414 Mr R. G. Casey, Minister to the United States, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram S10 WASHINGTON, 15 March 1942, 7.06 p.m.


I received telegram from Churchill late last night [1] offering me a seat in British War Cabinet and to become Minister of State in the Middle East.

This was a complete surprise to me and I telephoned you this morning and sought reactions confidentially from justice Frankfurter [2], Lord Halifax [3], Harry Hopkins [4] and the President, all [of] whom I have got to know quite well and whom I believe would take a broad viewpoint rather than a personal one.

All four men expressed firm view that, with your concurrence, I should accept Churchill's proposal.

The President, whilst being good enough to say that he and his advisers would be sorry for me to leave here, said that he would greatly welcome such an arrangement from the viewpoint that it would create a direct personal link between himself and the Middle East theatre that had not existed before and which he believed was essential to the successful conduct of Middle East campaign. He rated extremely high the holding of the Middle East but he had most disturbing reports from there as to the muddle that exists there. Half to two-thirds of military equipment flowing into the Middle East is now from the United States, and at the same time he had no clear picture in his mind of the situation there. If I were to go there, he would send a personal representative of his own to Cairo (probably Bullitt [5]) and he would hope this would bring about a new era there. At the same time he could assure me that his saying this did not detract at all from his previously expressed views about the imperative necessity of holding Australia. As soon as Churchill replied to a recent communication of his (the President) the United States would take over the responsibility for the whole of the Pacific and as far west as Singapore.

Harry Hopkins took much the same view and said that he had no doubt that on the broad view Churchill's proposal was in the general interest. He said as he saw the future working out, Marshall (Chief of the United States Army Staff) and King (Commander-in-Chief United States Navy) would be the two big figures here on whom (under the President) the responsibility for south-west Pacific campaign (including Australia) as a whole would fall, with Australian Government (on advice of their own chosen war leader, whether an Australian or an American) making decisions in respect of the mainland and vicinity of Australia itself. He believed that there would be a south-west Pacific Council here (comprised of political representatives of Australia, New Zealand and China, with President or his nominee as a chairman) but he believed that any questions of real political consequence that arose would have to be telegraphed to Australia and New Zealand for decision by the Governments of Australia and New Zealand and that for example the representative on such a council would inevitably be only the mouthpiece of his Government. He did not criticize this but said he believed it inevitable that it should work out this way. This being the case, he believed that the task that Churchill had suggested for me was of much greater importance to the conduct of the war than the work that lay ahead of me here in Washington. He believed that it would be greatly to Australia's interest to have an Australian in British War Cabinet (additionally [?to] Australian in War Cabinet nominated by Australia) and in a position of great responsibility in Middle East; next to holding of Australia itself, he believed that the holding of Middle East was next most essential area to Australia.

Halifax and Frankfurter reacted in the same general sense as above. Whilst views of above men are of great interest to me your judgment, as an Australian, is of greater moment to me in what is for me a decision of great importance. The cutting for the time being of my direct and immediate connection with Australia, that this would entail, has weighed strongly with my wife and myself.

As against this, I believe that any usefulness that I might be supposed to have had on behalf of Australia here has already very largely been accomplished, and it might even be better that Australia be represented here in future by a direct nominee of your Government who has had direct and recent contact and experience of affairs in Australia.

After my talk to you this morning and my talk with the President and others and with a profound realization of the task that lies ahead, I believe on the net balance that I should accept Churchill's proposal, subject to your concurrence.

If you agree, I would of course stay here long enough to make Dr.

Evatt [6] fully conversant with all he will want to know about the situation and personalities here. I am flying to California tomorrow to meet the visitors at San Francisco. Churchill has asked me for earliest possible reply. I am replying tentatively that I am consulting you and will telegraph formal reply at the earliest.

If you agree no doubt you would wish to make an announcement in Australia at the same time as Churchill makes the announcement in London although not necessarily in the same terms. I would hope in any event that no announcement would be made in either place in the immediate future.

My personal good wishes to you in your great task.


1 In PRO: DO 35/1009 i.

2 Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

3 U.K. Ambassador to the United States.

4 Adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

5 Adviser to Roosevelt and formerly U.S. Ambassador to France.

6 Minister for External Affairs.