359 Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs, to Mr J. M. McMillan, Third Secretary of the Legation in Washington

Cablegram [222] [1] CANBERRA, [22 February 1942, 5.05 a.m.]


1. I take leave to address you on a matter of grave importance to our common cause. Some three days ago we affirmed the decision that the A.I.F. should return to defend their homeland here. [3] We had not suggested its return from the Middle East but we agreed to the proposal of Churchill that, for the purpose of reinforcing Singapore and thereafter reinforcing the N.E.I., two of our three divisions should come back. The object of the movement was to hold up the southern thrust of Japan.

2. We were glad that the divisions were to go to the N.E.I. not merely because those Indies would form a screen for the defence of Australia as a base but because they would consolidate goodwill between N.E.I. and Australia.

3. The decision was taken by Churchill and Wavell [4] not to reinforce the N.E.I. further: thereupon our expert military advisers thought that the divisions should at once come to the closest area from which the southern thrust of Japan might be met, i.e. Australia.

4. In all the technical strategical appreciations, the function of Australia as a base area to attack Japan has been underlined.

Wavell himself has repeatedly said that it is vital to the Allies to defend Australia.

5. The position of our home defences is most unsatisfactory largely owing to our having sent land, sea and air forces to Britain, Middle East, Greece, Crete and elsewhere. We have struggled to improve these defences during our four months of office but they still fall far short of what is required. General Lavarack who is G.O.C. the A.I.F. and close to Wavell favoured a diversion of one division to Burma but only on condition that our C.G.S. [5] was satisfied with the condition of our home defences.

But the C.G.S. expressed himself as very dissatisfied-a conclusion which really understates the gravity of the position here. Air strength is very small owing to the policy of our predecessors who concentrated upon training 10,000 air personnel for service in the U.K. and who tended to regard Australian home defence [as] of subsidiary importance.

6. In these circumstances it became utterly impossible for us to agree to the suggested diversion to Burma. Page [6] in London had instructions as to our view but failed to carry them out. As a result the Pacific War Council in London recommended a diversion of one division to Burma while the second was to come to Australia. But Wavell's technical appreciation did not favour this splitting up of our corps and in his last recommendation he suggested both divisions should go to Burma-or India.

7. A curious feature of the affair has been the concentrated barrage which has descended upon this Government from its own servants such as Page (acting outside his instructions).

Subsequently Hopkins [7] and the President also sent messages based upon their belief that we were not to be seriously threatened by Japan-a belief that we cannot share.

8. But it is one thing to deal with arguments from other governments, it is another thing to be embarrassed by those who are the agents of the Australian Government. We are in our present plight because of what we have done abroad, and the people of this country would make short shrift of those who are obstructing the return of the flower of our army for the purpose of defending their homeland.

9. Today we heard of a proposal that an American division should come to Australia. [8] Of course we should welcome it and if the U.S.A. decision were altered because of ours the effect might be most unfortunate. I do not wish to refer to the controversy as to Pacific v. Atlantic for everybody now must see that we were right in asserting that a failure to take Japan seriously might lead to world successes of the Axis. Sending the American division to Northern Ireland has had a bad effect in this country because of Beaverbrook's [9] comment that this was the first and most important job which Churchill performed in America. We are glad that Cripps [10] is in office and hope that he will check Churchill whose attitude over this particular matter has been turbulent and peremptory.

10. I am aware that although our decision is on the highest plane of secrecy it may by treachery be allowed to leak out in London and Washington. It is vital to allied solidarity that we should have your sympathy and understanding.

11. I now draw your attention to an article four days ago by J.

Harsch in 'Christian Science Monitor'. This is most defeatist and fifth columnist in character, and we have traced its origin in Australia to a Fascist, anti-Semitic group. It was deliberately intended to embroil Australia and N.E.I. In fact this Government has fulfilled every requisition made in relation to N.E.I. and our losses in defending N.E.I. have been very heavy both on land and in the air. I do not know whether Casey [11] I or Bailey (his publicity man) [12] are counteracting this propaganda. journalists like Harsch, Browne [13], Knickerbocker seem ready to injure this country whenever possible, and two of them are suspected by British Security Service.

