201 Cabinet Submission by Sir Frederick Stewart, Minister for External Affairs

Agendum 491 18 November 1940


On 20th December, 1939, letters were exchanged between Lord Halifax [1] and Dr. Benes [2] on the subject of the formation of a Czechoslovak National Committee. [3] In his letter Lord Halifax recognised 'that the Committee is qualified to represent the Czechoslovak peoples,' in particular for the purpose of the reconstruction of the Czechoslovak Army in France.

2. On 10th May of this year, the Commonwealth Prime Minister [4] informed the United Kingdom Government that the Commonwealth Government was quite prepared to recognise the Czechoslovak National Committee strictly for the same purposes in Commonwealth territory as those laid down in respect of the United Kingdom in the letters exchanged between Lord Halifax and Dr. Benes, namely, that the Committee was qualified to represent the Czechoslovak peoples, in particular for the purpose of reconstruction of the Czechoslovak Army in France. [5]

3. On 21st July, the United Kingdom Government acceded to a request from Dr. Benes for recognition of a new provisional Czechoslovak Government in which several new members joined the previous members of the Czechoslovak National Committee. [6] The United Kingdom Government had hitherto considered that it would be undesirable to accord any further recognition to Czechoslovak activities abroad for the following reasons:-

(1) The recognition would have met with opposition on the part of France and Hungary, and possibly the Polish Government;

(2) Dr. Benes had not so far been able to secure unity among Czechs and Slovaks abroad, and his influence in the Protectorate and in Slovakia was uncertain;

(3) There was little doubt that the sympathies of the Czechoslovak people lay with the Allies and no further degree of recognition seemed necessary to encourage them to resist the Germans.

It was realised, however, that French and Hungarian susceptibilities need no longer be considered, and that the Polish Government had been brought closer to the Czechs by common adversity; that German successes would perhaps have influenced the Czechoslovak population to such an extent that some further gesture might be necessary to encourage their resistance and that the placing of the Czechs and Slovaks on the same footing as the Poles and Norwegians would probably have a good effect on opinion in the United States of America. There were also practical problems arising out of the evacuation from France to the United Kingdom of Czechoslovak soldiers and airmen.

The United Kingdom Government accordingly decided to recognise the provisional Czechoslovak Government, subject to certain conditions, including- (a) a refusal to commit the United Kingdom Government to any specific frontier for the future Czechoslovak State;

(b) the relinquishment by Dr. Benes of any claim to exercise authority over Czechoslovaks or their property in this country;

(c) a satisfactory arrangement concerning the 7,000,000 of Czech gold blocked in the United Kingdom.

4. A cablegram was received from the High Commissioner, London, dated 26th September [7], stating that the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Provisional Government [8] had asked that the Commonwealth Government should adopt towards his Government an attitude similar to that of the United Kingdom Government. Mr.

Bruce suggests that if the Commonwealth Government agrees to grant similar recognition, he be authorised to reply making the same reservations as made by Lord Halifax.

5. The Commonwealth Government has never recognised the German absorption of Bohemia-Moravia, and continues to recognise Dr.

Solansky as the Consul for Czechoslovakia. There seems no objection in principle to the granting of the request, subject to the reservations mentioned, and it is recommended that Mr. Bruce be informed accordingly. [9]


1 U.K. Foreign Secretary.

2 President of the Czechoslovak Provisional Govt (in London).

3 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. III, Document 4.

4 R. G. Menzies.

5 Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. III, Document 222.

6 See U.K. Dominions Office cablegram D367 of 22 July on file AA:A1608, B41/1/3, iii.

7 S. M. Bruce's cablegram is on the file cited in note 6.

8 Dr Hubert Ripka.

9 Bruce was informed on 20 November that the Commonwealth Govt recognised the provisional Czechoslovak Govt subject to the same reservations made by the U.K. Govt. See cablegram 1239 on file cited in note 6.