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

I saw the Prime Minister this afternoon [1] and gave him a copy of Menzies' cable [2], explaining that I did not want to keep him a minute but as a brother Prime Minister was concerned, I felt I had to see him personally and get his reply.

He told me that of course they would welcome Menzies' visit and asked me to convey to him how greatly the visit would be welcomed and his personal appreciation of Menzies' presence in London. He also said of course every facility would be afforded in bringing the party from Egypt, but we agreed that that was a matter which would have to be gone into in detail and need not worry about at the moment.

We then had some conversation with regard to the general position, the Prime Minister expressing his delight at the turn of events in the Middle East.

I told him there was no necessity for me to express how pleased I was, because he would remember that I had been somewhat troublesome on the subject of reinforcing the Middle East.

He said that of course it had been a difficult problem but he felt on the whole they had done well with the amount of troops, particularly the armoured Division which they had sent.

I quite endorsed that, and refrained from mentioning my anxieties which he had not been very responsive to on the previous occasion.

[3] I also got an opportunity to point out that why the Middle East so concerned me was because I felt that if anything had gone wrong there and we had been forced out of Egypt and the Fleet had had to leave Alexandria the whole war position would have changed and it would have become extremely difficult to see how we could bring it to a successful conclusion once the Eastern Mediterranean had gone and the blockade, to a great extent, had been broken.

This, on the present occasion, the Prime Minister cordially agreed with, although it is interesting that when I attempted to develop that theme some months ago he was somewhat impatient of it.

We then went on to discuss the question of what Hitler was likely to do. Both being agreed that he could hardly fail to react. The Prime Minister elaborated the view which Cranborne [4] had indicated to us the other day that he held, namely, that Spain was the most likely point. He added, somewhat cryptically, that they had in mind a counter action to any move in that direction. He also hinted at gas, but equally said that they were prepared for that.

We then got on to the subject of Lothian's successor and went over the names that I had mentioned in my letter to the Prime Minister.

[5] I rather gathered that he had not seen the letter because when I made a reference to it and pointed out how embarrassing it was to get into the ring on any question which was purely one for United Kingdom Government determination, knowing the resentment we would feel at any comments from the British Government on any matter entirely under our jurisdiction.

He immediately referred to my letter on War Aims. [6] I pointed out that that was not what I was referring to, and went over the names that I had commented on in the letter.

The Prime Minister listened but made no comment, and then referred to Lloyd George [7] and made it quite clear that he had in fact offered the position to Lloyd George, but the latter had felt his age precluded him from taking it on.

I then told him of my conversation with Halifax with regard to Lloyd George, giving the reason why I had not approached him again. He was interested to get the American and Australian reaction.

We then had some conversation as to whether Lloyd George could have got away with it if he had accepted the position and we both expressed the view, which would not be very generally agreed to, that his personality was such that he probably would have.

I said that my own feeling about Lloyd George was that while he constantly did things which infuriated one, there was no getting away from the fact that he was a very great man with a personality quite overshadowing any of the present figures.

The Prime Minister also asked me how Cranborne was getting on and I said quite well, but that I wanted to reiterate to him what I had said before, namely that it was essential that the Dominions Secretary should be the best man in the Cabinet after the Prime Minister.

He was inclined to dissent from this and said that after all the Dominions Office was only a Post-office, and that the Dominions would not tolerate any dictation from the Dominions Secretary.

I told him I entirely agreed with that, but that was not quite how it worked out in practice. I instanced to him the case of a first class High Commissioner here who was in close touch with his Government and knew exactly how their minds were moving. I said it was very essential that that information should come to the Prime Minister, but it was quite impossible that the Prime Minister should constantly be seeing the High Commissioners. If, however, he had a Dominions Secretary who was first class and in whom he had complete confidence, the Dominions Secretary could give him the tip as to how Dominion opinion was developing and give him a warning on any points that were dangerous.

This, I think he rather accepted, but dodged by saying it was so difficult to find first class men. On that we entirely agreed.

The atmosphere of the discussion was extraordinarily cordial and I found the Prime Minister a good deal more forthcoming and prepared to listen than is usual with him.

[AA:M100, DECEMBER 1940]

1 18 December 1940.

2 Document 227.

3 See Document 153.

4 U.K. Dominions Secretary.

5 Dispatched 13 December. It informed Churchill of the views of R.

G. Casey (Minister to the United States) on possible successors to Lord Lothian as U.K. Ambassador to the United States. The names mentioned were Lord Halifax (U.K. Foreign Secretary), who Casey thought would be very acceptable; Anthony Eden (U.K. Secretary for War), Sir Robert Vansittart (chief diplomatic adviser to the U.K.

Foreign Secretary), Sir Alexander Cadogan (U.K. Permanent Under- Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) and Lord Swinton (Chairman, U.K. Commercial Corporation), none of whom Casey thought would do well in Washington; A. B. Purvis (Chairman of the Anglo-French Purchasing Board in the United States), who Casey thought would do well enough ad interim because of his knowledge of the supply position; and Alfred Duff Cooper (U.K. Minister of Information), who Casey thought would be a bad appointment. See file AA:M100, December 1940.

6 This sentence should probably be read as a continuation of the immediately preceding one. Bruce's letter on war aims was dispatched 27 November. See file AA:M100, November 1940.

7 M. P. 1890-1945 and Prime Minister 1916-22.

[LONDON], 19 December 1940