248 Sir Earle Page, Special Representative in the United Kingdom, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram P20 LONDON, 1 January 1942, 11.56 p.m.


My telegram P.10. [1]

After long consultation and detailed examination of the whole problem Bruce [2] and I submit the following views. In considering the question of Australian representation in the United Kingdom we have to keep in mind what our objective] [3] is. In our view it is to ensure:-

(i) The maximum practical degree of efficiency in the higher direction of the war, and (2) That Australia's interests and views on policy will receive full consideration [particularly] in its formative stages.

Important as (2) is its accomplishment would be of little value without (1). The question, therefore, is how (1) can be achieved.

The War Cabinet of the United Kingdom is the present instrument for higher direction of the war. It has shown weaknesses and defects. Do we attempt to cure these or to create a new instrument? Such new instrument would be an Imperial War Cabinet.

With the best possible personnel it might function satisfactorily- with lesser personnel it would be disaster.

It is impracticable under present conditions to get an Imperial War Cabinet composed of outstanding personalities representing the Empire as a whole. Australia should therefore concentrate upon endeavouring to improve by its own efforts the working of the existing instrument, i.e. the United Kingdom War Cabinet, to assure its two [objectives]. This would mean for the time being abandoning any idea of creating any new political machinery for co-operation of the Empire as a whole in the higher direction of the war. Other Dominions may, however, follow our lead and if they do that co-operation would be progressively brought about. As to the steps we should take to achieve our immediate objective we set out our views below.

The general background of the position here is given in my telegram P.10. The broad effect of that telegram is to show the necessity as a result of experience here particularly during recent critical days of our having in London a representative so accredited that he will have access to all information however confidential and will have full opportunity to exercise his influence both in formulation and implementation of policy.

This is a general conclusion and in no way defines how the information is to be obtained or influence exercised. We give an indication later of the way in which both of these objectives may be achieved. We feel however that vis-a-vis the United Kingdom Government the accrediting of a special representative and request for facilities and opportunities for him to carry out his task should be of the most general character leaving it to the special representative guided by his knowledge to demand and either by his personality or by intervention of the Australian Government at his request to obtain what is necessary. By this means we will rapidly obtain an effective voice in the direction of policy. If we are more specific, constitutional questions, the position of other Dominions and similar issues may be raised involving delays which in these critical days we cannot contemplate.

The following is an indication of the way in which we visualise our progressively achieving our objectives with the least possible delay or friction.

Your secret and personal telegram to the Prime Minister of 13th December Johcu 8 [4] affords the basis from which a start can be made. In that you state broadly the facilities you desire should be accorded to Australia's special representative.

Based upon that telegram we at an interview with Attlee [5] and Cranborne [6] on Monday night arrived at an agreement which constitutes the first step towards implementing your request. That agreement was that Australia's representative should be entitled to:-

(1) The same distribution of communications to and from diplomatic posts abroad as members of the War Cabinet.

(2) The same distribution of appreciations and other documents issued by the Chief[s] of Staff Committee to members of the Defence Committee and that all necessary facilities and contacts would be available with Cabinet and Defence Committee's Secretariats.

(3) Necessary accommodation should be made available in the Cabinet Offices.

(1) and (2) are dependent upon Churchill's acquiesence and he has been communicated with.

If these arrangements are given effect to, they should go far to solve the problem of obtaining necessary information.

In order to make them effective however we on out side will have to create necessary organisation. This organisation must provide for the closest possible contact with the War Cabinet and Defence Committee Secretariats and the Foreign Office.

As these two Secretariats and the Foreign Office overlap it is necessary that the contact should be by the same individual and success of the contact will depend tremendously upon him. Keith.

Officer [7] would be the ideal appointment for this post. I have been greatly impressed by the opinions I have heard of him and of his work when in London from the Foreign Office and the War Cabinet and Defence Committee Secretariat sources. I would strongly urge that Officer should as soon as he gets away from Tokyo be sent here.

Pending Officer's arrival for contact with the Defence Committee Secretariat we would ask that you would agree to allow Coleman [8] to remain in England.

With regard to information obtained on the diplomatic side the Australian representative would have to rely upon advice and assistance that Officer and Stirling [9] could afford him. With regard to information an the military side the assistance of representatives of the three services would be available and we would propose that these three representatives should be formed into a small committee of which Coleman would act as Secretary.

This committee would act as advisers to Australia's special representative and their functions would be of the utmost importance. In view of this the calibre of the committee should be the best possible and we suggest for your consideration the desirability of representatives of the different services being changed from time to time and most promising and outstanding individuals being sent here for a period.

At the moment as we have no Senior Naval Officer here the services of Admiral Colvin [10] have been enlisted.

The above deals with the question of obtaining information and, [plus] personal contacts which Australia's representative would have with Senior Ministers, should meet our objective [up to the] point when questions come up for decision in (a) the Defence Committee and (b) the War Cabinet.

With regard to (a) the practice of our being invited to meetings of the Defence Committee has now been established. This practice however is based upon Australia having in the United Kingdom a special representative on a temporary visit. When that special representative became permanent there may be an attempt to depart from the practice. This possibility, however, should not be anticipated but should be dealt with if and when it arises. The continuance of our representation on the Defence Committee is imperative because:-

(1) It is the body which determines all questions with regard to higher policy and strategy of the War.

