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479 Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister, to Mr A. T. Stirling, External Affairs Officer in London

Cablegram SL8 CANBERRA, 3 May 1942


For Evatt [1] from Curtin.

1. Political situation in New Caledonia has been unstable during
last six months and has now reached crisis due to recall of Sautot
[2] by de Gaulle. [3]

2. In August 1941 Commonwealth Government made strong
representations to Free French Headquarters through High
Commissioner [4] against appointment of d'Argenlieu [5], stating
that such appointment from outside over head of popular and tried
administrator did not contribute to political stability which was
our objective. Please see especially 4339 of 9th August, 1941.

3. Ballard [6] now in Australia and his reports both telegraphic
and verbal indicate growing tension due to arbitrary methods,
high-handed action and extravagance of d'Argenlieu Mission.

Further he has been most uncooperative with his Allies. We had to
appeal direct to de Gaulle on question of construction of
aerodromes [7], and his relations with American Commander General
Patch are reported by new American Attache Australia [8] to be
unsatisfactory as regards co-operation and mutual collaboration.

The trouble has now come to head.

4. We have received following telegram from Australian Air Liaison
Officer, Noumea [9]:

Begins: As all other telegraph services are under d'Argenlieu's
control New Caledonia delegation are anxious following telegram be
despatched to General de Gaulle immediately:

Quote: General de Gaulle, London. As it is impossible to
communicate with you direct owing to strict political surveillance
we are obliged to turn to our Allies. The recall of Governor
Sautot has caused intense feeling throughout the whole island. We
are all convinced that you have been very much misinformed and
badly advised. On behalf of 90 per cent of the population and
unanimous decision of the Administrative Council of New Caledonia
we beg you to withdraw your decision and instead to recall
immediately the Mission de Gaulle whose rapid departure is
demanded by people of New Caledonia. It is our duty to warn you
that if the present decision rests grave disorder will break out
and that the Mission will be expelled by force causing great
scandal which we are trying to avoid. We beg you to believe that
we speak on behalf of the whole population with the exception
Mission de Gaulle. We remain faithful to the Governor named by you
in September 1940 and to yourself. Signatures Pierre Berges,
President Administrative Council; Mouledous, Vice President
Administrative Council; Captain Dubois, Chief [of] Militia, Cross
of Liberation; Pognon, Cross of Liberation; Massoubre, Mayor of
Noumea. Unquote.

Captain Dubois, Commanding Officer Free French Military,
interviewed d'Argenlieu today and as spokesman for New Caledonia
demanded d'Argenlieu and his Mission leave the country
immediately. D'Argenlieu broke down and cried. Local population
are absolutely determined that Mission must go. Country people
bringing arms into Noumea but demonstration outside Sautot's
residence this morning quite orderly. Ends.

5. Following has also been received from Australian Official
Representative's Office, Noumea:

Begins: On receipt of instructions Sautot sent a telegram to
General de Gaulle accepting the decision. However, he later
changed his attitude and yesterday handed High Commissioner a
second for transmission to de Gaulle stating that in view of New
Caledonia's desire for him to remain he cannot consent to leave.

Further developments seem unlikely before receipt of reply to this
message. Meanwhile Sautot appears determined to stay in any event;

it is difficult to estimate the strength of support on which he
could count in the event of an actual conflict with the High
Commissioner, but the latter is more unpopular than ever, and I
believe Sautot's supporters are contacting the country population.


6. We dislike taking sides in a Free French dispute but it is
obvious some action must be taken to remedy position and maintain
unity at present juncture.

For this reason feel that we should submit telegram to de Gaulle
as requested. [10]

1 Minister for External Affairs (in London).

2 Free French Governor of New Caledonia since September 1940,
whose recall to Free French headquarters in London was announced
on 29 April.

3 President of the Free French National Committee.

4 S. M. Bruce. See Documents 36 (cablegram 4339) and 48.

5 Free French High Commissioner for the Pacific.

6 Official Representative in New Caledonia.

7 See cablegram 770 of 5 December 1941 on file AA:A981, Pacific

8 This is probably a reference to Colonel Karl F. Baldwin, who
took up duty as U.S. Military Attache in Australia in April.

9 Flight Lt E. McColl.

10 Bruce and Stirling discussed this cablegram with U.K. Dominions
Office officials on 5 May, when it was agreed that the U.K.

Foreign Office should draft a communication to the Free French
authorities (see note on file AA:A2937, New Caledonia). De Gaulle,
however, had already confirmed the recall of Sautot and on 5 May
the latter was compelled to board a ship for New Zealand to begin
his journey to London. See file AA:A981, New Caledonia 1, ix.

[AA:A981, NEW CALEDONIA 1, ix]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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