Skip to main content

Historical documents

359 Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs, to Mr J. M. McMillan, Third Secretary of the Legation in Washington

Cablegram [222] [1] CANBERRA, [22 February 1942, 5.05 a.m.]


1. I take leave to address you on a matter of grave importance to
our common cause. Some three days ago we affirmed the decision
that the A.I.F. should return to defend their homeland here. [3]
We had not suggested its return from the Middle East but we agreed
to the proposal of Churchill that, for the purpose of reinforcing
Singapore and thereafter reinforcing the N.E.I., two of our three
divisions should come back. The object of the movement was to hold
up the southern thrust of Japan.

2. We were glad that the divisions were to go to the N.E.I. not
merely because those Indies would form a screen for the defence of
Australia as a base but because they would consolidate goodwill
between N.E.I. and Australia.

3. The decision was taken by Churchill and Wavell [4] not to
reinforce the N.E.I. further: thereupon our expert military
advisers thought that the divisions should at once come to the
closest area from which the southern thrust of Japan might be met,
i.e. Australia.

4. In all the technical strategical appreciations, the function of
Australia as a base area to attack Japan has been underlined.

Wavell himself has repeatedly said that it is vital to the Allies
to defend Australia.

5. The position of our home defences is most unsatisfactory
largely owing to our having sent land, sea and air forces to
Britain, Middle East, Greece, Crete and elsewhere. We have
struggled to improve these defences during our four months of
office but they still fall far short of what is required. General
Lavarack who is G.O.C. the A.I.F. and close to Wavell favoured a
diversion of one division to Burma but only on condition that our
C.G.S. [5] was satisfied with the condition of our home defences.

But the C.G.S. expressed himself as very dissatisfied-a conclusion
which really understates the gravity of the position here. Air
strength is very small owing to the policy of our predecessors who
concentrated upon training 10,000 air personnel for service in the
U.K. and who tended to regard Australian home defence [as] of
subsidiary importance.

6. In these circumstances it became utterly impossible for us to
agree to the suggested diversion to Burma. Page [6] in London had
instructions as to our view but failed to carry them out. As a
result the Pacific War Council in London recommended a diversion
of one division to Burma while the second was to come to
Australia. But Wavell's technical appreciation did not favour this
splitting up of our corps and in his last recommendation he
suggested both divisions should go to Burma-or India.

7. A curious feature of the affair has been the concentrated
barrage which has descended upon this Government from its own
servants such as Page (acting outside his instructions).

Subsequently Hopkins [7] and the President also sent messages
based upon their belief that we were not to be seriously
threatened by Japan-a belief that we cannot share.

8. But it is one thing to deal with arguments from other
governments, it is another thing to be embarrassed by those who
are the agents of the Australian Government. We are in our present
plight because of what we have done abroad, and the people of this
country would make short shrift of those who are obstructing the
return of the flower of our army for the purpose of defending
their homeland.

9. Today we heard of a proposal that an American division should
come to Australia. [8] Of course we should welcome it and if the
U.S.A. decision were altered because of ours the effect might be
most unfortunate. I do not wish to refer to the controversy as to
Pacific v. Atlantic for everybody now must see that we were right
in asserting that a failure to take Japan seriously might lead to
world successes of the Axis. Sending the American division to
Northern Ireland has had a bad effect in this country because of
Beaverbrook's [9] comment that this was the first and most
important job which Churchill performed in America. We are glad
that Cripps [10] is in office and hope that he will check
Churchill whose attitude over this particular matter has been
turbulent and peremptory.

10. I am aware that although our decision is on the highest plane
of secrecy it may by treachery be allowed to leak out in London
and Washington. It is vital to allied solidarity that we should
have your sympathy and understanding.

11. I now draw your attention to an article four days ago by J.

Harsch in 'Christian Science Monitor'. This is most defeatist and
fifth columnist in character, and we have traced its origin in
Australia to a Fascist, anti-Semitic group. It was deliberately
intended to embroil Australia and N.E.I. In fact this Government
has fulfilled every requisition made in relation to N.E.I. and our
losses in defending N.E.I. have been very heavy both on land and
in the air. I do not know whether Casey [11] I or Bailey (his
publicity man) [12] are counteracting this propaganda. journalists
like Harsch, Browne [13], Knickerbocker seem ready to injure this
country whenever possible, and two of them are suspected by
British Security Service.

