491 Note by Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, of Conversation with Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs

I went to see Evatt about 4 o'clock. The object of my going to see him was to ask him whether there was anything on the Agenda for this evening's Cabinet indicating that either the Agreement with the Soviet over boundaries or the U.S.A. reply to the Soviet's economic memorandum was coming up.

When I went into the room I rather sensed the atmosphere was that Evatt was inclined to raise a row about something and after merely saying that there was nothing on the Agenda about Russia he opened up about my cablegram to Australia with regard to Phillips' [1] disclosures about my conversation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer [2], suggesting that in that cablegram I had indicated that I had had difficulty in getting him to discuss this particular matter. [3]

I said that there was no such possible suggestion and then outlined to him what I had been trying to do with regard to this whole question, namely get the atmosphere prepared for him so that I could more or less hand to him on a platter the basis for an admirable settlement of this very important question. I stressed to him that everything I had been doing had been with the object of helping him and I had only been forced to disclose what I had been doing by Phillips' statement in America. I also pointed out that when I received the telegram from the Prime Minister [4] the third paragraph of which really implied that I should have let him know before, I had no option but to tell him the complete story.

The reference to my not yet having had an opportunity of discussing it with him, Evatt, was simply a recital of a fact and had no possible implementation [sic] behind it against him, Evatt.

In face of what I said the maintenance of an atmosphere of a brawl became extremely difficult and Evatt dropped the subject saying he quite understood.

I am afraid the real trouble is that he was annoyed Australia had been advised how much had been done prior to his, Evatt's, arrival, but he could hardly blame me for that, my [sic] having done everything in my power to avoid disclosure as to how far I had got before his arrival.

We then came back to the question of Russia and I told him the story both with regard to the agreement which is being negotiated and the American reply [5] on the Soviet Economic Memorandum. [6] I left with him Stirling's [7] note analysing the United Kingdom proposals, the Soviet counter proposals and comments. I also told him of my conversation with Winant [8] and left with him the Foreign Office memorandum dealing with the American reply to the Soviet economic proposals. I also referred to the paper which had come up at the War Cabinet with regard to supplies to Russia under the Protocol and for the Protocol period.

Evatt asked me if I had this paper and I explained to him the circumstances of its return but told him we had a note of its contents. [9] This he asked me to let him have. I said that all this Russian business was merely another example of the non- implementation of the understanding arrived at with regard to Australia's participation in the higher direction of the war, the facts with regard to which I had set out in my paper of the 3rd May [10], a copy of which I had given him on his arrival.

Evatt agreed to this but did not pursue the point at the moment but reverted to his tour with the Prime Minister. [11] He told me that at Leeds the Prime Minister when speaking had referred to Russia but the reference had evoked no response. On the other hand when he had referred to Australia his observations had received the most enthusiastic reception.

Following this he referred to the amazing grip that the Prime Minister has upon the people and rather developed on this thesis the idea that it would be a bad thing for us to have a quarrel with Winston as it might hurt Australia's interests in obtaining reinforcements and supplies we need if we antagonise him.

In reply to this I pointed out that undoubtedly Winston's position was much stronger in the country than in the House and I instanced where he stood prior to the reconstruction when Cripps was brought in. [12] I suggested he should not be too much influenced by these public demonstrations as the people's favour was notoriously a somewhat uncertain quantity.

Evatt, however, stuck to his point as to Winston's complete control here and pressed the idea that he was the man who could give us what we wanted at the moment and it was not in our interests to antagonise him. He developed his ideas down the lines that our not getting the information that we should was not due to any action taken vis-a-vis Australia but was really the result of the system under which the War Cabinet was operating. He also developed the idea that it was not for us to upset what the Members of the War Cabinet were prepared to accept.

This is a very changed atmosphere from the somewhat blood and thunder one Evatt adopted at our first conversation on the Sunday after his arrival. [13] At that stage he was determined to insist that everything that had been promised must be implemented and that a show-down with Winston was necessary in which my position, after his, Evatt's, departure was to be defined without any possibility of misunderstanding. His view now appears to be that he, Evatt, should get everything that is possible out of the cordial relations he has established with the Prime Minister, but that a show-down on the whole major issue of our representation should be avoided. His attitude was that I should take over upon his departure; that I should gradually work with my influence and personality to obtain what we require.

