207 Note by Bruce of Conversation with Somerville
Extract [LONDON], 1 June 1943
Somerville came to see me on his return from America where he has been for the Staff talks. He opened the conversation by saying that he had met Dr. Evatt in Washington and that as he had had something of a brawl with him he thought he ought to tell me what had happened.
The incident appears to have been as follows:-
At the beginning of a conversation with Evatt, Somerville had referred to the escorting of the 9th Division when they recently returned to Australia, and said that he had hoped before the escort broke off to have steamed close past the convoy and given the Division a cheer as they had done so well in the Middle East and must have been feeling a little unhappy at being out of the follow up to the battle of Alamein in which they had played such a conspicuous part. Upon his saying this Evatt got all worked up and proceeded to say that this was the 'dirtiest crack that he had ever heard.'. Somerville said that he did not know what he was talking about, whereupon Evatt said that it was a 'crack' against the Prime Minister and the decision of the Australian Government to take the 9th Division back to Australia.
Somerville then said that he had meant nothing of the sort and that he was not prepared to be talked to in the way Evatt was talking to him and while he was quite prepared to answer any question with regard to the Fleet or the defence of Australia he was not prepared to tolerate the tone that Evatt was taking and that if he persisted in it there was nothing that Somerville could do but to leave.
To this apparently Evatt made no reply for some time and then proceeded to ask Somerville various questions about naval matters in the Indian Ocean. These Somerville answered, but before the conversation had got very far Evatt said that the United Kingdom Government had broken their promise to Australia to keep 5 Battleships and 3 Aeroplane carriers in the Indian Ocean. To this Somerville replied that he had never heard of such an arrangement.
Upon this Evatt flared up again and accused Somerville of doubting his word. On this apparently Somerville said that if Evatt was going to get himself worked up again he was not going to stay and Evatt then more or less quietened down and proceeded with the asking of questions.
The sequel to this episode was that Somerville put in a report to Pound of this conversation, which apparently the Prime Minister saw. At some Garden function at the White House, the Prime Minister came up to Somerville and said to him that he had been quite right in the attitude he had taken in his conversation with Evatt. Later the Prime Minister brought Evatt over to Somerville and proceeded to put their two hands together with his own over the top and said that they had all got to be friends in Washington. This apparently was the end of the episode.
I should imagine the story as retailed by Somerville is correct because he is an extremely forthright person not afraid in the least to say what he thinks and from my conversation with him I should imagine him taking exactly the line which he said he did in response to Evatt's ill-mannered outbursts.
The only other thing he said about Evatt was that in a Conference which they apparently had with the Chiefs of Staff and all the Dominion representatives and their Advisers, Evatt created a very bad impression by in his remarks appearing all the time to be on the verge of saying something offensive and aggressive but not quite saying it. Somerville said that if Evatt's observations had been taken down they would have made a very illogical and confused story. Somerville quite obviously did not like Evatt but I think this prejudice would not affect his judgment with regard to the statement at the Conference. From my own experience of Evatt I can also imagine that the statement would be rather confused as for a lawyer Evatt has the least logical and consecutively thinking mind that I have ever come across.
I am afraid there is no getting away from the fact that Evatt did not put the Australian story very well in Washington or create a very favourable impression. This is certainly unfortunate and can do Australia's name and reputation no good just at the time when we want the maximum of good will towards us.