42 Note by Mr J.S. Duncan, Acting High Commissioner in London, of Conversation with Maj Gen H.L. Ismay, Secretary of U.K. Committee of Imperial Defence
LONDON, 17 March 1939
Mr Stirling  brought to my notice yesterday evening copy of the Minutes of a meeting of the Committee of Imperial Defence held on the 24th January last.  At this meeting, at which the Prime Minister  was present, consideration was given to an Appreciation on Empire Foreign Policy which had been prepared by the Chiefs of Staff. 
Among other matters mentioned in that report was the despatch of a Fleet to the Far East in the event of Japan coming in to a war in which the Empire was engaged with Germany and Italy. The report indicated that the nature and size of the fleet would depend on the situation at the moment, particularly in the Middle East.
In the discussion of it, the Prime Minister referred to the categorical and unqualified commitment which had been given to the Dominions that an adequate fleet would be despatched to the Far East and that the report seemed to indicate that that undertaking in its entirety may not be able to be carried out. He said further it was a matter for consideration as to whether the Dominions should not be advised.
The Secretary of State for Air  remarked that this advice would no doubt be a shock. The First Lord of the Admiralty  said in the course of the discussion, that the needs of the situation may be such that it would only be possible to despatch 2 of the larger ships.
The Minister for Co-ordination of Defence, Lord Chatfield, indicated that he did not agree with this view and that he had always contemplated the despatch of approximately 9 such vessels in order to hold the Japanese fleet.
Lord Stanhope in setting out his opinion at the moment spoke of the co-operation of the United States Navy.
The matter was left at an indefinite stage. It was agreed that the whole defence appreciation, of which this subject formed a small part, should be referred to a Committee consisting of the Service Ministers, the Chiefs of Staff, a representative of the Foreign Office and a representative of the Treasury.
These facts having come to my notice, I sought an interview with General Ismay, Secretary of the Council for Imperial Defence, to ascertain what had been the result of the Sub-Committee's consideration. I emphasised our great interest in the discussion which had taken place, particularly in the light of the various undertakings and assurances which the Commonwealth Government had been given both at Imperial Conferences and at other times.
It was obvious that General Ismay was disturbed that these Minutes should have come to my knowledge. He was, he said, however, in a position to assure me that the views stated by the First Lord of the Admiralty should not be taken as the views of the United Kingdom Government. In fact, he added, the Chief of Naval Staff  had written to him to disassociate himself from the view expressed by Lord Stanhope, and had asked that some means should be devised of placing his disagreement on record and of putting him, the Chief of Staff, in a proper position in the matter.
General Ismay was firm in his assurances that an adequate fleet would be despatched.
We then discussed what was an 'adequate' fleet and the reply given to me was that that would necessarily be determined in the light of circumstances but that the strongest possible fleet would undoubtedly be sent to the Far East as soon as it was required and could be despatched.
I informed him then that I had not taken up the matter on a Ministerial level because I felt that I could obtain at that stage more reliable information from him and that I desired to be kept advised and particularly to know what was the considered view after the examination of the report by the Sub- Committee.
He undertook to keep me so advised and to so inform me.
He then asked that I should not take the Minutes to be the final stage at which the matter would rest and, in view of their interim character, not to make them the subject of a communication to the Commonwealth Government which would only have the effect of causing them alarm which in the real circumstances was unnecessary.
I decided that it was inexpedient to mention the matter by cable to the Commonwealth Government at the stage at which it then stood.
Later in the afternoon General Ismay, who obviously was very perturbed that this matter should have come to my knowledge, asked Mr Stirling to return the Minutes and a similar request is, I understand, also being made to Sir Cecil Day, Liaison Officer representing the Government of New Zealand, to whom they had also been forwarded.
I later called on my New Zealand colleague for the purpose of acquainting him with the situation, of which he had no knowledge.
I propose to watch the matter closely and to concert with the High Commissioner for New Zealand  if and when necessary.