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265 Note of Meeting of U.K. and Dominions Representatives

LONDON, 19 September 1938, 2.30 p.m.



Malcolm MacDonald, acting for Secretary of State for Dominion
S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner for Australia
C. T. te Water, High Commissioner for South Africa
Vincent Massey, High Commissioner for Canada
F. T. Sandford, Secretary, New Zealand High Commission
J. W. Dulanty, High Commissioner for Eire
The Duke of Devonshire, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for
Dominion Affairs
Sir Edward Harding, Permanent Under-Secretary of State for
Dominion Affairs
E. G. Machtig, Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Dominions
C. W. Dixon, Assistant Secretary, Dominions Office

MR MACDONALD informed the Dominion Representatives of the position
with regard to the communication to President Benes [1] referred
to in telegrams Circular B. No. 240 and No. 241 [2], the latter of
which he read to the meeting. He explained that no communication
had yet been made to any other Government, though the Prime
Minister [3] had sent a message to Herr Hitler the same day to the
effect that he hoped to be able to go back to Germany on
Wednesday. He drew attention to certain points in the
communication to President Benes. In the first place, the idea of
a plebiscite for the Sudeten areas had somewhat fallen into the
background in favour of the idea of direct cession. The reason for
this was the view of French Ministers that a plebiscite would be
strongly resisted by President Benes, and much more strongly than
direct cession, and further that, if a plebiscite were held for
the Sudeten areas, it would be very difficult to avoid a
plebiscite for the Polish and Hungarian areas of Czechoslovakia;

whereas, if the method of direct cession were adopted in the case
of the Sudeten Deutsch, there would not be the same reason for the
adoption of that course in the case of the other minorities.

As regards the proposed guarantee to Czechoslovakia, Mr MacDonald
said that normally the United Kingdom Government would not have
dreamt of making a firm offer of a guarantee in Central Europe
without informing the Dominions in advance and giving them
adequate time to comment. The present situation, however, was one
when not days but hours and minutes counted, and United Kingdom
Ministers had felt that they must take the responsibility for an
immediate decision, which, of course, did not commit anyone but
the United Kingdom Government, and that the most that they could
do in the circumstances was to inform the Dominions slightly in
advance of the actual decision. He explained that it would have
been absolutely impossible to secure French agreement to the
proposals to be put to Czechoslovakia or the agreement of the
Czechoslovak Government themselves without some promise of a

As regards the proposal that the areas for transfer should include
those with over fifty per cent of German inhabitants, this was a
great deal for the Czechoslovak Government to be asked to swallow,
and the Prime Minister, in his further conversations with Herr
Hitler, would not begin by mentioning the figure of fifty per cent
but would mention a higher figure, though, in the event of Germany
wishing the figure to be reduced, we should be prepared to agree
to fifty per cent. It had, however, been felt that it would be
useless to put to Czechoslovakia a higher figure which might be
accepted by them but not by Herr Hitler.

In reply to a question, Mr MacDonald said that the proposed
cession would not entirely give away the strategic frontier of
Czechoslovakia, since many of the fortifications were on the Czech
side of the Sudeten land and Czechoslovakia would not be left

There was considerable discussion on the situation. The principal
points arising out of this were as follows:-

(1) None of the Dominion representatives expressed any criticism
of the action of the United Kingdom Government in agreeing to
participate in an international guarantee of Czechoslovakia or of
their having reached a decision without consulting the Dominion

(2) Mr Bruce urged strongly the case for the participation of the
Dominions in the proposed guarantee, together with the United
Kingdom, though he expressed considerable doubts whether any of
them would in fact participate. Mr te Water made it clear that
there was no question of participation by the Union. (Mr MacDonald
reminded him that South Africa might want assistance from European
countries one day if Germany committed an act of aggression
against South-West Africa, and urged that it might be a wise
policy for the Union to show more interest in opposing aggression
in Europe.) The other Dominion representatives expressed no views
on this question.

(3) Some of the Dominion representatives expressed a good deal of
apprehension as to the position if the Czechoslovak Government
rejected the proposals. Mr MacDonald made it clear that the United
Kingdom Government were counting on the Czechoslovak Government
not rejecting the proposals; that, if they did reject the
proposals, the United Kingdom Government would use every effort to
ensure that Germany did not take violent action; and that, if in
spite of all efforts, Germany did attack Czechoslovakia, the
attitude of the United Kingdom Government would be as previously
described, though there was always the possibility that, if German
troops went beyond the Sudeten areas and there were German
atrocities or other action calculated to arouse feeling against
Germany, public opinion in this country might demand intervention
by the United Kingdom Government in favour of Czechoslovakia. The
Dominion representatives made it clear that, when once the United
Kingdom Government had put forward the present proposals as a just
solution, it would be very difficult to secure support for what
would appear a war in opposition to that solution.

(4) In this connexion, it was suggested that the German Government
ought to be informed at the earliest possible moment that the
communication has been made to the Czechoslovak Government, but
the Dominion representatives appeared to accept the view that an
immediate communication to Germany would not be desirable and that
in any case some of the details could not possibly be communicated
to Germany at this stage.

(5) The question was also raised whether acceptance by
Czechoslovakia would not have been facilitated if the Soviet had
been introduced into the present discussions, but it was explained
that discussion with the Soviet would not have served any useful
purpose and that the Czechoslovak Government were more likely to
be influenced by the attitude of France.

1 Eduard Benes, President of Czechoslovakia.

2 Circular cablegrams from the Dominions Secretary B240 and B241,
dispatched 19 September 1938 at 3.02 p.m. and 4.27 p.m.

respectively, both received in Canberra 20 September, not printed.

They reported that France and Britain had agreed to make joint
representations to Beres to the effect that, in order to ensure
Czechoslovakia's vital interests and the maintenance of peace, it
was necessary to transfer to the German Reach those districts in
Czechoslovakia mainly inhabited by Sudeten Germans; technical
details relating to the transfer were also reported. In return the
U.K. would join in an international guarantee of the new
boundaries of Czechoslovakia against unprovoked aggression (AA :

A981, Czechoslovakia 13)
3 Neville Chamberlain.

[PRO : DO 114/94]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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