467 Sir Frederick Stewart, Minister for External Affairs, to Mr R. G. Casey, Minister to the United States

Letter 27.41 SYDNEY, 23 May 1941


The Netherlands Foreign Minister [1] and Minister for the Colonies [2], whose intention to visit Australia was reported in your personal and confidential letter of 24th March [3], left for New Zealand on 18th May after a week spent in this country as the guests of the Commonwealth Government.

Official functions during the visit were confined to luncheons given by the Governor-General [4], the Governor of New South Wales [5], a dinner in Sydney attended by a number of Commonwealth Ministers, and a reception in Melbourne attended by Ministers and departmental heads. The visitors were also entertained in Sydney by the Dutch community, and visited the motor-ship 'Oranje', which has been presented by the Netherlands East Indies Government to the Commonwealth to be used as a hospital ship for Australian and New Zealand forces.

No formal conversations were arranged, but Dr. van Kleffens and M.

Welter called on me and discussed a few general topics. At a dinner in Melbourne with the three Chiefs of Staff [6] and the Netherlands Liaison Officer, Commander Salm, joint defence plans and strategic problems were discussed.

As Dr. van Kleffens professed a keen interest in this country's war effort visits were arranged to the Broken Hill Proprietary works at Newcastle, the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Factory at Fishermen's Bend, Melbourne, and to the Munitions establishments at Maribyrnong. One motive for the visit of the Ministers was obviously the hope of increasing the supply of munitions, especially small arms ammunition, to the Netherlands East Indies. I understand that they received certain assurances in this connection.

Dr. van Kleffens was most guarded in his public pronouncements, which as a result received very little publicity. His press interviews in Sydney and Melbourne were confined to a reiteration of Holland's intention to continue the war, and to resist attack in the Indies. He did, however, reaffirm his approval of Sir Robert Brooke-Popham's [7] statement in Manila that Singapore, the Netherlands Indies, and Australia form part of a single political and military line, an attack against any part of which must be considered and treated as an attack against the whole. These declarations were subject to certain qualifications which deprived them of most of their force, especially as reported in the Sydney press. However, in a broadcast speech on 13th May the statement was made explicitly that the Dutch people would 'fight to the last limit of their strength whenever and wherever they are attacked'.

In the course of our conversation on 13th May Dr. van Kleffens referred to the question of an exchange of diplomatic representatives between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of the Netherlands. I told him that it was the view of the Commonwealth Government that an Australian Minister, to perform any useful function, should be stationed at Batavia, and that such an appointment might be a precedent for a similar Japanese Legation which I understood would be opposed by his Government. Dr. van Kleffens said that this was a valid objection, but that it was something rather different he had in mind. He then renewed the suggestion made by the Netherlands Minister in London [8] in October last, and repeated by the Netherlands Minister in Washington [9] in February of this year, that Mr. Bruce [10] might be accredited to Queen Wilhelmina in London. He said that in that event a Government representative or commissioner could be sent to Batavia, and undertook to give appropriate standing and prestige to any person selected for the latter position.

The suggestion raises incidentally the question of whether the Netherlands Government in London is likely to move out to Java.

The possibility was rumoured before the arrival of the Ministers there, but was denied by Mr. Welter in his first press interview.

In response to enquiries here members of the party denied that there was any intention to move at present, but gave the impression that the possibility could not be entirely ruled out at some future date.

Mr. J. H. Ritman, head of the N.E.I. Government Publicity Service, who accompanied the Ministers, took advantage of his visit to Australia to examine the possibility of increasing the exchange of news between the Indies and Australia. He met Sir Keith Murdoch [11] and officials of the Department of Information in Melbourne, and spent a few days in Sydney before returning to Batavia.


1 Dr E. N. van Kleffens.

2 C. J. I. M. Welter.

3 On file AA: A981, NEE 51.

4 Lord Gowrie.

5 Lord Wakehurst.

6 Admiral Sir Ragnar Colvin (but see Document 355, note 2), Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Burnett and Lt Gen V. A. H. Sturdee.

7 U.K. Commander-in-Chief in the Far East.

8 Jonkheer E. Michiels van Verduynen. See Document 175.

9 Dr Alexandre Loudon. See letter Was. N.C. No. 61/41 of 21 February on file AA: A981, Netherlands 20, i.

10 High Commissioner in London.

11 Editor of the Melbourne Herald. He had served as Director- General of Information from June to December 1940.

[AA: A981, NEE 51]