153 Note by Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, of Conversation with Mr W. S. Churchill, U.K. Prime Minister

As Caldecote [1] had announced his appointment as Chief Justice, I felt it was essential to see the Prime Minister and stress to him the importance of Caldecote's successor. I went over to Downing Street and although Morrison [2] and Duncan [3] were waiting to see the Prime Minister, on the grounds of urgency, I went in on the basis of only wanting 5 minutes. The result was a half hour's discussion.

I told the Prime Minister that Caldecote had advised us of his moving to the position of Chief justice and I very much wanted to stress to the Prime Minister the importance of Caldecote's successor being an absolutely first class man and that he should attend all Cabinet meetings.

The Prime Minister who was obviously in a fairly antagonistic mood, due, I subsequently discovered, to Menzies' cable [4], asked me whether I was suggesting that the British Cabinet should never have a private meeting without the Dominions being represented.

I replied that that was of course absurd, all I was suggesting was how important it was that the Dominions Secretary should be present on all occasion[s] when matters other than domestic questions were under consideration.

He then somewhat aggressively asked me whether I was there on instructions from my Government to dictate to the British Government who should be appointed to the positions in the British Cabinet.

I replied I was most certainly not there under any instructions from my Government, that I had simply come as a personal friend to emphasise to him how important this question was and that so far as my Government was concerned there would be no possible doubts as to their instructing me, if I asked them to, in regard to representations as to the vital importance they attached to the Dominions Secretary attending all the meetings of the Cabinet. I again reiterated to the Prime Minister, though, that I had come purely as a personal friend to give him what I believed was a valuable tip as to a point which, in the present heavy preoccupations which he had, he might possibly have overlooked.

He then branched off to Menzies' cable and said that he regarded it as a very hard cable and he was extremely surprised at receiving it.

It appeared to me clear that he did not regard the cable as being really Menzies', but that it expressed my views. Whether he got this impression from the fact that I had sent him the cable in a letter, or whether it was because of any indication he had received from Caldecote that I was critical of the way the Dakar incident had been held, I do not know, but I rather think the latter.

The Prime Minister obviously took the telegram as an attack upon himself and said that he had replied fully to it just as he would have if he had been attacked in the House of Commons.

I protested that the cable was in no sense an attack upon him. It was merely an expression of certain anxieties that were in the Prime Minister's mind and surely it was better that there should be the fullest and frankest communication from the Dominions indicating how the varying phases of the war struck them.

The Prime Minister then said that the cable suggested that he and his Government were half-hearted in the prosecution of the war and proceeded to make a long statement as to the atmosphere that had prevailed when he had taken over, the pessimism that existed then and a long recital of all that had been done and how that atmosphere had been changed.

When he had finished I pointed out that the cable in no way suggested that either he or his Government had been half-hearted in the prosecution of the war and I paid a tribute to all that he had done and all that he was doing and said that those sentiments were shared by my Government and by the whole of the British peoples and of the world. But I urged that while we all had those feelings surely it was desirable that where in any particular episode a Dominion Government had any criticism or suggestion to make it was better they should communicate with the utmost frankness what was in their minds. I stressed to him that that would be impossible if everything that was said was going to be taken as an attack and bring forth a defence.

The Prime Minister then went on to say that Menzies had asked him for a guarantee as to what was going to happen in the Middle East and put the obvious question 'How could anybody answer that'. I again protested that Menzies had not asked for any such thing; all that he had done was in the concluding words of his cable to express his anxieties as to the position in the Middle East and hope that everything that was possible was being done.

The Prime Minister with his usual habit of not quite replying to what was being said then proceeded to make a statement as to the reinforcements which had been sent to the Middle East and said that when history came to be written it would be felt that risks had been taken that were dangerous beyond words.

I said that I quite agreed reinforcements had been sent but that the menace was so great, and the consequences of disaster so serious, that it seemed to me we could never be content at what we had achieved but must, by examining the position from day to day, see whether there was not even more we could do.

We then went over the various other points that were raised in the Prime Minister's cable, but the main burden of my observations was to urge upon the Prime Minister that no one was attacking him, that everyone was trying to be helpful and that it only made his task harder if he regarded anything that did not entirely agree with his own view at the moment as being an attack which had to be vigorously resisted.

The conversation which got fairly crisp at times started very much in an atmosphere of hostility, but towards the end assumed a much better tone and I am not unhopefull that some of the things I said may have sunk in. There is no doubt that Winston regards me as the villain in the piece and one would imagine that because of that he entertains a certain resentment. I am not, however, absolutely sure because although in the past I have had several fairly hectic arguments with Winston in which one has entirely differed from his point of view, and at the conclusion of which one had the impression that he was rather resentful, I have subsequently learned that he was not. The whole trouble with the Prime Minister, as I have indicated in my telegram, attached, to Menzies [5], is that he is surrounded by people who do not stand up to him. I am not quite sure that he does not rather appreciate it when anyone does stand up to him and possibly my view that he feels any resentment against myself may be ill-founded.


[AA:A100, OCTOBER 1940]

1 U.K. Dominions Secretary until 3 October.

2 U.K. Minister of Supply.

3 President of the U.K. Board of Trade.

4 Document 144.

5 Document 154.

[LONDON], 2 October 1940