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Historical documents

11 Eggleston to Evatt

Letter CHUNGKING, 29 July 1942


I want to write you a letter somewhat more informal than the

private and Confidential letters you have had from me. I want to

place before you some of the unsatisfactory Conditions which exist

in our relations with the External Affairs Department but I do not

wish to complain as the defects which exist may be due to lack of

staff or other war exigencies or to your disagreement with my

ideas of what is necessary. All I want you to know is that the

present conditions are a serious hindrance to our efficiency. I

have watched the working of the British Embassy in its relations

with the Foreign Office and other services and I would not rate

the efficiency of the Foreign Office as more than sixty to seventy

per cent but the External Affairs Department must be rated as

lower than this. The defects may be summed up under two headings:-

(a) Absence of an efficient administrative system directed to

supplying the needs of the Legation.

(b) Lack of imagination to realise what the needs of a legation


1. Information

Our greatest lack is information of what is going on in Australia

and generally of news behind the news. Our news is scanty enough

but of confidential information we receive nothing. Some letters

may have been miscarried but I have had no letters whatever about

our work though many of my letters asked for answers. (I shall

deal later with answers to cables.) This means that:-

(a) We have only a shadowy idea of Government policy.

(b) We receive little or no information of Government decisions or

agreements made by it.

(c) When negotiations go on with the Chinese Minister in Australia

[1] nothing is disclosed to us. As the Chinese insist on

negotiations at both ends this is most embarrassing to us. It is

the A.B.C. of diplomatic practice to keep ministers informed of

these communications.

(d) We receive no confidential information as to operations in the

Pacific Zone or as to war production. As to (b), we received in

the last mail a table showing the arrangement for General

MacArthur's command. I believe you will see that information on

these points is necessary to us. It is recognised that we should

receive much of this information and for some weeks a News

Bulletin was sent but this comes very irregularly now, about three

times in seven weeks and contains little besides what can be read

in the newspapers. Frankly, Mr. Gollan's 'Austral News' in India,

compiled from information given by the Commerce Department, is far

more valuable to us than anything we have received from our own

Department. He could obtain his information at a time when we were

receiving nothing because of the non-arrival of bags.

2. Diplomatic bags

As you probably know, for four months we received absolutely

nothing from Australia by bag. I gather that three bags have been

lost. Now eight bags have arrived and we are busy digesting them.

I have no doubt that the delay in the arrival of the bags was due

to slackness on the part of the naval authorities at various

points along the journey. When we first cabled the Department,

they got in touch with the Navy who informed the Department that

enquiries were being made for them at various points in the Indian

Ocean (see Telegrams Nos. 95, 126, 133 [2]). In fact, the bags had

never left Australia and bags from the end of January to the end

of May were despatched about the first week in June.

These facts seem to me to entirely displace the suggestion now

made that the bags were held for safe despatch and to indicate

that they were probably overlooked. There was another hold-up

after they reached India and we did not receive them until 21st

July. After we had made enquiries through the King's Messenger

they were suddenly released. I know that the responsibility for

the bags is the Navy's but I suggest that the Department is

responsible for ensuring that our wants are attended to. A system

of receipts should be installed to prevent this sort of thing. I

am also of the opinion that the naval officers responsible should

be called on to explain and disciplinary action taken if they are

at fault. I was in the Australian Headquarters during the last war

and there was no slackness of this kind.

3. Answers to telegrams

I have sent a list of queries made by us which have not been

answered [3], and have received explanations [4], the chief burden

of which is that the queries were passed on to the departments

concerned and no reply was received. I would point out that here

also administrative methods exist for pursuing enquiries and also

that it is often necessary for us to know if a query is likely to

be answered. If, for instance, we receive a request from the

British Ambassador or a Chinese Department for information, it

makes us look ridiculous to have to confess after weeks that no

notice has been taken of our request. We could save some 'face' if

we could say that the information was not available.

There is another matter on which I wish to speak. I have sent you

a number of despatches containing my views on the issues which

arise in this part of the field and the method by which the war

has been conducted as shown by the evidence I have seen. [5] I

have been very definite but I am not dogmatic in my opinions for I

realise how cut off I am here. My views on most of these matters

have been written without any information from outside or any

knowledge of opinions expressed by members of the Government.

After a close study of press articles contained in our bags which

arrived last week, I feel that my views, or rather the views I was

recording, have been remarkably in accord with your own. For

instance, in the 'Sydney Bulletin' of March 4th appears your

criticism of coordination between London, Washington and

Australia. Shortly after this, my friend Major-General van Temmen

[6] was in India hearing from General Wavell a similar criticism

of the same system. This I was able to cable to you when you were

in New York [7] and you appeared to appreciate it. [8] For these

reasons, I would very much appreciate something from you as to

whether after your trip you believe the points I have been

hammering at are still important. [9] I have no doubt that a great

many of the defects we have encountered have been cleared up in

the new arrangements that have been made.

