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282 Mr V. G. Bowden, Official Representative in Singapore, to Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs

Cablegram 54 SINGAPORE, 19 January 1942 [1]


I feel justified in replying at length to your telegram 27 [2] as
its contents suggest some misunderstanding regarding my position

1. Information regarding Activities of A.I.F.

(a) The only access I have to official information about A.I.F. is
through General Officer Commanding Malaya [3] or his
representative at the War Council Meetings. Gordon Bennett [4] has
made it clear to me that Dept. of the Army receives full
information through his channels and that he does not consider
that my co-operation with him would serve any purpose as there is
nothing I could add. I am therefore without close official contact
with A.I.F. H.Q.'s. With reference to my tel. 46 Dec. 9th [5],
Tebbutt [6] might have been such contact but action reported in
your telegram 36 [7] has brought no result.

(b) I submit that the only full responsible information regarding
A.I.F. activities can come from A.I.F. headquarters. I am not in a
position to demand this. Although Fitchett is the official war
correspondent I cannot be certain that Gordon Bennett will
necessarily endorse all his statements and views particularly on
such matters as air and mechanised support. I would therefore not
be prepared to accept responsibility for information received from
him. You do not specify what the other sources might be but if you
wish to receive from me without responsibility uncensored reports
of Fitchett and other war correspondents and are prepared to
accept risk of public disclosure that information for Cabinet
regarding A.I.F. is being sought from journalists I shall
endeavour to make arrangements. I and my staff maintain contact
with Fitchett and other correspondents when they are in Singapore
but now that A.I.F. is in action they are seldom here and there
are no means of communicating with them at the front except
through Army channels.

(c) I have repeatedly asked for a service attache to be appointed
to my staff (see my telegrams 46 Dec. 9th, 65 Dec 20th [8] and 74
Dec. 24th [9], also my memorandum Dec. 9th[10]) but nothing has

2. Supplies
I protest most strongly that I have given you no cause for
reminding me of my duty to Australia in this regard and that I
have in no way neglected that duty. My staff associate themselves
with me along with the protest. I have pressed local
administration for supply of rubber to the extent of finally
charging them with unwillingness to assist Australia. As a result
of this Governor [11] invited me and Wootton [12] to a conference
on Wednesday with himself, shipping controller and shipping
adviser; results of this conference were communicated in my
telegram 46. (Rubber could not be shipped because present stocks
are all privately owned and paid for.)
Statement to which you took exception in my telegram 46 conveyed
attitude of local administration which is as follows:

(a) Aim must be to ship all rubber away from Singapore as quickly
as possible in view of danger of destruction by bombing or fire.

(b) Shipping opportunities to east coast of Australia are now
rare; therefore they cannot afford to wait [sic] such
opportunities when they have rubber available for Australia but
expect Australia to be prepared to accept delivery at Fremantle in
case of need. Otherwise they would feel obliged to ship rubber in
question to some other country according to shipping available.

(America and England are also pressing strongly for deliveries.)
Statement in third sentence also originates from local

3. Channels of Communication
(a) Prime Minister's Department regularly communicate direct with
Duff Cooper [13] Mission and my telegram 61 December 18th [14]
asking to be kept informed was ignored. P.M.'s Department still
communicate direct with Governor which enables him and his
administration to adopt similar procedure. I have no means of
knowing how much of this correspondence is withheld from me. (For
instance I only heard today about Governor's last cable regarding
Chinese evacuees [15] and have still no copy.) Also I cannot
ensure that your cables are not unduly held back at this end. For
example, request was made on the morning of December 17th for copy
of telegram referred to in 1st para. your tel: 23 [16] but copy
was not made available until 12.50 p. m. December 18th reason
given being that it was very long and was still being decyphered.

(b) I submit as long as Commonwealth Government continues to
conduct telegraphic correspondence through parallel channels there
will be the risks of delays and confusion for which I cannot
accept responsibility. Moreover, my position here in pressing
Australian interests vis-a-vis local administration must
inevitably lack strength as long as that administration can [by-
]pass me by cabling Canberra direct.

(c) I strongly feel that it is to Commonwealth Government's
interest that my position should be fully recognised and supported
by all Departments and that (with exception of combatant services)
I should be sole channel for all official communication with
Malaya. [17]



1 This cablegram was dispatched in three parts, in reverse order,
from 1.14 p.m. to 10.52 p.m.

2 Document 280.

3 Lt Gen A. E. Percival.

4 General Officer Commanding 8th Division, A.I.F.

5 AA:A3830, 1941, 3385. It requested attachment of service
representatives to Bowden's office.

6 Liaison officer between Army Headquarters, Melbourne, and the
Far East Combined Bureau.

7 Dispatched 11 December. On file AA:A981, War 49, i. It stated
that Bowden's request had been submitted to the authorities

8 on file AA:A1608, G33/1/2. It requested that an Australian
intelligence officer be appointed to Bowden's staff, as the supply
and importance of political intelligence available to him had been
greatly reduced by the closure of the Far East Combined Bureau.

9 In Flinders University Library: Evatt Papers, External Affairs
Dept file S5, Bowden Reports.

10 Not found.

11 Sir Shenton Thomas.

12 Commercial Secretary at the office of the Official
Representative, Singapore.

13 U.K. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He had been Minister
of State for Far Eastern Affairs resident in Singapore until 9

14 On file AA:A981, war 54.

15 See Document 296, note 1.

16 Not found.

17 An undated, handwritten draft reply by Evatt to this cablegram
thanked Bowden for his efforts and was generally mollifying in
tone (in Flinders University Library: Evatt Papers, External
Affairs Dept S5, Bowden Reports).

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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