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231 Mr H. V. C. Thorby, Minister for Defence, to Mr J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister

Letter MELBOURNE, 20 July 1938


With reference to the questions raised by the Minister for
External Affairs' in his letter to you of 13th May [2], relating
to Singapore, you will recollect that at the Council of Defence
meeting of 17th December, 1937, this subject was exhaustively
dealt with when an Agendum containing the answers to a series of
questions relating to the basis of Empire and Australian Defence
Policy which were put, during the Imperial Conference, to the
Chiefs of Staff Sub-committee [3], was referred to the Council.

2. One section of the Agendum dealt with British Policy and
strategic object in the Far East, in which it was clearly
indicated that both in the event of war in the European and in the
Eastern theatre, it was the basis of British strategy to establish
at Singapore at the earliest possible moment after the outbreak of
hostilities a fleet whose strength as a minimum would enable it to
act on the defensive and to serve as a strong deterrent against
any threat to British interests in the Far East.

3. The document which was then before the Council of Defence
contained detailed information on the subject, and clearly
indicated that the whole British Defence Policy in the Far East
would be directed to ensuring that in the event of hostilities
Singapore would be able to hold out.

4. Committee of Imperial Defence Papers 444-C and 463-C [4], to
which the Minister refers, deal with the defence of Malaya before
relief, and during the discussion of them at the Committee of
Imperial Defence, Mr Bruce [5] maintained the viewpoint stressed
at the Imperial Conference. The conclusion of the Committee of
Imperial Defence was as follows:

(a) That the 'period before relief' for Malaya should be fixed at
70 days, the underlying assumptions on which this period is based
being those set out in paragraph 9 of the Memorandum by the Chiefs
of Staff Sub-committee (C.I.D. Paper No. 444-C).

(b) That Service Departments should be authorised to build up
reserves of stores to the levels recommended by the Oversea
Defence Committee in paragraph 20 of their Memorandum (C.I.D.

Paper No. 463-C), subject to the usual arrangements for obtaining
Treasury sanction to the expenditure involved.

(c) To recommend that the provision referred to in (b) above
should be accorded a very high priority in the programmes of the
three Defence Services.

(d) To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies [6] to take the
necessary steps to ensure that the reserves recommended for the
civil population of Malaya by the Oversea Defence Committee in
paragraph 20 of C.I.D. Paper No. 463-C were provided as early as

(e) To take note of the anxiety of the Government of Australia
that the reserves referred to in Conclusions (b) and (d) above
should be built up at Singapore with the least possible delay, and
to welcome the suggestion put forward by the High Commissioner for
Australia that Australia's contribution towards Imperial Defence
as a whole should be the subject of discussion at the first
convenient opportunity between representatives of the United
Kingdom and Australian Governments.

5. It will be noted, therefore, that the discussions at the
Imperial Conference covered the points raised by the Minister for
External Affairs, that the High Commissioner is fully seized with
the importance of the subject, and that the Ministers at present
in London have been drawn into the discussions. I think therefore
that we should await their return to ascertain the latest
information on this subject.


1 W. M. Hughes.

2 Document 196.

3 See Document 42.

4 Not printed.

5 High Commissioner in London.

6 W. Ormsby-Gore.

[AA : A1608, C51/1/10]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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