282 Mr V. G. Bowden, Official Representative in Singapore, to Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs

Cablegram 54 SINGAPORE, 19 January 1942 [1]

MOST IMMEDIATE MOST SECRET PERSONAL FOR EVATT

I feel justified in replying at length to your telegram 27 [2] as its contents suggest some misunderstanding regarding my position here.

1. Information regarding Activities of A.I.F.

(a) The only access I have to official information about A.I.F. is through General Officer Commanding Malaya [3] or his representative at the War Council Meetings. Gordon Bennett [4] has made it clear to me that Dept. of the Army receives full information through his channels and that he does not consider that my co-operation with him would serve any purpose as there is nothing I could add. I am therefore without close official contact with A.I.F. H.Q.'s. With reference to my tel. 46 Dec. 9th [5], Tebbutt [6] might have been such contact but action reported in your telegram 36 [7] has brought no result.

(b) I submit that the only full responsible information regarding A.I.F. activities can come from A.I.F. headquarters. I am not in a position to demand this. Although Fitchett is the official war correspondent I cannot be certain that Gordon Bennett will necessarily endorse all his statements and views particularly on such matters as air and mechanised support. I would therefore not be prepared to accept responsibility for information received from him. You do not specify what the other sources might be but if you wish to receive from me without responsibility uncensored reports of Fitchett and other war correspondents and are prepared to accept risk of public disclosure that information for Cabinet regarding A.I.F. is being sought from journalists I shall endeavour to make arrangements. I and my staff maintain contact with Fitchett and other correspondents when they are in Singapore but now that A.I.F. is in action they are seldom here and there are no means of communicating with them at the front except through Army channels.

(c) I have repeatedly asked for a service attache to be appointed to my staff (see my telegrams 46 Dec. 9th, 65 Dec 20th [8] and 74 Dec. 24th [9], also my memorandum Dec. 9th[10]) but nothing has resulted.

2. Supplies I protest most strongly that I have given you no cause for reminding me of my duty to Australia in this regard and that I have in no way neglected that duty. My staff associate themselves with me along with the protest. I have pressed local administration for supply of rubber to the extent of finally charging them with unwillingness to assist Australia. As a result of this Governor [11] invited me and Wootton [12] to a conference on Wednesday with himself, shipping controller and shipping adviser; results of this conference were communicated in my telegram 46. (Rubber could not be shipped because present stocks are all privately owned and paid for.) Statement to which you took exception in my telegram 46 conveyed attitude of local administration which is as follows:

(a) Aim must be to ship all rubber away from Singapore as quickly as possible in view of danger of destruction by bombing or fire.

(b) Shipping opportunities to east coast of Australia are now rare; therefore they cannot afford to wait [sic] such opportunities when they have rubber available for Australia but expect Australia to be prepared to accept delivery at Fremantle in case of need. Otherwise they would feel obliged to ship rubber in question to some other country according to shipping available.

(America and England are also pressing strongly for deliveries.) Statement in third sentence also originates from local administration.

3. Channels of Communication (a) Prime Minister's Department regularly communicate direct with Duff Cooper [13] Mission and my telegram 61 December 18th [14] asking to be kept informed was ignored. P.M.'s Department still communicate direct with Governor which enables him and his administration to adopt similar procedure. I have no means of knowing how much of this correspondence is withheld from me. (For instance I only heard today about Governor's last cable regarding Chinese evacuees [15] and have still no copy.) Also I cannot ensure that your cables are not unduly held back at this end. For example, request was made on the morning of December 17th for copy of telegram referred to in 1st para. your tel: 23 [16] but copy was not made available until 12.50 p. m. December 18th reason given being that it was very long and was still being decyphered.

(b) I submit as long as Commonwealth Government continues to conduct telegraphic correspondence through parallel channels there will be the risks of delays and confusion for which I cannot accept responsibility. Moreover, my position here in pressing Australian interests vis-a-vis local administration must inevitably lack strength as long as that administration can [by- ]pass me by cabling Canberra direct.

(c) I strongly feel that it is to Commonwealth Government's interest that my position should be fully recognised and supported by all Departments and that (with exception of combatant services) I should be sole channel for all official communication with Malaya. [17]

BOWDEN

FILE S5, BOWDEN REPORTS]

1 This cablegram was dispatched in three parts, in reverse order, from 1.14 p.m. to 10.52 p.m.

2 Document 280.

3 Lt Gen A. E. Percival.

4 General Officer Commanding 8th Division, A.I.F.

5 AA:A3830, 1941, 3385. It requested attachment of service representatives to Bowden's office.

6 Liaison officer between Army Headquarters, Melbourne, and the Far East Combined Bureau.

7 Dispatched 11 December. On file AA:A981, War 49, i. It stated that Bowden's request had been submitted to the authorities concerned.

8 on file AA:A1608, G33/1/2. It requested that an Australian intelligence officer be appointed to Bowden's staff, as the supply and importance of political intelligence available to him had been greatly reduced by the closure of the Far East Combined Bureau.

9 In Flinders University Library: Evatt Papers, External Affairs Dept file S5, Bowden Reports.

10 Not found.

11 Sir Shenton Thomas.

12 Commercial Secretary at the office of the Official Representative, Singapore.

13 U.K. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He had been Minister of State for Far Eastern Affairs resident in Singapore until 9 January.

14 On file AA:A981, war 54.

15 See Document 296, note 1.

16 Not found.

17 An undated, handwritten draft reply by Evatt to this cablegram thanked Bowden for his efforts and was generally mollifying in tone (in Flinders University Library: Evatt Papers, External Affairs Dept S5, Bowden Reports).

[FLINDERS UNIVERSITY LIBRARY: EVATT PAPERS, EXTERNAL AFFAIRS DEPT