88 Lord Caldecote, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Sir Geoffrey Whiskard, U.K. High Commissioner in Australia
Cablegram 291 LONDON, 30 August 1940, 11.10 p.m.
Received 31 August 1940
IMMEDIATE MOST SECRET
My telegram to the Commonwealth Government of 18th August No. 298  and to New Zealand Government No. 259.
It is understood that as a result of a report from the Governor of New Caledonia  that the population of that colony was anti- Vichy, the sloop DUMONT D'URVILLE was ordered by the Vichy Government to proceed from Papeete to New Caledonia. Reliable information has since been received that after meeting the Governor the captain of the sloop  has recommended to Vichy certain drastic measures, including relief of the Governor and of the Secretary-General  who is said to be the leader of the autonomist party, the institution of proceedings against the autonomist leaders and the development of trade with Japan and America to oust British economic influence. The situation in New Caledonia has thus been brought to a head since the Commonwealth Government's telegram of 11th August No. 426 , and it has become of the greatest importance that an attempt should be made at once to forestall the efforts of the Vichy Government to take drastic measures against the pro-British elements in the colony.
It seems unlikely that so long as the DUMONT D'URVILLE remains at Noumea the anti-Vichy elements in New Caledonia will be able to resist the imposition of a pro-Vichy Government. General de Gaulle  has  received communications from people of New Caledonia indicating that the great majority of the people of the colony are actively on his side though possibly the Governor and most but not all of the Administration remain pro-Vichy. Commonwealth Government telegram No. 426 also indicates that the overwhelming majority of the population is on the side of de Gaulle. As indicated in the message from de Gaulle to the French Resident Commissioner of the New Hebrides repeated to Commonwealth Government in my telegram under reference, de Gaulle proposes that latter should go to New Caledonia and de Gaulle has now asked whether one of H.M. ships could take him. If this could be arranged and the immediate return of the DUMONT D'URVILLE to Papeete could be secured, there seems reason to believe that de Gaulle elements in the colony would be encouraged to depose the Governor and declare openly against Vichy. New Caledonia falls within the limits of the Australian naval station and any naval action in these waters would therefore be a matter for the R.A.N.
The Admiralty understand that, while other ships at the disposal of the Australian Naval Board of sufficient fighting value to overawe the DUMONT D'URVILLE are engaged on other services, H.M.A.S. ADELAIDE should be available. In these circumstances we should like to suggest to the Commonwealth Government that the ADELAIDE be sent at once to the New Hebrides to embark the French Resident Commissioner, proceeding thence to Noumea with instructions to bring about as quickly as possible the return of the DUMONT D'URVILLE to Papeete. We do not contemplate that it would be desirable or necessary for H.M.A.S. ADELAIDE to use actual force against the French war vessel, certainly not at present. What we should rather hope would be that her mere presence would reinforce the determination and efforts of the anti-Vichy party and that she would support the French Resident Commissioner in giving that party desired encouragement. Result may be to enable the local population to arrange their affairs in a manner satisfactory to ourselves without need for any overt intervention by us. But this process may of course take a little time during which the ADELAIDE can stay and report developments.
If there were disturbances in the New Hebrides [sic]  the ADELAIDE could perhaps lend support to the extent of a landing party, basing action on unsettled conditions and necessity of protection of British interests. Having regard to the attitude already taken in regard to developments in the New Hebrides and in French Equatorial Africa and the Cameroons, we should not consider this step as likely seriously to increase the risk of war with the Vichy Government.
We should be grateful if you would explain the position at once to the Commonwealth Government and ask them to consider urgently, in the light of any reports which they may have received from Ballard  in New Caledonia or from the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific  now en route to Noumea, whether they could take action on the lines suggested.