Skip to main content

Historical documents

132 Bruce to Curtin

Letter LONDON, 5 March 1943

Now that some 9 months have passed since I became the Accredited
Representative of the Australian Government to the United Kingdom
War Cabinet I feel I should send you a report of the developments
over that period.

My starting point must be to examine what was the intention when
you entered into your arrangement with Mr. Churchill in January
1942. [1] I will not burden this letter by setting out in detail
this back history but I enclose herewith a Note which I have had
prepared [2], which gives the story from the time when Sir Earle
Page first initiated the discussions, up to the beginning of
August last.

At that date the position was that while difficulties had been
encountered it was felt that it should be possible to give effect
to the original intention and I was entrusted with the task of
finding ways and means of so doing, This I have endeavoured to do
during the intervening period and the broad conclusions I have
reached are-
1. That Australian representation to the War Cabinet cannot be
implemented in the specific manner visualised at the time when the
agreement was entered into, nevertheless,
2. That in practice we are working on a basis that achieves the
objective we had in mind, namely, that the Australian Government
should be adequately informed of all essential facts,
developments, and trends of policy, and should have an opportunity
of exercising an influence upon decisions taken.

In this letter I propose to give you the reasons which have led me
to these conclusions.

The conception in Page's mind when he made his recommendations to
you was that Australia's Accredited Representative should be in
fact, even if not so officially declared, in the same position in
the War Cabinet as a United Kingdom Member. [3]

There have, however, proved in practice to be difficulties in the
way of giving effect to this conception. These difficulties arise
from two main causes-
(A.) The personality of Mr. Churchill, and
(B.) The fact that the War Cabinet is not a War Cabinet except in

With regard to (A)-Mr. Churchill in his own person combines the
most remarkable qualities of drive, initiative and leadership
together with an intense individualism which makes it impossible
for him to work with, and utilise, the Members of the War Cabinet
in the way for example that Mr. Lloyd George [4] did. The result
is that while Mr. Churchill is to an unexampled extent the leader
of the nation in war, his relations with the War Cabinet are such
as to be almost unconstitutional. Great decisions are taken and
arrangements are made, e.g. with the President of the United
States of America, without the Members of the War Cabinet being
informed until after the event.

The Prime Minister's colleagues, however, realise how great he is
as a war time leader, and that it is impossible to expect a
heavily burdened man of 68 to make fundamental changes in his
methods. They have accordingly, with one notable exception, i.e.

Sir Stafford Cripps, acquiesced in the position as it is, although
all of them, I think, find themselves from time to time
considerably embarrassed by the anomalous position in which they
are placed by having to accept responsibility for decisions in
regard to which they have had no reasonable opportunity of
expressing their views.

With these embarrassments I have some sympathy.

The decisions taken by the Prime Minister, however, are mainly
concerned with the strategy and operations of the war. In these
questions he has an intense interest, besides possessing wide
imagination, great initiative, and unsurpassed drive.

In the conduct of the war the great thing is to get on with the
job. This the Prime Minister is doing and his colleagues must
acquiesce in his working by methods which are the only ones that
enable him to give the best that is in him.

While the Prime Minister does not use his War Cabinet in the
accepted manner in regard to questions concerning strategy and
operations this does not mean a purely one-man direction of the
war. He utilises the Service instrumentalities, i.e. the Chiefs of
Staff, the Joint Planners, etc. While he uses his great
personality to influence their recommendations and appreciations
in the direction in which his own mind is working he does not
dominate them to the extent that many people believe.

As the war has gone on these Service instrumentalities have
exercised an increasing influence and have been able, particularly
the Joint Planners, to blend their hard realism with the
imaginative genius of the Prime Minister.

With regard to the difficulties which individual Members of the
War Cabinet experience in ensuring adequate consideration and the
formulation of definite policies in connection with matters they
regard as of great importance I have less sympathy.

While the Prime Minister's mind is mainly concerned with the
actual conduct of the war and he is impatient with regard to other
matters, I am convinced that his interest and support can be
aroused if he is approached in the right way.

Unfortunately none of his Colleagues in the War Cabinet appear to
possess the necessary force or personality to do this although
Morrison, who recently joined the War Cabinet, is showing distinct
signs that he may have the necessary qualities.

This point of the inadequacy of the Members of the War Cabinet is
one of considerable importance to us.

It means that matters of vital concern to Australia, e.g. Post-war
problems, do not receive the consideration they should.

