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

Extracts [LONDON], 30 May 1942

Had a long talk with Evatt after dinner. He opened the
conversation by saying that he had discussed with the Prime
Minister [1] at Chequers last night the position with regard to
our representation here and the necessity of implementing the
arrangement that had been entered into down the lines of our
previous conversation.

Evatt told the Prime Minister that I would be taking over when he
left and, according to Evatt, so far from objecting to this the
Prime Minister expressed his cordial agreement and spoke in the
highest terms of me personally. It sounded to me a little
startling but may be true.

Evatt said that in the conversation, while making no formal
complaint, he emphasised the necessity of full consultation and
the supply of adequate information. Evatt said that he pointed out
that the position had not been satisfactory prior to his arrival
here and expressed the hope that an improvement could be
progressively brought about by my cooperation. The Prime Minister
assured him that he would do everything he could to facilitate
what we desired and expressed the view that there should not be
any serious difficulty.

In reply to a question I put to him Evatt said that the Prime
Minister raised no point with regard to my position as High
Commissioner and Evatt expressed the view that there was no
necessity in these circumstances to do anything about the matter.

I told him that I anticipated the Dominions Office would raise the
question and that in the event of their doing so I still held the
view that the matter could best be adjusted by a statement
indicating that I was shedding my ordinary functions as High
Commissioner and that they would be carried out by Duncan. [2]
Evatt indicated that he had no very fixed views on the subject and
we must be guided by future developments.

I then reverted to the understanding which had been reached with
the Prime Minister and I said I was quite prepared to take on
[sic] as Accredited Representative on the basis of that
understanding and would do everything in my power to achieve what
we wanted quietly and without friction. I said, however, it was
essential that there should be no misunderstanding but that I was
the Accredited Representative in the fullest sense of the word. I
added that I did not think there would be any difficulty in this
direction because I understood a telegram had already come in to
the Dominions Office from the Prime Minister [3] advising them
officially that I would be the Accredited Representative after
his, Evatt's, departure.

I then went on to make it clear that if I was to do the job I must
organise the staff working for me in the way I considered best. I
told Evatt, in this connection, I had been somewhat alarmed by a
conversation I had had with Page. [4] I reminded him that I had
told him of my first conversation [5] when I had refused to
discuss the matter with Page at all, and told him, Page, to see
the Minister. I said that I understood from Page that he had had a
long conversation with Evatt after I had seen him, Page, and that
in the evening Page had asked me to go and see him at his hotel.

When I had seen Page he had talked to me for the best part of an
hour and a half about all his ideas as to how the position should
be organised here and generally told the Minister of my
conversation with Page. I said that my fears with regard to Page
were that he was obsessed with the idea of getting everything cut
and dried and down on paper, which to my mind was quite
impracticable. Our organisation would have to grow in conformity
with the Anglo-American organisation, and I explained generally to
him the way we were working at the present time and the gradual
expansion which I thought was likely to take place.

I added that in addition to creating the organisation in the best
way as I saw it, I must also have complete discretion as to the
instruments I employed and how I used them. In this connection I
instanced the position of Wardell [6], and said frankly that it
appeared to me that he, Evatt, was inclined to think that Wardell
had refrained from disclosing information which he should have
told to the Minister or to Page. I explained the position that
Wardell was in and the manner [in which] it was necessary for him
to work. I defended what Wardell had done and said in my view he
was absolutely right. We had a slight argument on this point but
in the end Evatt indicated that he accepted my view and left the
matter entirely in my hands.

We then reverted to Page and Evatt told me that he had seen Page
who had talked to him for an hour and a half. Evatt said that he
did not quite know what Page was talking about but it appeared to
him that much of what he said was impracticable and that a good
deal which was in his broadcast, which Page had shown him, was
quite inaccurate. Evatt said that he had told Page to go away and
put down on paper what he had in mind but I gathered that this was
merely a method of getting rid of him and little notice will be
taken of whatever Page produces. [7] Evatt also spoke in very
contemptuous terms of Page's broadcast and expressed the view that
it was most undesirable that he should make it. He indicated that
it had been postponed for a week, I think because Bracken [8] had,
on Evatt's inspiration, found it impossible to fit it in.

Evatt then stressed how undesirable he thought the broadcast was
but when I put the question to him as to whether the Government
would be prepared to take action so that Page would not make it,
he said that the Government would not so act as if they did Page
would say they had muzzled him. He, however, was clearly most
anxious that I should endeavour to stop the broadcast and implied
that if I could not do so Bracken might be invoked to put
difficulties in the way for the time being. [9]

We then reverted to what the exact position was following on
Evatt's talk with the Prime Minister. I stressed to him that it
was essential we should mutually agree exactly what the position
was and that the Government must have complete confidence in me. I
then stated the position as I saw it; that he had put the whole
position to Churchill; that in doing so his attitude had been
friendly and firm and he had made it clear that it was essential
we should be kept fully advised and have an opportunity of
expressing our views. As to exactly how this would be brought
about was to be quietly worked out by me and I would keep the
Government fully advised as to developments.

This the Prime Minister had agreed and indicated he would
cooperate. Evatt was inclined to be somewhat impatient of my
insistence upon a definition of where exactly we did stand and
rather indicated that he thought it was unnecessary. I stuck to
the point, however, on the same grounds as in my previous
conversation with him, namely, his position on his return to
Australia. I put it to him that when he got back some of his
colleagues who I gather were pretty tough would want to know what
safeguards he had obtained as to our being ensured of future
consultation. I urged on him that if he went back and merely told
his colleagues that he had obtained various things, e.g. the
Spitfire Squadrons, and increase in the price for wool, but that
he had been unable to obtain any guarantees as to consultation
because he did not want to quarrel with the Prime Minister, his
reception would not be very good. If, however, he could add to
what he had obtained an assurance that he had come to an
understanding with the Prime Minister as to future consultation
then I thought his position was unassailable.

