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

Extracts LONDON, 26 September 1938, 10.15 a.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
Sir Harry Batterbee, Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Dominions
E. G. Machtig, Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Dominions
N. E. Archer, Dominions Office

MR MACDONALD said that the position reached was that the
Czechoslovakian Government were not prepared to accept the
proposals in the German memorandum [1], and the French Ministers
had indicated a like attitude on their part. We did not feel that
we could put any pressure on the Czech Government to accept. The
Czech refusal of the German proposals 'in their present form' was
unconditional. A meeting was now in progress between the United
Kingdom and the French Ministers at which Mr Chamberlain [2] was
exploring the possibility of his taking a fresh initiative in
mediatory action.

In reply to questions from Mr Massey and Mr Bruce, MR MACDONALD
said that it was hoped that the further reply promised by the
Czech Government would indicate precisely what modifications that
Government desired in the terms proposed in the German memorandum.

The French Government, whilst rejecting the proposals as they
stood in the memorandum, were hoping that some modification of
these might be possible. The French Ministers had so far given no
specific replies to the inquiries addressed to them by the United
Kingdom Ministers as to what the French Government meant when it
said that it would fulfil its obligations towards Czechoslovakia
if that country were attacked.

MR BRUCE said that he had been in telephonic communication with
his Prime Minister. [3] Subject to confirmation by the
Commonwealth Cabinet, the view of his Prime Minister was that the
United Kingdom ought not to get involved in war on the present
issue; that the United Kingdom should work for the acceptance of
the proposals in the German memorandum, subject only to a clear
understanding that the frontier thereby established was guaranteed
by Germany and hence that any further encroachment would involve a
definite moral issue. Mr Bruce desired this view to be regarded as
confidential Pending its confirmation by the Commonwealth
Government as a whole.

MR DULANTY said that he had not received his Government's views as
to the proposals contained in the German memorandum, but that they
had supported the Anglo-French plan, and he felt that they would
incline to the views expressed by Mr Bruce on the memorandum.

MR TE WATER concurred. He said that he felt it imperative to find
a way out, and that his Government would be most reluctant to
accept the idea of a war resulting from a refusal to accept the
German memorandum.

MR MASSEY also supported the views expressed by Mr Bruce. He
inquired whether it would not be possible to secure Mr Roosevelt's
[4] intervention. He felt strongly that this would be valuable in
its effect on world opinion, even though it was not successful in
influencing Herr Hitler.

The other Dominion Government representatives supported Mr
Massey's proposal.

At this point information was received that Mr Roosevelt had sent
communications to Herr Hitler and Dr Benes [5], and a summary of
these communications was later made available to the meeting.

MR TE WATER said that he felt that the time had now come when he
should express himself without reserve. He felt that every effort
should be made to secure as favourable terms as possible for the
Czechoslovakian Government, but that in the last resort failure to
improve on the terms of the German memorandum should on no account
involve the British Commonwealth in war. The terms of that
memorandum might be difficult of acceptance, but such difficulty
was an incomparably lesser evil than a world war. He drew
attention to Mr Roosevelt's statement that force would provide no
remedy and said that his Government would be in whole-hearted
accord with this view. If the Germans insisted on their terms to
Czechoslovakia, it was obvious that the use of force by the
British Commonwealth would provide absolutely no remedy. He
inquired whether it would be of assistance to the Prime Minister
if he were to be furnished with an expression of the views of the
Dominion Governments to this effect, adding that he felt it most
important that the French Government should know that a war about
Czechoslovakia was not one in which the members of the British
Commonwealth of Nations would participate.

MR BRUCE did not dissent from the views expressed by Mr te Water,
but felt that Mr Chamberlain should already be aware of the views
of the Dominion Governments. He said that Mr Chamberlain would now
learn of the attitude which was being adopted by the Commonwealth
Government and would understand that the other Dominions would not
be less definitely opposed to war than Australia.

MR MACDONALD said that he had already conveyed the views of the
Dominion Governments to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and
that he felt that it would be better to defer any further
communication from the Dominion Governments until information was
available as to the Prime Minister's proposed new initiative and
the results of Mr Roosevelt's initiative. He suggested that
information on these two points might become available after the
Cabinet meeting at noon.

It was accordingly agreed to defer the question of taking this

[matter omitted]

The High Commissioners all indicated that if it did come to war,
the Dominions would, however reluctantly, be in sooner or later on
the side of the United Kingdom.

1 Not printed; see Document 274, note 2.

2 Neville Chamberlain, U.K. Prime Minister.

3 J. A. Lyons.

4 Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. President.

5 Dr Eduard Benes, President of Czechoslovakia.

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