12. Further, the A.I.F. decision may also be used by fifth columnists to cause difficulties between China and ourselves.

Owing largely to Sir Frederic Eggleston's [14] brilliant work at Chungking we are on terms of the greatest friendship with the Chinese Government. China has always supported our emphasis upon the importance of the Pacific war. I hope you will try and explain to Hopkins that the President's goodwill should not be used by Churchill as if it were his own especial property. Casey has already been asked to explain to Hopkins but his advocacy does not appear to have been at all useful.

13. The whole incident of the suggested diversion of the A.I.F. to Burma has been alarming. I feel certain that Wavell himself only recommended diversion under pressure from Churchill. Wavell had always insisted upon the vital importance of Australia as a base.

Finally the party political possibilities occurred to a few anti- Labor opportunists here and in London most of whom are distrusted by the Australian people. The President and Mrs. Roosevelt will know that a New Deal Government is obstructed by its opponents in war as well as in peace.

14. Harsch's poisonous stuff seems already to have been repeated in other New York papers.

15. Above all we are anxious about President's attitude. Already promises of deliveries of aircraft here have been greatly whittled down behind his back and it is feared that the pressure of the U.K. against aid to the Pacific is still too strong. I only wish I could speak to you in person for we are very worried especially over the side-tracking of our plan for direct contact with the U.S.A. in plans for the prosecution of the war. Churchill's elaborate machinery has prevented us from meeting the U.S.A. as a partner on any council or committee whatever. We feel that the President cannot understand how much our difficulties have thereby increased. We simply cannot have our aims and reinforcements determined by Churchill who is so unsympathetic and hostile to the Labor movement. I have always admired Churchill's stand against Hitler from 1933 to 1939. But it is essential that we should have the backing of yourself and others in Washington.

16. Please excuse this frank message. I am sure that you understand that it originates in deep admiration and valued friendship.

17. At present we are informed of decisions and have little or no effective voice in their making. Yet we are an allied country whose contribution and losses proportionately are far greater than any other Dominion or even the U.K. The President should realise that the only basis of democratic control is participation by all in the general plan. As it is the main military advisers lead us from one disaster to another. Greece, Crete, Malaya and Singapore were typical examples of the Munich mind, a combination of Conservatism, incompetence and lack of valour. It is not only Australia I am thinking of but your country and Britain which I love deeply. I left the bench here to help in the winning of the war. I have no other object in life. I am convinced we must rapidly improve the machinery of allied co-operation or disaster will occur. I hope that the President will take more control of the situation and that you will take a lead.

18. I have just received your message. [15] I am sure that you will understand our viewpoint and our motives.



1 Material in square brackets has been inserted from the Washington copy in U.S. Library of Congress: Frankfurter Papers, container 53, 'Herbert V. Evatt'.

2 See Document 356, note 1.

3 See Document 345.

4 Allied Supreme Commander of the A.B.D.A. Area.

5 Lt Gen V. A. H. Sturdee.

6 Special Representative in the United Kingdom.

7 Special Adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

8 See Document 355.

9 U.K. Minister of War Production until 19 February. He then headed a U.K. supply mission to the United States. The decision to send U.S. troops to Northern Ireland was announced in Washington on 26 January.

10 U.K. Lord Privy Seal.

11 Minister to the United States.

12 Director, Australian News and Information Bureau, New York.

13 This is possibly a reference to Cecil Brown, who later in 1942 published a book entitled Suez to Singapore, of which Evatt was highly critical. See Evatt's cablegrams SL67 and SW102 of 27 October 1942 on External Affairs Dept file Spares, Drafts & Master Sheets-Outwards 'Special' cables.

14 Minister to China.

15 Document 356.