Evatt then admitted that it was necessary to clarify the position
and he agreed that it was as I had stated. I then said that that
cleared the situation for me and I was prepared to go ahead and
see what I could achieve. I said I would work quietly and attempt
to avoid any friction. I would keep the Prime Minister advised as
to how the position was developing and I would only appeal for the
Prime Minister's intervention if absolutely necessary.

Evatt expressed the view that he was quite sure I would be able to
arrive at a satisfactory arrangement. He is obviously impressed
with the personal contacts and sources of information I have here.

He said it was essential that I should be the Accredited
Representative and he stressed that no Minister must come here for
some time as that would undermine my position. In regard to
Ministers coming here I referred to Page's ideas about my position
being permanent and defining my relations to visiting Ministers. I
said that I thought that would be a great mistake, but the
position must be left to work itself out and probably we would
find by the time any Minister came there would be no difficulty

I then came to the point of the necessity of the Government having
confidence in me. I suggested that very possibly some of his
colleagues might have grave doubts as to whether I was a quite
safe representative for a Labor Government to have.

Evatt said that he did not think there was any such feeling and he
had never heard anything said against me save by one or two and
rather to my surprise he mentioned Scullin. [10] He said I knew
Curtin's opinion of me and that he, Curtin, had the fullest
confidence in me. In any event, he said, he and Curtin could
completely control the position.

I said I quite recognised that but at the same time it was as well
that he and the Prime Minister should know quite clearly what my
position was. I then told him that I had really been dragged into
politics and had no party obligations.

Evatt said that he had rather gathered that.

I then told him that I had contemplated getting out in 1938. I
said that as a result of the prestige I had obtained in the City
in connection with the conversion operations, I had had a most
flattering offer made to me which would have made me financially
independent for life. I told him that I had notified Lyons [11]
that I wanted to get out but eventually seeing that war was almost
inevitable and that I could perhaps do something to help if I
stayed on as High Commissioner I had reviewed my decision and
agreed to go on with the right to get out at any time should the
position improve and the danger of war recede. I told Evatt that I
had no political ambitions of any sort. My one desire was to get
out and give up public life. I said I had only one interest and
that was the sort of world we were going to build in the post-war
period and that interest might keep me in the ring.

Evatt said he thought the work I had been doing on economic and
social questions was of the greatest value and said that we had
made great progress in America. He referred to the fact that
Frankfurter [12] had spoken to him of the work I had been doing.

The point I wanted to stress to him, however, was that I was only
here to help and that as soon as I could do so I wanted to get

Evatt said he quite understood the position and he assured me that
I would have every possible support and help from his Government.

He urged me not to worry about the wording of cablegrams I might
receive from Australia. He said the great majority of them were
drafted by Shedden [13] and that although they might come over the
Prime Minister's signature he probably had not given them any

Evatt then said he had thought over the position with regard to
Duncan but saw no reason to alter his status. I told him that I
thought the question was almost certain to arise owing to
complications with other Dominions, and in any event if I was more
or less going to disassociate myself from the work of Australia
House it would probably be a good thing to give Duncan the extra
status of making him Deputy High Commissioner. I stressed,
however, that whatever was done in this connection it was
essential I should keep control over Australia House because the
organisation of the Accredited Representative would be a very
limited one and the great bulk of the routine work would all have
to go through Australia House.

Evatt said that he quite agreed with that and said that the whole
question could be examined and he had an open mind on it. The main
thing was that the organisation should be satisfactory. In this
regard Evatt paid a tribute to the organisation here though not a
very gracious one and compared it with what he described as the
chaotic position in America.

[matter omitted]

Evatt told me he had been to see the Dutch Prime Minister [14]
that morning and he had obviously been most attracted by him.

The conversation was of the most friendly and frank character as
in fact have been all my conversations with Evatt. This contrast
between his dealings with me and with all those who have been
serving under him since he has been over here is a somewhat
startling one.


1 Winston Churchill.

2 Official Secretary of the High Commission in London.

3 See John Curtin's cablegram 313 of 30 May on file AA:MP1217, Box
461, Australian representation in the United Kingdom.

4 Formerly Special Representative in the United Kingdom (see
Document 439, note 8). Bruce's notes of his two conversations with
Page on 28 May are on file AA:M100, May 1942.

5 See Document 504.

6 Military Liaison Officer and Adviser to Bruce.

7 Page set out his views in a long cablegram (no. 5385 on file
AA:M100,June 1942) dispatched to Curtin on 12 June.

8 U.K. Minister of Information.

9 Page insisted on making broadcasts to both British (on 14 June)
and Australian (on 13 June) listeners. Bruce induced him to omit
any specific reference to Australian representation in the U.K.

War Cabinet from his British broadcast and to omit 'the more
undesirable passages' on this subject from his Australian
broadcast. See Bruce's cablegram 66 of 12 June to Evatt (then in
Washington) on file AA:M100, June 1942.

10 Labor Party M.H.R. for Yarra. Scullin had replaced Bruce as
Prime Minister Oil 22 October 1929 following the latter's
electoral defeat.

11 Then Prime Minister.

12 Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

13 Secretary of the Defence Dept.

14 Dr P. S. Gerbrandy.

[AA:M100, MAY 1942]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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