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273 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister

Cablegram 166 LONDON, 24 September 1938, 1.34 a.m.


Dominions Office telegrams have kept you advised almost hourly of
developments in the situation. This information, however, is
necessarily limited owing to impossibility of using telephone from
Germany for any secret communications. Obviously the issue is
whether the Prime Minister [1] in his discussions with Herr Hitler
can agree to any modification of the substance in the Anglo-French
proposals or whether he must adhere to them in their entirety.

Although the question may have been determined even before you get
this cable it is desirable that I should give you an indication of
the trends of thought here, particularly as there are differences
of view.

Those who maintain there must be no modification of Anglo-French
proposals point to the fact that public opinion in this country,
in the Dominions and throughout the world has been aroused against
dictatorial methods and threat of force employed by Germans.

That the announcement of the Prime Minister's intention to visit
Herr Hitler aroused enthusiasm and hope but that those sentiments
have progressively waned in the face of apprehension that the
Prime Minister has yielded to threat and is submitting to
dictation by Hitler. That this opposition will be immediately
reversed if the Prime Minister stands firm for the Anglo-French
plan when facts are known, namely:-

That the United Kingdom had long ago recognised that the Sudeten
Germans had legitimate grievances and had continuously urged that
they should be remedied. That during recent months United Kingdom
had done everything in its power to bring settlement by agreement
but had eventually come to the conclusion that this was impossible
and that the Czechs and Germans could not continue in the same

In these circumstances the United Kingdom, in conjunction with the
French, had formulated proposals and had obtained the concurrence
of the Czechoslovak Government to them for the separation of
Sudeten territory from Czechoslovakia.

That the Prime Minister had submitted to Herr Hitler proposals
(these are set out in Dominions Office telegram 241 [2]). That
these proposals met Herr Hitler's point that the Germans should go
back into the Reich; that they provided for this being done by
international action and preserved the principle of negotiation as
against that of force; that they provided for justice to the
inhabitants of the area by right of [3] opt and provision for
financial compensation; that they provided a guarantee for the
stability of new Czechoslovakia. That Herr Hitler's counter-
proposal of immediate occupation by German troops was the
application of the principle of force; that in practice it would
destroy the possibility of affording justice to those citizens in
the area taken over who desired to opt; and that any apprehension
that Herr Hitler might have felt with regard to disorder in the
districts pending the transference could have been met by other
methods than the drastic step of occupation by German troops.

Those who argue in this way feel very strongly that the public is
so aroused by the German's threat of force that were the Prime
Minister to make any concessions beyond the Anglo-French plan
there might be such resentment as would lead to defeat of the
Government with incalculable results as there is no alternative to
the Prime Minister that could be contemplated.

They further argue that such a development would not keep the
Empire out of war as the new Government would be committed to aid
Czechoslovakia but would only mean its being involved under even
less satisfactory circumstances i.e. a distracted and divided
people in the Empire and less possibility of co-operation from
outside countries. They argue that if the Prime Minister took firm
line now it would reunite our own people when facts were known and
there would still be chance of stout resistance by Czechs and
possibility of co-operation of other countries including Roumania
and U.S.S.R. That if strong line is not now taken Czech resistance
would be enormously diminished and the possibility of re-
establishing a co-operative front against the Germans would be
almost destroyed.

Those who hold the view that occupation of Sudeten areas by German
troops should be agreed upon argue that the principle of Sudeten
areas going over to Germany has been admitted and the method of
maintaining order in the interior [4] is only question of
procedure and that there is no fundamental objection to allowing
this to be done by German troops. They further point to the fact
that Hitler has indicated his preparedness to agree to subsequent
plebiscite and to hand back to Czechoslovakia any area that might
vote against the inclusion. They also base their arguments to a
considerable extent upon our unpreparedness at the present moment
and argue that if we can get over the present difficulties we will
have a breathing space in which to strengthen our relative
position as against that of the Germans.

As the Prime Minister has been given practically full liberty of
action, Cabinet has come to no decision but is waiting on
developments in conversations with Herr Hitler.


1 Neville Chamberlain.

2 Not printed; see Document 265, note 2.

3 In Bruce's draft copy of this cablegram (See AA: AA1970/556,
item 6(2)) this read 'to'.

4 Bruce's copy read 'interim'.

[ANL: PAGE 678]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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