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

1 saw Evatt at 5.30 p.m. for about half an hour. When I arrived Page [1] was there talking to Robinson [2] and had apparently been waiting for about 1 1/2 hours.

I told Evatt that Page had been to see me this afternoon and I had found myself in a position of considerable embarrassment, as while Page had been the Accredited Representative of the Australian Government and in such capacity I had afforded him all the help I could, I did not feel at liberty to disclose to him what was in my mind with regard to the question of representation as this issue might become a subject of political controversy in which Page would be attacking the Government which at the moment I was serving. I had accordingly told Page that I could not say anything to him and strongly recommended that he should go and see Evatt and discuss the matter with him. This advice Page had taken and was, I understood, seeing Evatt at 6.00 p.m. Evatt said that was so and referred to the fact that Page wanted to do a broadcast in the next few days which he, Evatt, was most anxious he should not do. Evatt clearly knew what was in Page's broadcast and I rather gathered that he had got the information as to Page's desire to broadcast and what he was proposing to say from Bracken. [3] At this stage the subject of Page was not further pursued.

Evatt had the Note which I sent to him on Wednesday [4] in front of him and had clearly been giving a good deal of thought to it as it was very underlined and marked. He immediately started dealing with it and the first point he made was to ask me how I knew of W.1 [5] and that it had only been made available to him on the 13th May as he Evatt had not told me that.

I told him I had heard of it at the time when he had his private talk with the Chiefs of Staff, namely on the 12th May.

He pursued the subject and asked me how I had got that information at that date, to which I replied that I had got it because of my contacts with the Chiefs of Staff organisation but it would not be fair for me to disclose how I had obtained it. On this he dropped the point.

He then took the five points made in my Note and said that he agreed that the position was as set out in A. and B. but added that it would take a tremendous amount of altering.

He made the not uninteresting comment that in this country there was at the present time really a Military Dictatorship.

With regard to C. he said it was not desirable that we should be given information of impending operations.

To this I agreed in so far as there was any question of advising Australia with regard to any impending operations. I said, however, that that was not the point I was making. What I felt had to be remedied was the position where a great question involving our relations with Vichy France had been under continuous review we should never have been consulted in the matter, quite apart from the specific question of the actual operation against Madagascar and the date when it took place.

Evatt then took D. and E. together and said that he had known a great deal more about this matter than he had told me and that it was true that he had not been invited to the meeting of the War Cabinet when the matter was finally decided. He implied, however, that the reason for this was that it was really a matter of domestic policy for the United Kingdom as they were to be the Parties to the Agreement with the Soviet.

I told him that I did not accept that view because this question went far beyond any matter of United Kingdom domestic policy and really was a question involving the most vital considerations in connection with the whole conduct of the war. For some reason, however, he appears to have become quite cold on any matter which touches upon Russia.

With regard to his statement as to having had much more information tha[n] he disclosed to me, although I did not say so, I do not think it quite represents the position. The actual facts are that the United Kingdom Government went ahead with these negotiations and determined the line of policy they were going to pursue without any real consultation with him.

After Evatt had taken the five points he said that the position as it had existed in the past had to be altered but that everything depended on the man here. He said that while Page was the Accredited Representative he had not obtained the information that he should have. Evatt added that I did obtain the information and that since he had been here he had known everything that was going on. He said his methods differed from mine but that they were none the less effective. Evatt said that I must do the job here and that he had no doubt it would be possible for me to achieve what we desire. He said, however, he was not going to force the position with the Prime Minister [6] who was extremely touchy and rather suggested that he hoped I would handle the position with a similar discretion.

I said that it appeared to me that his, Evatt's, mind was in favour of the second of the two alternative courses I had suggested in my Note. I said that that was a matter for him to decide but stressed that it was essential he should move at once as he must put the whole position to the Prime Minister before he left England.

Evatt said that he was going to do so tomorrow and had waited until now as he did not want to have this matter out with the Prime Minister until he had got what he wanted here. He then told me at some length what he had obtained, particularly stressing the three Spitfire Squadrons, of which he told me, and said he would let me have a copy of the letter which Ismay had sent him on behalf of the Prime Minister. [7]

After he had gone over what he had obtained I came back to the point of the necessity of his putting up the whole position to the Prime Minister. I stressed that it was necessary he should do so both in his own interests and in mine if I was to take over when he left. I said it was essential in his own interests because his colleagues in the Cabinet, some of whom I was under the impression were fairly tough, would want to know when he got back exactly what he had done with the Prime Minister to ensure that Australia had a voice in the higher direction of the war that we had been promised.

I told him that I did not quite see his colleagues being satisfied with a recitation of what he had obtained and a statement that he had not raised this major issue of representation with the Prime Minister as it might have provided a row with the Prime Minister which would have led him to be less helpful. I said, however, on the other hand if he could add to the story of what he had achieved the fact that he had put the whole position with regard to Australian representation squarely up to the Prime Minister and obtained his undertaking that he would remedy it, plus the fact that I had been entrusted with the task of quietly and without friction attempting to bring about the alterations we had desired, I felt he would be able to satisfy his colleagues.

With regard to my position I told him I had made my views clear in the two Notes that I had given him. [8] As long as he had put the whole position clearly to the Prime Minister I would be in a position to know what I had to do, namely, quietly and as rapidly as I could to bring about the alteration in the position we desired and if I could not to advise the Government so that they could take action.

I stressed, however, that it must be quite clear that I was the fully Accredited Representative of Australia and that all facilities had to be made available to me.

To this Evatt agreed. I then warned him that in his conversation with the Prime Minister he might have the question raised of embarrassments with the other Dominions if the High Commissioner for Australia was made the Accredited Representative. I explained to him that the danger in this connection was that New Zealand, who always want to get what Australia has got, might press for the appointment of Jordan [9], which would be unthinkable. With the point as to Jordan Evatt cordially agreed. I told him that the line with the Prime Minister as I saw it was that it was not the High Commissioner qua High Commissioner who was being appointed but an individual. I said, however, that it would probably get over any difficulties which the Dominions Office were up against if it were made clear that owing to duties involved in my position as Accredited Representative I would be relieved by Duncan [10] of the ordinary duties of the High Commissioner.

I suggested that in giving effect to this arrangement Duncan might be made Deputy High Commissioner but this Evatt was opposed to. He said he did not want any question of any Executive appointment being made.

The position was left on the basis that whatever might be decided on the question of making Duncan Deputy High Commissioner the arrangement would be that in order to meet the possible trouble with the other Dominions it would be indicated that I was relinquishing the ordinary High Commissioner functions.


[AA:M100, MAY 1942]

1 Formerly Special Representative in the United Kingdom. See Document 439, note 8.

2 Australian businessman and adviser to Evatt on his overseas mission.

3 U.K. Minister of Information.

4 Document 499.

5 See Document 497, paragraph 2.

6 Winston Churchill.

7 See Document 502.

8 See Document 499 and Note of 3 May on file AA:M100, May 1942.

9 N.Z. High Commissioner in the United Kingdom.

10 Official Secretary of the High Commission in London.

[LONDON], 28 May 1942