contemplated.

In practice, owing to the way the War Cabinet functions, this is not so serious as it sounds. A good example is the very one out of which my correspondence with the Prime Minister arose, namely, the Moscow Conference. The opportunities which I had of fully discussing with both Eden and Strang all the items on the Agenda enabled me to do far more to influence policy than I should have been able to do had I been present at the War Cabinet meeting.

After reviewing all the facts of the situation I came to the conclusion with a clear conscience that I could avoid involving you in the matter at present and let it stand over until you come here. I sincerely hope that my having done so is in accordance with your wishes.

I do not pretend that from a personal point of view I greatly like postponing the question. My position is a most anomalous one and I am sure you will appreciate it is at times far from a pleasant one. This I must put up with.

The matter will, however, have to be straightened out when you come here, and in doing so the whole question which you recently raised of Empire consultation and co-operation will have to be considered. [15] With regard to this matter I hope, in the not distant future, to send you some thoughts which may be of assistance to you in clearing your mind as to the line you will take on this important question.


1 In his letter to Churchill of 5 October Bruce asked to 'be invited to attend the meeting of the War Cabinet at which the question of the line to be taken by the Foreign Secretary in the Moscow discussions will be considered'. This initiated an exchange of eight letters, three of which have been published as Documents 302, 306 and 311. Two are referred to in Document 311, note 3, and another in Document 302, note 2. The exchange was concluded with a note of thanks from Churchill to Bruce on 13 November. All letters are on file AA:A1608, H33/1/2.

2 See Document 302, note 1.

3 See Document 290, note 1.

4 Corrected from Bruce's copy on file AA:M100, November 1943.

5 Dispatched 5 October. On file AA:M100, October 1943.

6 See Document 302, paragraph 2.

7 See Bruce's note of conversation with Smuts of 6 October, on file AA:M100, October 1943.

8 Strang accompanied Eden to the Foreign Ministers' Conference at Moscow.

9 Document 302.

10 See Document 323, note 5.

11 This is an incorrect reference to cablegram 207A, which is published as Document 315.

12 See Document 132, note 1.

13 Document 132.

14 Document 205.

15 See Document 272.

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

Category: International relations

Topic: History