Skip to main content

Historical documents

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

Cablegram 33 CANBERRA, 25 February 1942


I cannot fail to point out to you that your cablegrams give no
impression that the Australian point of view regarding the
security of the Commonwealth as the ultimate base to be held in
the south-west Pacific has been advocated by you. We have
certainly had no comments from you on the special information with
which you have been supplied.

2. On 13th February No. 21 [1] raised with you the trend of the
position and the ultimate disposition of the A.I.F.

3. On 15th February in No. 24 [2] you were furnished for your
guidance with a lengthy statement on the relation of an Australian
Expeditionary Force to home defence.

4. On 17th February No. 26 [3] conveyed the decision of the
Government on the return of the A.I.F. to Australia.

5. On 18th February, according to your P.43 [4], you subscribed to
a recommendation of the Pacific Council for the diversion of the
7th Division to Burma without reservation as to its relation to
the home defence position. Your P.44 [5] was an elaboration of
this request without any observations on our special aspects.

6. On 18th February No.27 [6] informed you of the probable nature
of the reply of the Government and instructed that the convoy
should not be committed to Burma. The reply was confirmed in No.

28 of 19th February [7], and No. 29 of the same date [8] amplified
the reply and reiterated the reasons for the return of the A.I.F.

to Australia.

7. We were amazed to learn from your P.47 [9] that you had not
communicated No. 28 until receipt of further advice and on 20th
February No. 30 [10] instructed you to act at once on Nos. 28 and

8. It is noted from your 1637 [11] that it was on 20th February
that, in anticipation of approval, the convoy was diverted
northwards with the consequence that the convoy has now to refuel
at Colombo.

9. Your P.50 [12] repeats for Ceylon the same request made for
Burma, which has been dealt with at length. In P.51 [13] there is
a statement of views on the importance of holding Ceylon, but
nothing about the importance of or capacity to hold Australia.

10. A further reply will be forwarded to you but in the meantime I
would put to you the following as personal points of my own:-

(i) Whether it is the defence of Burma or Ceylon there has been no
change in the fundamental need for strengthening the local defence
of Australia.

(ii) With the collapse of Singapore and the Malay Barrier
Australia is laid bare to attack and it is the last main base in
the south-west Pacific.

(iii) As the Japanese are now in force in the Netherlands East
Indies and Rabaul they are quite as likely to move against
Australia as Ceylon, for you indicate in paragraph (2) that there
are capital ships available in the Indian Ocean to defend Ceylon.

(iv) Do you consider, if Japan had been an enemy on the outbreak
of war, that, with the loss of Singapore and the absence of a
capital ship fleet, we would have agreed to send an Expeditionary
Force further afield than Malaya and then only with a line of
retirement to Australia?
(v) In view of our present world-wide weakness vis-a-vis the Axis
there are numerous geographical centres where an A.I.F. or any
other Division would be useful. From our point of view there is
none east of Suez of greater importance than Australia.

(vi) I have the impression, from the cablegrams and actions such
as the unauthorised diversion [14], the repetition of the request
for the 7th Division through you [15] and references to shipping
and convoys, that we are going to have difficulty in getting the
A.I.F. back to Australia. That is why I put to you at length the
relation of the return of the A.I.F. to local defence and the
importance of its security as a base for counter-offensive action
against Japan. I want you to press this most strenuously.

11. You will no doubt recall that, owing to method of loading, the
three flights of ships which include the 6th and 7th Divisions
must all go to the same destination.


1 Document 332.

2 Document 334.

3 See Document 336, note 1.

4 Document 341.

5 Document 342.

6 Document 343.

7 Document 345
8 On file AA:A816, 52/302/142.

9 Document 347.

10 Document 348.

11 Document 368.

12 Document 372.

13 Dispatched 24 February. On the file cited in note 8.

14 See Document 362.

15 See Document 372.

[AA:A3196, 1942, 0.5738]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top