He told me that he had cabled to the Prime Minister in Australia saying that it was essential that I should take over when he left and that Page could not possibly resume his position as Australia's Accredited Representative. [14]

I did not tell Evatt that I had seen the telegram in which he referred to my taking over, or point out that it was somewhat ungraciously worded. I made the point to him, however, that I could not accept Page coming back as the Accredited Representative. I referred to the personal cablegram I had sent to the Prime Minister saying that I was only too willing to act as a Counsellor and Adviser to Ministers coming over here from time to time, but that a permanent or semi-permanent appoint[ment] would make my position impossible. [15] I did not gather with certainty whether he had seen that telegram or not.

I then stressed to Evatt that I welcomed periodic visits from Ministers because such visits had the great advantage of bringing here the latest information as to the attitude and views of the Australian Government, of broadening the outlook of the Ministers who came, and enabling them to take back to Australia the picture as seen from this end.

Evatt said that he agreed but that there should be a reasonable gap between Ministers' visits, and made the suggestion that say three months after he got back to Australia it might be possible to arrange for the Prime Minister to come.

Having cleared up this point I then reverted to the major question of how far the undertakings that had been given here, and the statements as to the position which had been made both by the Prime Minister here and in Australia, were being implemented. I said this question was of the utmost importance if I was going to take over. I stressed that while I would be prepared to try and get the position on to a satisfactory basis and was most anxious to avoid any friction, I could not go on if the position was merely a farcical one. I emphasised to Evatt that it was essential we should safeguard ourselves against the situation arising where I had to cable to the Prime Minister and indicate that I could not continue as Australia's special representative because in fact I was not in a position to carry out the functions which the people both in Australia and in this country believed I was performing.

I stressed that I was prepared to try and achieve what we wanted and I would not insist on too much definition provided it was made clear that I was Australia's Accredited Representative enjoying the full confidence of the Government. I indicated, however, that it seemed to me the position as to the past, e.g. decisions in Washington, Marshall-Hopkins talks, Madagascar [16], must be put to Winston and an understanding arrived at with him quite apart from the position of his fellow members of the War Cabinet.

On this basis we left the matter to think it over and have a further conversation. It is clear that Winston has exercised his charm and unquestionable astuteness upon Evatt. I see some difficulties in Evatt's really facing Winston up with the position, particularly in view of certain things which emerged when he told me of a conversation he had had in the train with Winston.

In this conversation Winston apparently told Evatt that Menzies [17] just before he left had said to Winston that he was too autocratic and did not allow those around him a sufficient voice in determining policy. Winston said that his reply to Menzies was that he, Winston, was informed that you, Menzies, are something of the same sort in Australia. Winston also apparently told Evatt that he was prepared to be thrown out but he was not prepared to have his powers as Prime Minister wilted [sic] away.

If, as appeared from Evatt's account of this conversation, Evatt accepted these statements without any sort of a challenge, or without bringing up what has happened as to the non-implementation of the undertakings to Australia, it seems to me that he will be in some difficulty in facing Winston up with the necessity of treating Australia somewhat differently in the future to the way she has been treated in the past.


[AA:M100, MAY 1942]

1 U.K. Treasury representative in the United States.

2 Sir Kingsley Wood.

3 See cablegram 4209 of 8 May on file AA:M100, May 1942. It reported that Wood had assured Bruce informally on 28 April that the U.K. Govt would ensure that the accumulation of Australian overseas war expenditure would not be allowed to unduly deplete Australia's sterling balances.

4 See John Curtin's cablegram 3875 of 6 May on file AA:A981, USA181, i.

5 Dated 11 May. Bruce summarised the reply in his cablegram S23 of 23 May (on file AA:A989, 43/735/29).

6 Summarised in Bruce's cablegram 1163 of 9 February on the file cited in note 5.

7 External Affairs Officer in London. The note may be that dated 16 May on the file cited in note 5.

8 U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom. See Bruce's cablegram S22 of 19 May on file AA:A981, War 54 9 Not found.

10 On file AA:M100, May 1942.

11 Winston Churchill.

12 Cripps took office as U.K. Lord Privy Seal on 19 February. See also Document 338.

13 See Document 481.

14 See Document 490.

15 See cablegram 13A of 15 January on file AA:M100, January 1942.

16 These issues are set out in Document 499.

17 Then Prime Minister.

[LONDON], 18 May 1942