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491 Note by Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, of Conversation with Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs

I went to see Evatt about 4 o'clock. The object of my going to see
him was to ask him whether there was anything on the Agenda for
this evening's Cabinet indicating that either the Agreement with
the Soviet over boundaries or the U.S.A. reply to the Soviet's
economic memorandum was coming up.

When I went into the room I rather sensed the atmosphere was that
Evatt was inclined to raise a row about something and after merely
saying that there was nothing on the Agenda about Russia he opened
up about my cablegram to Australia with regard to Phillips' [1]
disclosures about my conversation with the Chancellor of the
Exchequer [2], suggesting that in that cablegram I had indicated
that I had had difficulty in getting him to discuss this
particular matter. [3]

I said that there was no such possible suggestion and then
outlined to him what I had been trying to do with regard to this
whole question, namely get the atmosphere prepared for him so that
I could more or less hand to him on a platter the basis for an
admirable settlement of this very important question. I stressed
to him that everything I had been doing had been with the object
of helping him and I had only been forced to disclose what I had
been doing by Phillips' statement in America. I also pointed out
that when I received the telegram from the Prime Minister [4] the
third paragraph of which really implied that I should have let him
know before, I had no option but to tell him the complete story.

The reference to my not yet having had an opportunity of
discussing it with him, Evatt, was simply a recital of a fact and
had no possible implementation [sic] behind it against him, Evatt.

In face of what I said the maintenance of an atmosphere of a brawl
became extremely difficult and Evatt dropped the subject saying he
quite understood.

I am afraid the real trouble is that he was annoyed Australia had
been advised how much had been done prior to his, Evatt's,
arrival, but he could hardly blame me for that, my [sic] having
done everything in my power to avoid disclosure as to how far I
had got before his arrival.

We then came back to the question of Russia and I told him the
story both with regard to the agreement which is being negotiated
and the American reply [5] on the Soviet Economic Memorandum. [6]
I left with him Stirling's [7] note analysing the United Kingdom
proposals, the Soviet counter proposals and comments. I also told
him of my conversation with Winant [8] and left with him the
Foreign Office memorandum dealing with the American reply to the
Soviet economic proposals. I also referred to the paper which had
come up at the War Cabinet with regard to supplies to Russia under
the Protocol and for the Protocol period.

Evatt asked me if I had this paper and I explained to him the
circumstances of its return but told him we had a note of its
contents. [9] This he asked me to let him have. I said that all
this Russian business was merely another example of the non-
implementation of the understanding arrived at with regard to
Australia's participation in the higher direction of the war, the
facts with regard to which I had set out in my paper of the 3rd
May [10], a copy of which I had given him on his arrival.

Evatt agreed to this but did not pursue the point at the moment
but reverted to his tour with the Prime Minister. [11] He told me
that at Leeds the Prime Minister when speaking had referred to
Russia but the reference had evoked no response. On the other hand
when he had referred to Australia his observations had received
the most enthusiastic reception.

Following this he referred to the amazing grip that the Prime
Minister has upon the people and rather developed on this thesis
the idea that it would be a bad thing for us to have a quarrel
with Winston as it might hurt Australia's interests in obtaining
reinforcements and supplies we need if we antagonise him.

In reply to this I pointed out that undoubtedly Winston's position
was much stronger in the country than in the House and I instanced
where he stood prior to the reconstruction when Cripps was brought
in. [12] I suggested he should not be too much influenced by these
public demonstrations as the people's favour was notoriously a
somewhat uncertain quantity.

Evatt, however, stuck to his point as to Winston's complete
control here and pressed the idea that he was the man who could
give us what we wanted at the moment and it was not in our
interests to antagonise him. He developed his ideas down the lines
that our not getting the information that we should was not due to
any action taken vis-a-vis Australia but was really the result of
the system under which the War Cabinet was operating. He also
developed the idea that it was not for us to upset what the
Members of the War Cabinet were prepared to accept.

This is a very changed atmosphere from the somewhat blood and
thunder one Evatt adopted at our first conversation on the Sunday
after his arrival. [13] At that stage he was determined to insist
that everything that had been promised must be implemented and
that a show-down with Winston was necessary in which my position,
after his, Evatt's, departure was to be defined without any
possibility of misunderstanding. His view now appears to be that
he, Evatt, should get everything that is possible out of the
cordial relations he has established with the Prime Minister, but
that a show-down on the whole major issue of our representation
should be avoided. His attitude was that I should take over upon
his departure; that I should gradually work with my influence and
personality to obtain what we require.

