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285 Note of Meeting of U.K. and Dominions

Representatives on 27 September 1938

LONDON, 28 September 1938

PRESENT: Mr MacDonald and the Dominion High Commissioners

After last night's Cabinet, Mr MacDonald [1] saw the Dominion High
Commissioners and informed them of the latest developments of the

While they were waiting for Mr MacDonald to come out of the
Cabinet, the High Commissioners for Canada [2], Australia [3] and
South Africa [4] had been discussing the position and as a result
of their discussion asked for some further talk with Mr MacDonald
after the officials had left the room.

At this further talk, in which Mr Dulanty [5] joined, but not Mr
Sandford [6], the High Commissioners in turn made it clear that
their view was that war between Great Britain and Germany on the
issues now outstanding would not be justified, and that while
their Governments would probably end by coming in they would do so
reluctantly and without the conviction that the war had been

MR BRUCE and MR TE WATER strongly urged this view on behalf of
their Governments and thought that the ultimate effect of the
Dominions becoming involved in war under such circumstances must
be most seriously to endanger the future unity and cohesion of the

MR MASSEY expressed his fear that the minority of Canadians who
were not favourably disposed towards the British connexion would,
long after the war was over, continue to use the fact that Canada
had become involved in it to reinforce their view.

MR TE WATER thought that South Africa would be most unwilling to
fight on this issue and that the result of becoming involved in
war would be to strengthen enormously the position of those
hostile to the British connexion.

MR DULANTY took the same view.

The discussion then turned on the question of whether any useful
action could, at this juncture, be taken by Dominion Prime
Ministers, possibly by sending messages which the Prime Minister
[7] would refer to in the course of his speech in the House of
Commons, and whether such action would make it easier for the
United Kingdom Government to keep out of war.

After considerable discussion, it was agreed that Mr MacDonald had
done and was doing all that could be done to keep the Prime
Minister informed of the Dominions' point of view, and that no
further action by the Dominion Governments was possible at the

MR MACDONALD said that he thought the discussion had been a most
useful one. But he contested the view that, if war came, it would
not be fought on a question of principle. The principle involved
was negotiation versus force. He pointed out that Hitler's conduct
had at times been such as to give rise to justifiable fears on the
part of the United Kingdom Government that his objects were in
fact wider than those he admitted in public statements. In this
case the United Kingdom Government must be entitled to take the
view that its vital interests were at stake.


1 Malcolm MacDonald, acting for the Secretary of State for
Dominion Affairs.

2 Vincent Massey.

3 S. M. Bruce.

4 C. W. te Water.

5 Eireann High Commissioner in London.

6 F. T. Sandford, Secretary, New Zealand High Commission in

7 Neville Chamberlain.

8 The Duke of Devonshire, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State
for Dominion Affairs.

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