It may well be that on such questions the Dominions will have to
exercise their influence to a greater extent than they have in the

In some respects my position is almost more difficult than that of
a United Kingdom Member of the War Cabinet. I am responsible to
you, and through you to Australia, for seeing that the
Commonwealth War Cabinet is fully informed with regard to all
matters of major importance and that Australia is able to exercise
an influence upon decisions that are taken. This has, from time to
time, necessitated my being somewhat insistent in expressing views
and demanding information. This insistence has at times, I am
afraid, irritated the Prime Minister, over-burdened as he is, and
having, as I believe he has, a certain resentment in his mind that
one of the Dominions should have insisted upon being accorded a
position different from that of the other Dominions in connection
with the conduct of the war.

These irritations have, however, been smoothed out when we have
had an opportunity of meeting and of frank discussion. One point,
however, with regard to myself is, I think, still rankling with
the Prime Minister, and I feel I should advise you of it.

After I had had a long talk with him on the 21st September last
[5], which ended on a most admirable note, I wrote him a letter on
the 25th September. With this letter I enclosed a Note setting out
some apprehensions I had felt with regard to the way the War
Cabinet was functioning. [6] I have since had reason to believe
that the Prime Minister was considerably annoyed at the contents
of this Note which he regarded as a criticism upon his leadership.

It was nothing of the kind but was merely a statement of the
position as I saw it and which was sent solely, as I said in my
letter, with a view to being helpful. What I actually said in my
letter was-
'I am hopeful that in our conversation on Monday night I convinced
you that my one desire is to render you all the assistance in my
power. That I believe I can best do by the most complete
frankness. In that belief I am enclosing a Note which I made some
three weeks ago. I would have hesitated, prior to our
conversation, to have sent you this Note in the form in which I
originally dictated it lest it might have given you a wrong
impression of my attitude towards yourself Now I have no such
apprehension however little you may agree with the views I
When I sent the Note to the Prime Minister I realised that there
was a risk that, with his strong sensitiveness to what he
considers to be criticism, it might cause annoyance. I felt,
however, that as I had an obligation to you to keep you advised of
the position here as I saw it, it would have been most treacherous
of me to be communicating with you setting out the defects I saw
in the way the War Cabinet was functioning without having told the
Prime Minister what was in my mind.

I would like to send you a copy of my letter and the Note which I
sent to the Prime Minister, but, as it was an entirely personal
communication sent on the basis of a friendship extending over a
great number of years, I do not feel I should do so without
obtaining the Prime Minister's consent.

While I have felt that I should advise you of this personal
incident it does not materially affect the point I am making. That
point is that after my experience of the past 9 months I am
convinced that it is impossible to bring about a position whereby
Australia's Accredited Representative, no matter who he might be,
with the exception of you yourself, as Prime Minister, would be
accorded a position in the War Cabinet equivalent to that of the
United Kingdom Members. Even if he were, this, in view of the
manner in which the War Cabinet functions, would not meet
Australia's requirements of full information and an opportunity of
influencing decisions.

With regard to (B) the fact that the War Cabinet is not in any
sense an Imperial War Cabinet, but is the United Kingdom Cabinet
dealing with all questions of policy whether directly concerned
with the war or not, is one which I think was not clearly enough
visualised by us when your agreement with Mr. Churchill was made.

His phrase, reported to you in my telegram No. 122 A. of the 2nd
August 1942 [7]-

'His Majesty's servants in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland
must have the right to sit alone' might be open to challenge if
the sole duty of the War Cabinet was the conduct of the war. When,
however, it is realised that the War Cabinet is the only Body of
United Kingdom Ministers where differences of opinion can be
ironed out and decisions reached as to the attitude to be adopted
by the United Kingdom in regard to questions of domestic concern,
e.g. the Beveridge report [8], or even to matters of wider
significance where the United Kingdom's individual interests are
vitally concerned, Mr. Churchill's attitude is not open to

You will realise how embarrassing it would be for you if there was
an Accredited Representative of the United Kingdom present at all
meetings of your Cabinet even those at which you were attempting
to reconcile differences of opinion between your own colleagues.

On the question of my attending meetings of the War Cabinet we
have therefore had to try and provide some common-sense
arrangement. This broadly is that I do not attend when domestic
questions are under discussion. This, however, does not quite meet
the case as it is difficult in war time to determine beforehand
what the Cabinet may have to deal with when it meets. This
difficulty we must deal with as best we can.

The broad fact that emerges from what I have said above is that we
have to recognise that in practice Australia's Accredited
Representative cannot function quite in the way that was
contemplated when the arrangement was entered into.