12. Further, the A.I.F. decision may also be used by fifth
columnists to cause difficulties between China and ourselves.

Owing largely to Sir Frederic Eggleston's [14] brilliant work at
Chungking we are on terms of the greatest friendship with the
Chinese Government. China has always supported our emphasis upon
the importance of the Pacific war. I hope you will try and explain
to Hopkins that the President's goodwill should not be used by
Churchill as if it were his own especial property. Casey has
already been asked to explain to Hopkins but his advocacy does not
appear to have been at all useful.

13. The whole incident of the suggested diversion of the A.I.F. to
Burma has been alarming. I feel certain that Wavell himself only
recommended diversion under pressure from Churchill. Wavell had
always insisted upon the vital importance of Australia as a base.

Finally the party political possibilities occurred to a few anti-
Labor opportunists here and in London most of whom are distrusted
by the Australian people. The President and Mrs. Roosevelt will
know that a New Deal Government is obstructed by its opponents in
war as well as in peace.

14. Harsch's poisonous stuff seems already to have been repeated
in other New York papers.

15. Above all we are anxious about President's attitude. Already
promises of deliveries of aircraft here have been greatly whittled
down behind his back and it is feared that the pressure of the
U.K. against aid to the Pacific is still too strong. I only wish I
could speak to you in person for we are very worried especially
over the side-tracking of our plan for direct contact with the
U.S.A. in plans for the prosecution of the war. Churchill's
elaborate machinery has prevented us from meeting the U.S.A. as a
partner on any council or committee whatever. We feel that the
President cannot understand how much our difficulties have thereby
increased. We simply cannot have our aims and reinforcements
determined by Churchill who is so unsympathetic and hostile to the
Labor movement. I have always admired Churchill's stand against
Hitler from 1933 to 1939. But it is essential that we should have
the backing of yourself and others in Washington.

16. Please excuse this frank message. I am sure that you
understand that it originates in deep admiration and valued

17. At present we are informed of decisions and have little or no
effective voice in their making. Yet we are an allied country
whose contribution and losses proportionately are far greater than
any other Dominion or even the U.K. The President should realise
that the only basis of democratic control is participation by all
in the general plan. As it is the main military advisers lead us
from one disaster to another. Greece, Crete, Malaya and Singapore
were typical examples of the Munich mind, a combination of
Conservatism, incompetence and lack of valour. It is not only
Australia I am thinking of but your country and Britain which I
love deeply. I left the bench here to help in the winning of the
war. I have no other object in life. I am convinced we must
rapidly improve the machinery of allied co-operation or disaster
will occur. I hope that the President will take more control of
the situation and that you will take a lead.

18. I have just received your message. [15] I am sure that you
will understand our viewpoint and our motives.



1 Material in square brackets has been inserted from the
Washington copy in U.S. Library of Congress: Frankfurter Papers,
container 53, 'Herbert V. Evatt'.

2 See Document 356, note 1.

3 See Document 345.

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

5 Lt Gen V. A. H. Sturdee.

6 Special Representative in the United Kingdom.

7 Special Adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

8 See Document 355.

9 U.K. Minister of War Production until 19 February. He then
headed a U.K. supply mission to the United States. The decision to
send U.S. troops to Northern Ireland was announced in Washington
on 26 January.

10 U.K. Lord Privy Seal.

11 Minister to the United States.

12 Director, Australian News and Information Bureau, New York.

13 This is possibly a reference to Cecil Brown, who later in 1942
published a book entitled Suez to Singapore, of which Evatt was
highly critical. See Evatt's cablegrams SL67 and SW102 of 27
October 1942 on External Affairs Dept file Spares, Drafts & Master
Sheets-Outwards 'Special' cables.

14 Minister to China.

15 Document 356.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top