(2) It is the body through which if and when other Dominions follow our lead Empire co-operation and co-ordination will be brought about.

With regard to (b) the position is somewhat different as the War Cabinet is also His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom responsible to Parliament and often deals with matters of purely United Kingdom domestic concern whereas the Defence Committee seldom deals with purely domestic questions. The practice since I have been here has been to invite him [sic] to some but not all of the meetings of War Cabinet. This however has been done as a courtesy and is based upon the temporary character of my visit. We doubt if this practice would be continued in the case of permanent special representative. This however to our mind is not very material as the War Cabinet is to a great extent a body which approves of and puts its authority behind decisions arrived at elsewhere e.g. the Defence Committee.

We would not advocate at this time that we press for Australia's special representative to be invited to all meetings of the War Cabinet but would suggest that the matter should be left on the broad basis of your telegram to the Prime Minister Johcu No. 5 [11] i.e. 'opportunity through its accredited representative present of presenting to and discussing with the War Cabinet any suggestions as to new policy or views on policy under consideration that Australia might from time to time desire to submit'.

If this is done the special representative could then insist on being present at the War Cabinet when any matter which he considered of sufficient importance was to be considered and no doubt the Prime Minister would invite the Australian representative to be present when any matter of particular and direct concern to Australia was under consideration.

We would emphasise however that under no circumstances should we acquiesce in any suggestion that the principle should be accepted that the matter is governed by whether questions of immediate and direct concern to Australia are to be considered.

Generally and not specifically in relation to War Cabinet there is a tendency to adopt such an attitude which Bruce has always resisted, maintaining that Australia is just as concerned with great fundamental issues, e.g. our relations with Russia, as she is with questions of immediate intervention directly concerning here, e.g. the Pacific.

In addition to the matters dealt with above there are two other great questions with regard to which we must actively concern ourselves and must create the necessary machinery to enable us to do so. They are:(a) Post war reconstruction problems in their economic and social aspects.

(b) Questions of supply and co-ordination and full utilisation of our total resources.

With regard to (a) we have been closely associated with these questions in the past but our efforts will be far more effective with the increased [status] accorded to a fully accredited representative. The organisation for dealing with these questions would be similar to that in regard to political and military questions with McDougall [12] playing a similar part as is contemplated for Coleman in regard to the Defence Committee Secretariat.

With regard to (b) the position here is far from satisfactory but all our efforts in the past to effect an improvement have achieved little success. A fully accredited representative will be in a better position to obtain results but he will need some organisation behind him. With regard to the character of this organisation we will make suggestions later. It should be possible to create it without much difficulty by utilising the services of Colonel Coffey [13] who has done admirable work under most difficult circumstances in the past and by utilising munitions personnel which is just arriving in this country.

The above suggestions we believe are the most practical steps that can be taken in order to obtain rapid results and will in no way interfere with future developments but rather pave the way for them.

See also my two following telegrams. [14]


1 Document 175.

2 High Commissioner in the United Kingdom.

3 Words in square brackets have been corrected/inserted from Bruce's copy on file AA:M100, January 1942.

4 In this cablegram (on file AA:M100, December 1941) Curtin advised Winston Churchill that he had asked Page to remain in London and act in the closest association with Bruce. Curtin also asked Churchill that, in view of the situation in the Pacific, the Commonwealth Govt should be informed of policy developments in time for its views to be expressed before decisions were taken and that the Australian accredited representative should be able to raise and discuss policy matters with the U.K. War Cabinet, Churchill and his senior ministers and important committees such as the Defence Committee. Churchill replied on 16 December:

'Fullest opportunity for knowing all essential facts and putting forward suggestions and views will be afforded to Page. You will realize decisions have to be taken rapidly.' See cablegram Winch 11 on file AA:A2937, A.B.D.A. Strategic Area, 1941-1942 5 U.K. Lord Privy Seal.

6 U.K. Dominions Secretary.

7 External Affairs Officer in London 1933 37, Australian Counsellor at the U.K. Embassy in Washington 1937-40, Counsellor at the Legation in Washington and then at the Legation in Tokyo 1940-41 8 Assistant Secretary, Air Dept, who had accompanied Page to London.

9 External Affairs Officer in London.

10 Chief of the Australian Naval Staff 1937-41.

11 The quotation in fact comes from cablegram Johcu 8 cited in note 4 above.

12 Economic Adviser to the High Commissioner in the United Kingdom.

13 Assistant Military Liaison Officer at the High Commission in London.

14 See cablegrams P21-2 of 1 January on file AA:M100 January 1942.

In P21 Page suggested that he should return to Australia, leaving Bruce to be the Australian accredited representative in London.

P22 explained the existing machinery for the higher direction of the war.

On 7 January Curtin advised Page (cablegram 2, AA:A316, 1942, 0.629) that the views he had set out in cablegrams P20-2 had been fully considered by War Cabinet and the Advisory War Council but had not been concurred in. Page was instructed to remain in London and Bruce to remain as High Commissioner. For further discussion of this issue see Page's cablegram P24 of 8 January, Bruce's cablegram 13A of 15 January, Curtin's cablegram [595] of 21 January and Page's cablegram P32 Of 28 January On file AA:M100, January 1942.

[AA:A1608, H33/1/2]