Cablegram 355 LONDON, 9 November 1946, 6.35 p.m.
I am sure that you would wish to know at once that we have come to
the inescapable conclusion that it is necessary for us to have a
permanent scheme of compulsory national service for men. You will,
of course, be hearing full details in due course, but the main
features of the scheme are-
I. That it is to include every able-bodied man, regardless of
class, trade or occupation.
II. That the term of embodied service is to be 11/2 years and that
thereafter every man is liable to 51/2 years service in the
Auxiliary Forces, i.e., a total of 7 years service in all.
III. That it is to be introduced on 1st January, 1949, to date to
which our present compulsory service scheme would remain in
2. You will realise that the economic, industrial and financial
implications of this decision are very grave. In the economic
field for example, it is quite clear that the maintenance of
forces of the size we contemplate under the scheme will make heavy
inroads on man-power, which would otherwise be employed in helping
to restore the economic life of the country. On present forecasts
it looks as if the gap between availability and requirements in
men for all our purposes will be very wide indeed and we can
hardly see how it can be bridged. Similarly, in the financial
field, we calculate that the maintenance of our forces under the
scheme will cost about 750 millions a year. When compared with
our average pre-war expenditure on defence which was not much more
than 100 millions a year you will realise what this means.
3. You will remember that during the Conference of Dominion Prime
Ministers last April and May, a paper was circulated (P.M.M.(46)3)
, summarising the military commitments of the United Kingdom
and the economic and financial implications of the drastic
measures that it had been necessary to take in order to fulfil
them. It seemed clear from the discussion on this paper that you
were much impressed by the burden which this country is bearing in
the field of defence and you agreed to consult your Ministers and
technical advisers as to how you could help. We await your views
on this point with the utmost interest.
4. You will remember also that a paper by the British Chiefs of
Staff (P.M.M.(46)20) on the machinery for inter-Commonwealth
collaboration in defence matters was discussed at considerable
length during the Conference (see in particular, the minutes of
P.M.M.(46) 10th Meeting of 2nd May). There was general acceptance
of the broad principles at issue, and all the Dominion Ministers
who were present at this meeting agreed to discuss the matter with
their ministerial colleagues and technical advisers on their
return to their respective countries. We have not yet heard
anything further from you on this matter and I need hardly say
that we are most anxious to have your views.
5. I am sending a similar message to other Prime Ministers.