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Historical documents

1 Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister, to Field Marshal J. C. Smuts, South African Prime Minister, and to Mr W L. Mackenzie King, Canadian Prime Minister

Cablegram 46/2 [1] CANBERRA, 3 July [1941]


I have been much exercised about the relations of the Dominions to

the important matter of central control of war policy.

We all have the greatest admiration for the genius, personality

and work of Churchill, but I was greatly struck in London by the

following facts: -

1.Churchill carries far too great an individual burden, and this

has obvious dangers in a long war;

2.The constitution of the War Cabinet is such that members of it

have much departmental work, involving heavy pre-occupation with

detail. For example, Beaverbrook has the far-reaching portfolio of

Supply, Bevin the complex problems of the Labour Department, and

Kingsley Wood the Exchequer. This inevitably means that such

Ministers have little time for the perusal of major reports,

access to the heads of the Fighting Services, and those studies

and reflections which are necessary to see the war and the world

as a whole.

3.Under the existing system, I frankly think that there is

inadequate consideration of long range policy in relation to the

winning of the war, an insufficiently comprehensive view of how

the productive capacity of the Empire and the United States can be

marshalled for the best results, and an unsatisfactory direction

of foreign policy, which can at a time like this no longer be left

to one Minister, but should represent the joint wisdom and

decision of an authoritative Cabinet.

4.Apart from an occasional visit by a Dominions Prime Minister

there has been an absence of effective consultation with the

Dominions to elicit their point of view in regard to major

questions of policy. This is in no sense intentional but results

naturally from the fact that the Dominions Secretary [2] is not a

member of the War Cabinet or the Defence Committee and is

therefore little more than a channel of communication.

5.Churchill being absorbed for long hours every day in the

supremely important tasks of strategy and the leading and

stimulating of the public mind, financial and economic questions

which are of vast importance not only now but in the post war

period tend to slip into the background and to have somewhat

spasmodic attention.

I am strongly of the opinion that there should be a War Cabinet in

the real sense, meeting daily, thinking out and discussing large

matters, and in which Churchill would have constructively critical

colleagues who, being free of minor activities, would be able to

give him the support and advice which even the greatest man must

have if he is to reach his highest effectiveness.

In such a Cabinet I believe that a Dominions Prime Minister

should, if one is available, have a place. In the absence of such

an arrangement, we will find ourselves conferring by cable, with

all the attendant delays and ambiguities about matters which

require constant consideration and prompt decision.

You will, I am sure, share my feeling that these matters are of

the first importance if we are to avoid from time to time a state

of affairs which may create real difficulties, particularly of

public opinion, in the various Empire countries.

I frankly recognise the complexities of the problem.


Your own superb work in South Africa fills me with unqualified

admiration, but it may be that the nature of your problems will

not permit a long absence from your own country. I hope that this

is not so.


I well remember our discussion on these matters when I had the

honour of seeing you at Ottawa, and I know your own problems and

point of view.

CONTINUE TO BOTH:-Nevertheless, I feel that if we could all be in

London at the one time for a short meeting of Dominion Prime

Ministers we could jointly exercise a powerful influence in the

re-shaping of the machinery of central control and out of such a

conference we might be able to evolve not some practical

impossibility like an Imperial War Cabinet but effective Dominions

representation in a British War Cabinet, reduced in size and so

constituted as to bring about the results of which I have written


Please do not think that in making these suggestions I am in any

way proposing something which would be calculated to weaken the

position or authority of the leader. On the contrary, I feel that

he is so outstanding and important to all of us that he must be

given the greatest possible help in such a way as to secure the

maximum united effort on the part of all British countries.

There is some reason to believe that Fraser [3] could be induced

to remain in London until the end of August. My own political

difficulties are considerable, since I have a practically non-

existent majority, but I would be prepared to take any political

risk at home if by going to London for the suggested conference I

could contribute to what I feel is an essential change.

I would be glad to have quite confidentially to myself your own

impressions on these matters. [4]

Kindest regards.

I have communicated in similar terms with Mr. Mackenzie King/Field

Marshal Smuts.


1 Repeated to the High Commissioner in the United Kingdom as no


2 Lord Cranborne.

3 N.Z. Prime Minister.

4 Smuts replied on 10 July (cablegram 40, AA : A3195, 1941,

[1.12021]) that although he agreed that the holding of an Imperial

war conference in London would be highly desirable he could not

leave South Africa until later in the year. He doubted the wisdom

of including a Dominion Prime Minister as a permanent member of

the U.K. War Cabinet and made it clear that he believed it was

Churchill's right to decide the membership of that body. He also

pointed out that because of the campaigns in Africa and the Middle

East and the possibility of war in the Far East there was less

reason to concentrate war leadership in London than there had been

in the First World War.

Mackenzie King replied on 2 August (cablegram 2, AA : A3195, 1941,

1.14055) that commitments in Canada ruled out any possibility of

his attending a protracted Imperial war conference or joining an

Imperial war cabinet. He believed that the existing machinery for

consultation between the U.K. and Dominion Govts was adequate,

that there was not a clearly defined 'Dominions' as opposed to

'United Kingdom' viewpoint which could be satisfactorily

represented in London by one Dominion Prime Minister and that

although the individual burden carried by Churchill was far too

great he could only be relieved of it by his own action or by that

of the British Parliament and people. The cablegram is published

in Documents on Canadian External Relations, vol. VII, Department

of External Affairs, Ottawa, 1974, Document 588.

[AA : A3196, 1941, 0.9131-2]

Last Updated: 2 February 2011
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