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292 Sir Earle Page, Special Representative in the United Kingdom, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram P29 LONDON, 22 January 1942


Last night as a result of a personal wire from Wavell [1] to
Churchill a special meeting of the Defence Committee was called.

This wire pointed out the deterioration of the situation in
Malaya. One Indian Infantry Brigade and two Australian Battalions
on the left flank had been cut off and if the position could not
be restored this might necessitate withdrawal of troops in the
Segamat-Labis area and ultimately withdrawal to the island of

On this, the question was raised as to whether, if the retirement
to the island of Singapore became necessary, it was possible to
hold it and if not whether the question of its evacuation should
not be now considered, and whether the proposed reinforcements for
Malaya and Singapore should be sent to the Burma Road to keep the
track open to China.

At the Defence Committee meeting I pointed out that Chiefs of
Staff had always insisted on the imperative necessity of holding
this considerable part of Johore to give depth to the Singapore
defences, that Wavell's line in Johore had been determined as the
line that must be held at all costs, that this line could be held
with less troops than Singapore island, that all possible
reinforcements should be sent from the Singapore garrison to put
Japanese infiltrators who had come south of that line in between
two fires, that there would be less loss by fighting on this line
and more chance of victory than there would be in withdrawal and
finally attempted evacuation from Singapore in which there must be
considerable loss of life, and that therefore promised
reinforcements should all be delivered. Evacuation would cause
irreparable loss of prestige, and I think irreparable damage to
the Allied cause, quite apart from its military aspect. The
evacuation of Malaya and Singapore would make the five Japanese
divisions in Malaya available for attacking the Burma Road, the
Straits of Malacca would be open to the Japanese fleet, which with
air protection from the Malayan coast could then get into the
Indian Ocean and practically cut off Rangoon, interfere very
considerably with all sea-borne reinforcements from the Middle
East or from England via the Cape. I asked had Bennett's [2]
opinion been obtained as to what should be done and what
reinforcements were necessary for him to hold the present line,
and had the Dutch been consulted. After much argument it was
generally agreed to wait on events for a couple of days to see
what happened-the Australian Battalions and the Indians might
easily fight their way back to the main army.

In the meantime it is imperative that you should let me know what
Gordon Bennett thinks of the whole situation. This emergency
emphasises the value of having such matters discussed in London
where Prime Minister and his Chiefs of Staff are available. Though
under the AngloAmerican arrangement orders to Wavell are
transmitted through Washington, the representatives there of the
British Chief[s] of Staff receive their instructions from London
and if there is disagreement between those instructions and the
American Chiefs of Staff Roosevelt and Churchill settle the issue
by agreement. In London Churchill has the advantage of the views
of his own whole staff organisation, opportunity of consulting
Dutch and is also able in a personal way to give Wavell his mind.

Under the constitution as proposed executive advice to the Chiefs
of Staff in London which would be transmitted to Washington would
come from the Far Eastern Council if established. On this Council
Australia, New Zealand and the Dutch would dominate the position,
would be able to bring the strongest pressure to bear on the
Chiefs of Staff here and ensure that the instructions to their
representatives in Washington would be more on the lines we wished
followed. I think the history of the American attitude towards
Singapore makes it imperative that the advice on this matter to
Washington should come from London as the Americans, in addition
to their past views on the relative unimportance of Singapore, are
more anxious to assist China than any of the other Allies. If the
matter is not argued out in London and a definite view put up from
the Chiefs of Staff here, we may find Malayan reinforcements
diverted despite our wishes.

I regret I did not see Dominions Office telegram No. 72 of 19th
January [3] prior to its despatch, as would have asked for fuller
details to be given you. Explanatory note handed to me is
incorporated in my immediately following cablegram. [4] I feel
certain your reply No. 68 [5] will materially assist clear up
whole question of machinery of representation that will meet
Australia's needs and desires, especially now that our request for
continuous representation in War Cabinet has been granted.

Am glad to see your telegram 65 [6] on Bennett's status and will
push from this end if necessary.

Suggest that whatever representation you have on Wavell's staff
should be fully seized of your views.


1 Allied Supreme Commander of the A.B.D.A. Area.

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

3 Document 283.

4 See cablegram P30 of 22 January On file AA: A2680, 14/1942. See
also Document 298.

5 Document 289.

6 Document 286.

[AA:A2937, A.B.D.A. STRATEGIC AREA, 1941-1942]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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