In my view, we have to accept the present position. This, I think,
we can well do because, as I have indicated in my second
conclusion above, I believe in practice we are now working on a
basis that achieves the objective that we had in mind, namely,
that the Australian Government should be adequately informed of
all essential facts, developments and trends of policy, and should
have an opportunity of exercising an influence upon decisions

Through my long association with individual Members of the
Government, my contacts with the Departments engaged in the
prosecution of the war, and the excellent work of my Service
Advisers, I feel that I have been able to keep you reasonably well
informed of all essential facts and of developments and trends of
policy here.

The information I am able to obtain from these various sources,
particularly in regard to strategic questions, is certainly
greater than that available to the majority of the Members of the
War Cabinet.

The extent that one can influence policy depends upon one's
personal relations with Members of the Government both in and
outside the War Cabinet, with the Departments concerned, and with
individuals specially dealing with specific matters, e.g. Keynes.

In this respect the position appears to be satisfactory and the
amount of influence one can exercise progressively increasing,
To indicate how this works I give you the following instances of
matters of major importance, apart from questions directly
concerned with the prosecution of the War in the Pacific, with
which I have been actively concerned-
(a) Substitution of an early major operation in North Africa for a
delayed frontal attack on Europe-
(My telegram No. 17 A of 21st January 1943) [9]

(b) Intensification of campaign against U-Boat menace (My
telegrams Nos. 62 A, 63 A, 64 A, 65 A and 66 A of the 11th April
1942) [10]

Establishment of Cripps' Committee
(My telegrams No. 194 A of 21st November 1942 [11] and No. 214 A
of the 16th December 1942) [12]

In this matter what one could do was greatly helped by my close
contacts particularly with Cripps and Leathers, and the
conversations I had with Smuts during his visit.

(c) Opening of discussions with the United States of America with
regard to Colonies-
(My telegram No. 209 A of the 12th December 1942) [13]

(d) Post war problems-
(i) Political
(ii) Economic
(My telegrams Nos. 199 A of 30th November 1942 [14]

205 A of 3rd December 1942 [15]

18 A of 21st January 1943 [16] and
37 A [17] and 38 A of 16th February 1943 [18])
On the Political aspect of these problems my close association
with Cripps and Eden, to whom the War Cabinet referred the matter,
has afforded me most valuable opportunities.

The interest which I have been able to arouse in Morrison has also
been of great value.

On the Economic side my relations with Keynes have been of great
assistance to me.

I have written you I fear at somewhat inordinate length. I have
done so however deliberately because I feel you should have the
whole picture.

My own considered judgment is that we should continue to work on
the present lines which, on the whole, I think are yielding
reasonably satisfactory results.

I do not pretend I find my own position a peculiarly pleasant one.

This I am prepared to put up with so long as you feel I can be of
service to you.

For anyone coming here fresh to the job, and particularly for a
Minister, the position would be intolerable. He would find himself
able to achieve little, if anything, through the War Cabinet and
until he had been here for some considerable time he would not be
in a position to exercise his influence by the methods that I have
been able to adopt.

This would be a position that no man who was any good would put up
with for long and the probabilities are that he would either have
a row with the Prime Minister, which it is essential should be
avoided, or he would advise you that the idea of an Australian
Accredited Representative is unworkable, and recommend the
discontinuance of the experiment. This also would be most

You will have gathered from what I have written above that the
conclusion which I hope you will reach is that there is no need to
attempt to redefine the position of the Accredited Representative
of Australia so long as I am holding down the job. I suggest,
however, that you should give some thought to the situation which
would arise in the event of my being wiped out by a bomb or for
any other reasons ceasing to be Australia's Accredited
Representative. In such circumstances my own view is that it would
probably be desirable, in the interests both of your own personal
relations with Mr. Churchill and also of the relations of
Australia and Britain, that the responsibilities of the position
should be redefined.


1 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. V,
Documents 248 (note 4), 259, 262, 289 and 304; and cablegrams 82
and 126 of 28 January 1942 in PRO:PREM 4/43A/14.

2 On file AA:A1608, H33/1/2.

3 See Document 175 in the volume cited in note 1.

4 U.K. Prime Minister 1916-22.

5 See Document 51.

6 See Document 52 and First Enclosure thereto.

7 Document 15.

8 Published in November 1942, this report by Sir William Beveridge
laid the foundation for
social and economic welfare programs.

9 On file AA:M100, January 1943.

10 All cablegrams are on file AA:M100, April 1942.

11 On file AA:M100, November 1942.

12 FA:A3195, 1942, 1.50896.

13 Document 91.

14 See Document 86, note 1.

15 Document 86.

16 See Document 101, note 3.

17 Document 121.

18 On file AA:M100, February 1943.

[AA:A1608, H33/1/2]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top