He told me that he had cabled to the Prime Minister in Australia
saying that it was essential that I should take over when he left
and that Page could not possibly resume his position as
Australia's Accredited Representative. [14]

I did not tell Evatt that I had seen the telegram in which he
referred to my taking over, or point out that it was somewhat
ungraciously worded. I made the point to him, however, that I
could not accept Page coming back as the Accredited
Representative. I referred to the personal cablegram I had sent to
the Prime Minister saying that I was only too willing to act as a
Counsellor and Adviser to Ministers coming over here from time to
time, but that a permanent or semi-permanent appoint[ment] would
make my position impossible. [15] I did not gather with certainty
whether he had seen that telegram or not.

I then stressed to Evatt that I welcomed periodic visits from
Ministers because such visits had the great advantage of bringing
here the latest information as to the attitude and views of the
Australian Government, of broadening the outlook of the Ministers
who came, and enabling them to take back to Australia the picture
as seen from this end.

Evatt said that he agreed but that there should be a reasonable
gap between Ministers' visits, and made the suggestion that say
three months after he got back to Australia it might be possible
to arrange for the Prime Minister to come.

Having cleared up this point I then reverted to the major question
of how far the undertakings that had been given here, and the
statements as to the position which had been made both by the
Prime Minister here and in Australia, were being implemented. I
said this question was of the utmost importance if I was going to
take over. I stressed that while I would be prepared to try and
get the position on to a satisfactory basis and was most anxious
to avoid any friction, I could not go on if the position was
merely a farcical one. I emphasised to Evatt that it was essential
we should safeguard ourselves against the situation arising where
I had to cable to the Prime Minister and indicate that I could not
continue as Australia's special representative because in fact I
was not in a position to carry out the functions which the people
both in Australia and in this country believed I was performing.

I stressed that I was prepared to try and achieve what we wanted
and I would not insist on too much definition provided it was made
clear that I was Australia's Accredited Representative enjoying
the full confidence of the Government. I indicated, however, that
it seemed to me the position as to the past, e.g. decisions in
Washington, Marshall-Hopkins talks, Madagascar [16], must be put
to Winston and an understanding arrived at with him quite apart
from the position of his fellow members of the War Cabinet.

On this basis we left the matter to think it over and have a
further conversation. It is clear that Winston has exercised his
charm and unquestionable astuteness upon Evatt. I see some
difficulties in Evatt's really facing Winston up with the
position, particularly in view of certain things which emerged
when he told me of a conversation he had had in the train with

In this conversation Winston apparently told Evatt that Menzies
[17] just before he left had said to Winston that he was too
autocratic and did not allow those around him a sufficient voice
in determining policy. Winston said that his reply to Menzies was
that he, Winston, was informed that you, Menzies, are something of
the same sort in Australia. Winston also apparently told Evatt
that he was prepared to be thrown out but he was not prepared to
have his powers as Prime Minister wilted [sic] away.

If, as appeared from Evatt's account of this conversation, Evatt
accepted these statements without any sort of a challenge, or
without bringing up what has happened as to the non-implementation
of the undertakings to Australia, it seems to me that he will be
in some difficulty in facing Winston up with the necessity of
treating Australia somewhat differently in the future to the way
she has been treated in the past.


[AA:M100, MAY 1942]

1 U.K. Treasury representative in the United States.

2 Sir Kingsley Wood.

3 See cablegram 4209 of 8 May on file AA:M100, May 1942. It
reported that Wood had assured Bruce informally on 28 April that
the U.K. Govt would ensure that the accumulation of Australian
overseas war expenditure would not be allowed to unduly deplete
Australia's sterling balances.

4 See John Curtin's cablegram 3875 of 6 May on file AA:A981,
USA181, i.

5 Dated 11 May. Bruce summarised the reply in his cablegram S23 of
23 May (on file AA:A989, 43/735/29).

6 Summarised in Bruce's cablegram 1163 of 9 February on the file
cited in note 5.

7 External Affairs Officer in London. The note may be that dated
16 May on the file cited in note 5.

8 U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom. See Bruce's cablegram S22
of 19 May on file AA:A981, War 54
9 Not found.

10 On file AA:M100, May 1942.

11 Winston Churchill.

12 Cripps took office as U.K. Lord Privy Seal on 19 February. See
also Document 338.

13 See Document 481.

14 See Document 490.

15 See cablegram 13A of 15 January on file AA:M100, January 1942.

16 These issues are set out in Document 499.

17 Then Prime Minister.

[LONDON], 18 May 1942
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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