I have followed up the question of Imperial co-ordination for

defence for over thirty years and it seems to me that defects in

practice grow out of two main causes-from organisation and

personal considerations-and the two overlap. An organisation can

always be a facade and provide cover for powerful personalities to

achieve their policies. Therefore, when we join war cabinets and

other like organisations we must remember that we become

minorities in organs dominated by others. The remedy for this is

to strengthen the operative parts and, therefore, professional

officers whom you send in liaison to the Chiefs-of-Staff should be

of the highest possible calibre in character and mind, not

juniors. They must make themselves listened to and report to the

Australian Government if they are not. I have seen the names of

some of the appointees and notice that this has been in your mind.

I believe you will find that the Chiefs-of-Staff often differ from

political heads and would like some reinforcement of their

position but they will not take it from junior officers. Moreover,

one of the difficulties is the pre-occupation with other theatres

of war. I am strongly of the opinion, from what I have heard here,

that no proper appreciations of the position in the Far East were

made, at any rate, after the Japanese occupied Indo-China. The

excuse was 'too busy elsewhere' but if our men were there they

could make these appreciations and force them on the attention of

the staffs.

Another thing to be considered is that Roosevelt is very

autocratic and even more inclined to take matters into his own

hands than Churchill. This is evident by the number of people who

report to him direct. Here there are at least six about whose

advice the Ambassador knows nothing. There are also numerous cases

where he takes decisions and the department concerned does not

know of them until they appear in the press.

The Washington Pacific War Council will, therefore, be dominated

by Roosevelt and he will be guided by public opinion. American

opinion is difficult to handle. I believe it is far more

capricious than in Britain. The American collective mind is

dispersed, capable of holding strongly opposed opinions at the

same time and it is not inherently friendly, however effusive it

may be, and is likely to be alienated by any signs of criticism on

the one hand and of fear and panic on the other. So far as I

understand it, the arrangement you have made with the United

States in regard to MacArthur and his command is an excellent

example of the right principles to apply but of course this cannot

cover supply.

I hope you will not consider these observations out of place. I

feel so intensely interested in these matters and have so much

time for thought that I cannot help forming opinions.

On the personal side I have thought it my duty to say many things

simply because I formed the opinion that so far as this part of

the world was concerned, the British authorities were not showing

the qualities necessary to win the war or handle the problems. It

goes against the grain to do this because I am a devotee of the

British way of life and have done as much as any private citizen

of Australia to promote British and Australian collaboration,

especially for defence. But I realise their position. The

responsibility thrust on them in the present war has been

stupendous and few nations who criticise them would have stood up

to the strain. We in Australia have not been asked to take on such

a strain and so we do not know how we would have got on.

Personally I think we have the intensity and adaptability to play

an effective part. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the

British have developed a powerful system in their public life

which is never really defined and understood but is acknowledged

by everyone as paramount; which must not be questioned and will

not be explained. Men are transferred into it from various strata

of society and if, being able, they try to change it, they

experience frustration and disappointment. The justification for

this system is that by it the British Empire was built up but it

seems to have crystallised and when world conditions have changed

there is no power of adaptation.

There is evidence, too, that such a system is not effectively

integrated; that it cannot focus effectively on the needs of the

situation. When the Germans attacked the Russians the British had

twelve months to formulate their re-actions to the world

situation, decide on their strategic positions and make

dispositions accordingly. This was never done. I find no evidence

of any intensive brainwork on the problems of Hongkong, Malaya and

Burma or the Far East generally, or any clear theory as to how to

tackle the problems which would arise in these places when the war

broke out. The tendency to say 'Singapore will do the trick' was

universal. As you know, there were many in Australia who had a

much more correct appreciation than that. The worst feature about

the position was that the British authorities always declared to

us that the preparations in the Far East were adequate and

afterwards said it was impossible to hold their strong points. If

you have made an effective impression on the system and given

Australia a safe position within it, you will have earned all our


I have spent the last few days in reading the Australian press and

I must say it fills me with pessimism. I do deeply sympathise with

the Government in having to put up with this. Few pressmen have

constructive minds and some seem psychopathic. One would gather

that Australia was in a state of panic and demoralisation. It is a

very dangerous mood to create with America looking on in a

critical frame of mind. Governments have immense responsibilities

today and it is not fair that they should be increased by an

irresponsible press.

We have had a month's intense heat here and are all feeling rather

prostrated by it. Mr. Waller has been in bed the last week with

either malaria or some kidney trouble. He is a tower of strength

to me and I rely on him very much.

[AA:A4144, 608 (1942-43)]

1 Dr Hsu Mo.

2, 3 & 4 These cablegrams have not been found.

5 See AA:A4231, Nanking, dispatches 1-57.

6 Head of Netherlands military mission to China.

7 See cablegram 1 of 20 April on file AA:A981, War 33, i and

Eggleston's letter of 21 April to Evatt on file AA: A4144, 400


8 See Eggleston's letter of 4 May to Evatt on file AA:A4144, 400


9 On 22 September Evatt dispatched a cablegram to Eggleston

expressing his appreciation of the latter's work in Chungking and

of his views on the higher direction of the war, which were close

to those of Curtin and Evatt himself; for this reason it had been

decided to keep Eggleston in China rather than appoint him as

Minister to the Soviet Union. Evatt also undertook to improve mail

and information services to the Legation and pointed out that the

External Affairs Dept had had no recent contacts of political

importance with the Chinese Legation in Australia. See cablegram

SC19 on file AA:A4764, 1.


Last Updated: 2 February 2011
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