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

1 saw Evatt at 5.30 p.m. for about half an hour. When I arrived
Page [1] was there talking to Robinson [2] and had apparently been
waiting for about 1 1/2 hours.

I told Evatt that Page had been to see me this afternoon and I had
found myself in a position of considerable embarrassment, as while
Page had been the Accredited Representative of the Australian
Government and in such capacity I had afforded him all the help I
could, I did not feel at liberty to disclose to him what was in my
mind with regard to the question of representation as this issue
might become a subject of political controversy in which Page
would be attacking the Government which at the moment I was
serving. I had accordingly told Page that I could not say anything
to him and strongly recommended that he should go and see Evatt
and discuss the matter with him. This advice Page had taken and
was, I understood, seeing Evatt at 6.00 p.m. Evatt said that was
so and referred to the fact that Page wanted to do a broadcast in
the next few days which he, Evatt, was most anxious he should not
do. Evatt clearly knew what was in Page's broadcast and I rather
gathered that he had got the information as to Page's desire to
broadcast and what he was proposing to say from Bracken. [3] At
this stage the subject of Page was not further pursued.

Evatt had the Note which I sent to him on Wednesday [4] in front
of him and had clearly been giving a good deal of thought to it as
it was very underlined and marked. He immediately started dealing
with it and the first point he made was to ask me how I knew of
W.1 [5] and that it had only been made available to him on the
13th May as he Evatt had not told me that.

I told him I had heard of it at the time when he had his private
talk with the Chiefs of Staff, namely on the 12th May.

He pursued the subject and asked me how I had got that information
at that date, to which I replied that I had got it because of my
contacts with the Chiefs of Staff organisation but it would not be
fair for me to disclose how I had obtained it. On this he dropped
the point.

He then took the five points made in my Note and said that he
agreed that the position was as set out in A. and B. but added
that it would take a tremendous amount of altering.

He made the not uninteresting comment that in this country there
was at the present time really a Military Dictatorship.

With regard to C. he said it was not desirable that we should be
given information of impending operations.

To this I agreed in so far as there was any question of advising
Australia with regard to any impending operations. I said,
however, that that was not the point I was making. What I felt had
to be remedied was the position where a great question involving
our relations with Vichy France had been under continuous review
we should never have been consulted in the matter, quite apart
from the specific question of the actual operation against
Madagascar and the date when it took place.

Evatt then took D. and E. together and said that he had known a
great deal more about this matter than he had told me and that it
was true that he had not been invited to the meeting of the War
Cabinet when the matter was finally decided. He implied, however,
that the reason for this was that it was really a matter of
domestic policy for the United Kingdom as they were to be the
Parties to the Agreement with the Soviet.

I told him that I did not accept that view because this question
went far beyond any matter of United Kingdom domestic policy and
really was a question involving the most vital considerations in
connection with the whole conduct of the war. For some reason,
however, he appears to have become quite cold on any matter which
touches upon Russia.

With regard to his statement as to having had much more
information tha[n] he disclosed to me, although I did not say so,
I do not think it quite represents the position. The actual facts
are that the United Kingdom Government went ahead with these
negotiations and determined the line of policy they were going to
pursue without any real consultation with him.

After Evatt had taken the five points he said that the position as
it had existed in the past had to be altered but that everything
depended on the man here. He said that while Page was the
Accredited Representative he had not obtained the information that
he should have. Evatt added that I did obtain the information and
that since he had been here he had known everything that was going
on. He said his methods differed from mine but that they were none
the less effective. Evatt said that I must do the job here and
that he had no doubt it would be possible for me to achieve what
we desire. He said, however, he was not going to force the
position with the Prime Minister [6] who was extremely touchy and
rather suggested that he hoped I would handle the position with a
similar discretion.

I said that it appeared to me that his, Evatt's, mind was in
favour of the second of the two alternative courses I had
suggested in my Note. I said that that was a matter for him to
decide but stressed that it was essential he should move at once
as he must put the whole position to the Prime Minister before he
left England.

Evatt said that he was going to do so tomorrow and had waited
until now as he did not want to have this matter out with the
Prime Minister until he had got what he wanted here. He then told
me at some length what he had obtained, particularly stressing the
three Spitfire Squadrons, of which he told me, and said he would
let me have a copy of the letter which Ismay had sent him on
behalf of the Prime Minister. [7]

After he had gone over what he had obtained I came back to the
point of the necessity of his putting up the whole position to the
Prime Minister. I stressed that it was necessary he should do so
both in his own interests and in mine if I was to take over when
he left. I said it was essential in his own interests because his
colleagues in the Cabinet, some of whom I was under the impression
were fairly tough, would want to know when he got back exactly
what he had done with the Prime Minister to ensure that Australia
had a voice in the higher direction of the war that we had been

I told him that I did not quite see his colleagues being satisfied
with a recitation of what he had obtained and a statement that he
had not raised this major issue of representation with the Prime
Minister as it might have provided a row with the Prime Minister
which would have led him to be less helpful. I said, however, on
the other hand if he could add to the story of what he had
achieved the fact that he had put the whole position with regard
to Australian representation squarely up to the Prime Minister and
obtained his undertaking that he would remedy it, plus the fact
that I had been entrusted with the task of quietly and without
friction attempting to bring about the alterations we had desired,
I felt he would be able to satisfy his colleagues.

With regard to my position I told him I had made my views clear in
the two Notes that I had given him. [8] As long as he had put the
whole position clearly to the Prime Minister I would be in a
position to know what I had to do, namely, quietly and as rapidly
as I could to bring about the alteration in the position we
desired and if I could not to advise the Government so that they
could take action.

I stressed, however, that it must be quite clear that I was the
fully Accredited Representative of Australia and that all
facilities had to be made available to me.

To this Evatt agreed. I then warned him that in his conversation
with the Prime Minister he might have the question raised of
embarrassments with the other Dominions if the High Commissioner
for Australia was made the Accredited Representative. I explained
to him that the danger in this connection was that New Zealand,
who always want to get what Australia has got, might press for the
appointment of Jordan [9], which would be unthinkable. With the
point as to Jordan Evatt cordially agreed. I told him that the
line with the Prime Minister as I saw it was that it was not the
High Commissioner qua High Commissioner who was being appointed
but an individual. I said, however, that it would probably get
over any difficulties which the Dominions Office were up against
if it were made clear that owing to duties involved in my position
as Accredited Representative I would be relieved by Duncan [10] of
the ordinary duties of the High Commissioner.

I suggested that in giving effect to this arrangement Duncan might
be made Deputy High Commissioner but this Evatt was opposed to. He
said he did not want any question of any Executive appointment
being made.

The position was left on the basis that whatever might be decided
on the question of making Duncan Deputy High Commissioner the
arrangement would be that in order to meet the possible trouble
with the other Dominions it would be indicated that I was
relinquishing the ordinary High Commissioner functions.


[AA:M100, MAY 1942]

1 Formerly Special Representative in the United Kingdom. See
Document 439, note 8.

2 Australian businessman and adviser to Evatt on his overseas

3 U.K. Minister of Information.

4 Document 499.

5 See Document 497, paragraph 2.

6 Winston Churchill.

7 See Document 502.

8 See Document 499 and Note of 3 May on file AA:M100, May 1942.

9 N.Z. High Commissioner in the United Kingdom.

10 Official Secretary of the High Commission in London.

[LONDON], 28 May 1942
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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