170 Van Aerssen to Chifley

Letter MELBOURNE, 10 August 1945

Since I had a conversation with you on August 2nd in Canberra concerning the training of Dutch troops in Australia, the matter under discussion has, greatly to my displeasure, been aired by the press.

I am not primarily interested in what is being published in this matter; I made it a point not to comment on it, however strongly I have been pressed to do so. I further can assure you that not only I, but the Netherlands Indies Government and the Netherlands military authorities, thoroughly disapprove of this publicity and deplore the mischief it brews.

As an immediate reaction on the first publications in the Melbourne 'Herald', I have therefore issued a communique, together with the abovementioned authorities, copy of which I enclose for your information [1], in which communique it was made quite clear that no Netherlands or Netherlands Indies official had a hand in the publication, and that we regret all publicity given to the matter.

I may add that we expressly prohibited or refused any publicity on this subject. I have told you and I repeat, that, being accredited with the Australian Government, I decline to discuss these things with anybody but the Commonwealth Ministers.

What you told me on the 2nd of August, my dear Prime Minister, means such a serious disappointment for us and such a serious setback in our efforts to increase our participation in the war against Japan, that I venture to approach you once again.

Although, of course, the Commonweath Government has the ultimate decision in this matter, the change of attitude has come so unexpectedly and so late that our position has been complicated by it in an almost irreparable manner.

Ever since the Commonwealth Government, by the letter of the Minister for External Affairs of September 25th 1944 [2] agreed in principle to the plan of training about 30,000 troops here, preparations and details have been discussed between the Australian Army authorities and the N.E.I. Army Command, both by experts and on the highest level, on the assumption that the project would stand, provided they could agree about its execution. As you will know, these discussions took place, inter alia, between General Sir Thomas Blamey, Admiral Helfrich and General van Oyen. [3] Full agreement on the execution was reached, and it was never even intimated that difficulties of the nature mentioned in the letter of Mr. Makin of July 11th 1945 [4] would stand in its way. There was the less reason for us to expect any objections, as the letter of September 1944 explicitly stated that a further communication would at once be made to me concerning the progress of the discussion; from which it may be concluded a fortiori that I was entitled to a warning if the whole plan would be endangered. Such a warning, however, did not reach me until very recently, by rumours to the effect that something was wrong, but even then no communications were made to me until I asked for them in my letter of June 16th 1945 [5] and in the conversation which the Lieutenant Governor-General Dr. van Mock, General van Oyen and I had with the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Forde, on July 2nd 1945.

The fact that a partial demobilisation was contemplated in this country had added to our conviction that the project would meet with no obstacles; it also increased our desire to expedite the execution in order to contribute to the alleviation of the burden of war carried by Australia.

It is true that the original schedule provided for a much earlier arrival of the first troops. The delay, however, is not of our making, but was caused by difficulties raised, first by S.H.A.E.F.

with regard to the release of the first batches of volunteers, and then by the Combined Chiefs of Staff with regard to the provision of transport. We could not foresee that just when these difficulties were solved or being overcome, the whole project would be made impossible by a completely unexpected change of attitude of the Commonwealth Government.

I told you the other day, and I repeat, that I fail to understand and that I am at a loss how to explain to the Netherlands nation that-as intimated in Mr. Makin's letter-the training of 27,000 troops, who provide their own Service personnel and for whom a great part of the equipment is already in stock, would upset the balance of the Australian manpower position.

I may stress that this decision of the Commonwealth Government comes at a moment, when a change in the limits between the American and British operational theatres is pending, which change may imply a relatively greater share and a greater responsibility of Australia in the liberation of her nearest neighbour. This will render the decision still more inexplicable in the eye of the public.

On the other hand, the development of the last few days may hasten demobilisation and as a consequence thereof, the availability in the nearest future of more manpower than originally expected. This will make a revision of the problem easier.

I may emphasise once more that a definite withdrawal of the Australian Government's agreement in principle would have most serious consequences and completely upset our military preparations.

Taking all this into consideration, you will agree with me, my dear Prime Minister, that a deterioration in the relations between our two nations as a result of these unhappy events, should be avoided.

We on our side have, I can assure you, always tried our very best, from the first days after the occupation of the Netherlands East Indies, to stimulate co-operation and friendly feeling between our countries. I may perhaps remember the fact that in those days we made available to Australia, at the shortest notice, all the war material on its way to this theatre in our ships. I cannot help thinking of the Hospital ship 'Oranje' which entered an Australian port one of these days on her 37th voyage since she was handed over by us to the Australian and New Zealand Governments after transformation to a hospital ship at very high cost.

Personally, I have had the privilege to maintain excellent relations with your Government and the Australian nation during three and a half years, and it would be the greatest deception of my career to see the relations between our countries, who cherish the same principles and are fighting the common enemy, endangered by difficulties which, I am convinced, can be overcome with goodwill on both sides.

I therefore venture to suggest that the decision be reconsidered.

On my side, in order to facilitate the attainment of a modus vivendi, I would propose a modification of the original plan consisting in a slight reduction in numbers.

I hope and trust that a satisfactory revision of the problem will soon be reached. However, I must insist on the urgency of an answer with the least possible delay. We shall have to promptly inform the Netherlands Government, the British Chiefs of Staff and the Combined Chiefs of Staff, as decisions are pending which may have to be fundamentally revised.

I am sending a copy of this letter to Dr. Evatt, and I hope to be favoured with an answer from you, my dear Prime Minister, at your earliest convenience.

VAN AERSSEN BEYEREN

1 Not published.

2 In AA : A5954, box 562. Hodgson signed the letter on Evatt's behalf.

3 Commanding General, Royal Netherlands Indies Army.

4 On the file cited in note 2. It referred to delay in assembling Dutch forces and to increasing demands on manpower and resources since the proposal was first approved. Makin signed the letter as Acting Minister for External Affairs.

5 On the file cited in note 2.

[AA : A5954, BOX 562]