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535 Note by Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, of Conversation with Mr Clement Attlee, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

LONDON, 28 June 1942

As I had received no notification of a War Cabinet meeting on
Saturday evening after the Prime Minister's return from the U.S.A.

meeting to-day Sunday. Attlee said that there was not. I then said
that my Government would be waiting most anxiously for a report on
the Prime Minister's Mission, but as there was being no meeting I
would feel compelled to cable to Australia saying that
notwithstanding the Prime Minister's return there had been no
meeting of the War Cabinet. This I felt would create a feeling of
considerable surprise in view of the importance of the Mission and
the seriousness of the position in Libya. On my saying this Attlee
admitted that there had been a meeting of Ministers last night. To
which I replied that that did not appear to me to be going to help
the position very much as I would have to cable that there had
been a meeting but that I had not been invited to attend.

This somewhat flat statement disturbed Attlee considerably and he
suggested that had he not better come and see me at once. As he
was out at Stanmore I did not feel that that was quite necessary
but I said I would go out and see him.

I went straight out and had a long talk to Attlee when I put the
position very flatly to him. I told him that when Evatt [2] had
first come over here I had given him a Memorandum [3] setting out
exactly what had been agreed with regard to Australia's
representation in London in the exchange of telegrams between our
respective Prime Ministers and also what the two Prime Ministers
had said in public statements with regard to the basis of our

I told Attlee that after pointing these things out in the
Memorandum I set out the facts showing that actually the
understanding arrived at had not been implemented. When I gave
Evatt the Memorandum the day after his arrival, he had left little
unsaid as to what he was going to do, vis-a-vis the British

During his visit and as he had come under the spell of the Prime
Minister, that attitude had changed so that when the time of his
departure arrived he was quite definite that it was essential to
avoid having a row with Winston. At the same time he was
indicating that he wanted me to take on the job of Australia's
Representative when he left.

I told Attlee that I had made it clear to Evatt that I was not
prepared to take on the job unless he, Evatt, had a showdown with
the Prime Minister. The lines of such showdown I suggested were
with the utmost friendliness and without in any way having a row,
he, Evatt, had to point out to the Prime Minister that in the past
what had been arranged with regard to our representation had not
been carried out, that it was essential it should be if serious
trouble with the Australian Government was to be avoided and that
Evatt should ask the Prime Minister for his co-operation in
ensuring that the matter would be put right.

I told Attlee that Evatt had assured me that he had had that
conversation with the Prime Minister, but my own impression was
that the conversation was of a very mild character. I said,
however, that in addition to ensuring the position of the
Australian Government I had to safeguard my own position as if
Evatt left this country in an atmosphere that everything had
worked satisfactorily in the past and during his visit, the whole
responsibility for the arrangement breaking down, if it did break
down, would fall upon my shoulders and would be attributable to my
incompetence. In order to avoid this situation being created I had
cabled to the Prime Minister setting out exactly where the
position stood and making it clear that I understood my job to be
to try and put it right, if possible without friction. [4] I
pointed out to Attlee that this being the basis of my taking on
the appointment, if I found in fact I could not put it right, I
would have no option but to say to my Government that I was not
prepared to carry on. This, I suggested, would be a most
unfortunate situation to arise.

I urged upon Attlee that he must see to it that I was not placed
in that position and I pointed out to him that it would be much
wiser for them to have me in the picture to too great an extent
rather than too small. I would always be willing to treat as
completely confidential anything that fell outside my particular
job and to be reasonable with regard to anything that fell inside

I tried to put the case to Attlee strongly but without emphasising
the almost blackmailing element that lies in it because the United
Kingdom Government in its present position could not possibly
allow me to resign on the basis that I could not get the necessary
information to carry out my task. This would be such a
confirmation of the one-man Government idea, quite apart from the
large issue of the position of the Dominions.

Attlee was most apologetic about last night, expressed his
agreement with everything I had said, and undertook to see that
anything of the sort would not occur again.

On this basis I accepted the position and said I would not make an
issue with my Government as a result of my not having been
summoned to the meeting last night. I told Attlee, however, that
at some point I would have to have the matter out with the Prime
Minister himself, but in view of the atmosphere at the present
moment I would leave it for the time being and take it up with the
Prime Minister at a later date.

I am accordingly sending the Prime Minister a cable giving an
indication of what took place at the meeting last night, which
Attlee reported fully to Me. [5] My impression is that the meeting
was not a very important one and they did not, in fact, get down
either to a real discussion of the Prime Minister's visit to
America or the present situation in Libya. A good deal of the time
I gathered was taken up with considering how the censure motion in
the House will be handled.


[AA:M100, JUNE 1942]

1 Winston Churchill visited the United States between 17 and 27
June to discuss strategy in Europe, the Atlantic and North Africa
and the co-ordination of nuclear research.

2 Minister for External Affairs.

3 Dated 3 May. On file AA:M100, May 1942.

4 See cablegram S34 of 4 June on file AA:M100,June 1942.

5 See cablegram 92A of 28 June on the file cited in note 4.

[1], I rang Attlee up and asked him whether there was to be a
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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