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Historical documents

16 Bruce to Curtin

Cablegram 123[A] LONDON, 2 August 1942, 10.30 p.m.



Following is copy of the draft telegram referred to in my note to
the Prime Minister (my telegram 122[A] [1]):-

'In my conversations with Evatt, prior to his departure from
London [2], and in our exchange of telegrams-my telegram S34 of
4th June [3] and your reply [4]-it was agreed that the arrangement
entered into in January last, that Australia should be kept fully
advised in regard to developments in major policy and afforded the
opportunity to express her views before decisions were taken, had
not in practice worked out as had been hoped, and that my task as
Australia's Accredited Representative in War Cabinet was to
endeavour, without friction, to effect a change so that the
understanding would be fully implemented.

This task, during the past seven weeks since I took over as
Australia's Accredited Representative, I have been endeavouring
quietly to carry out. While one can hardly say that officially any
great improvement has yet been effected, unofficially considerable
progress has been made and I am still quite hopeful that a
satisfactory basis can be arrived at if a premature crisis can be

Developments in the past week have however tended to make this
somewhat doubtful. On Friday of last week, Hopkins, Marshall and
King arrived in this country with the object, so far as I can
ascertain it, of reviewing with the Government and Chiefs of Staff
here our broad strategy of the war and in particular of
determining the course to be pursued in relation to what is
popularly, but inaccurately, known as the Second Front.

All my official information with regard to this visit is confined
to a confidential statement made by the Prime Minister to the
ordinary weekly Cabinet meeting last Monday that the United States
Delegation had arrived.

Discussions have now been going on for nearly a week, but I have
not been summoned to any meeting of War Cabinet for the purpose of
considering the wide aspects of the problems involved and of
laying down the broad lines of policy to be followed.

As a result of these discussions with American representatives,
decisions of transcending importance will be taken and
probabilities are that the first you, as a Government primarily
concerned, and I, as Australia's Accredited Representative, will
hear officially of them will be when they are a fait accompli.

This can hardly be described as carrying out the undertaking given
to you that Australia would be kept fully advised in regard to
developments in major policy and afforded the opportunity to
express her views before decisions are taken. [5] Nor can it be
said to be in line with the statement in the Prime Minister's
telegram to you (Dominions Office telegram 126 of 28th January)
[6] that "the Accredited Representative would have the full right
to be heard in War Cabinet in the formulation and direction of

This situation raises in a concrete form the question of the
position of the Australian Government and of myself personally.

As a result of the Prime Minister's statement in the House of
Commons that the United Kingdom had expressed their willingness to
receive Australian and other Dominion representatives in War
Cabinet [7] and Australia's subsequent action in appointing an
Accredited Representative to sit in War Cabinet, the public both
here and in Australia have formed the view that Australia is
playing a responsible part in the higher direction of the war. If
in fact Australia is playing no such part, it is difficult to
justify the continuance of the present arrangement and, in my
view, the position has got to be rectified or Australia should
withdraw her Accredited Representative from War Cabinet. In my
opinion, ways and means of avoiding the latter course must be
found. Such an action would tend to undermine confidence in all
Empire countries in British higher direction of the war, would
have disastrous repercussions in the United States and other
Allied countries, would afford ammunition to critics of the
present United Kingdom Government and would form a basis for enemy
propaganda that cannot be contemplated. [At the same time we
cannot] [8] leave ourselves in a false position, [and continue] to
bear responsibility for decisions with regard to which we have had
no opportunity of expressing our views. Our task is to find a
solution of the problem.

If the visit of the American representatives had not precipitated
the question, I had proposed without consulting you to put the
whole position to the Prime Minister in the frankest way and to
seek his cooperation in finding a remedy. As, however, in the near
future, before I have had time to approach the Prime Minister, you
may be advised of fundamental decisions as to which you might well
expect to have been consulted, it seems to me necessary to inform
you of the actual situation. I still feel, however, that the
wisest course to pursue is that I should have a full and frank
personal conversation with the Prime Minister and this I will do
at the earliest opportunity, subject to your instructing me

As to the most practical way of solving the difficulty, I feel
that it can best be found by adopting the principle laid down in
your telegram to the Prime Minister, 81 of 27th January [9], in
which you say that you wish "it to be made quite clear that the
Commonwealth Government's request implies and means full
membership of the United Kingdom War Cabinet with all its rights
and privileges unless and until an Imperial War Cabinet is

Although the question of constitutional practicability of "formal
membership" of United Kingdom War Cabinet was discussed in
subsequent telegrams [10], the granting of rights and privileges
of a member of the War Cabinet to Australia's Accredited
Representative was not challenged. Only by according such rights
and privileges can I see the intention behind the appointment of
Australia's representative to the War Cabinet being given effect
to and such representative being placed in a position in which he
can effectively carry out the task assigned to him. Even with such
status accorded to him, the Australian representative will have a
difficult task in which he will have to display great discretion
and tact. Without such status his task is an impossible one.

The finding of a solution of the problem is rendered no easier by
the recent announcement of the appointment of an Indian
representative to the War Cabinet. This position can, to my mind,
only be met by adopting the principle that the Indian
representative is only entitled to be fully consulted on questions
directly affecting India-a principle which we have always refused
to accept.' Ends.


1 Document 15.

2 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. V,
Documents 481, 491, 504 and 508.

3 On file AA:M100, June 1942.

4 Cablegram 204 of 5 June on the file cited in note 3.

5 See Document 248, note 4 in the volume cited in note 2.

6 In PRO:PREM 4/43A/14.

7 On 27 January. See House of Commons, Parliamentary Debates, 5th
series, vol. 377, cols 613-14.

8 Words in square brackets have been corrected from Bruce's copy
on file AA: M100, August 1942.

9 On the file cited in note 6.

10 See cablegrams 82 and 126 of 28 January on the file cited in
note 6 and Document 319 in the volume cited in note 2.

[FA:A3195, 1942, 1.30591]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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