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207 Note by Bruce of Conversation with Somerville

Extract [LONDON], 1 June 1943

Somerville came to see me on his return from America where he has
been for the Staff talks. He opened the conversation by saying
that he had met Dr. Evatt in Washington and that as he had had
something of a brawl with him he thought he ought to tell me what
had happened.

The incident appears to have been as follows:-

At the beginning of a conversation with Evatt, Somerville had
referred to the escorting of the 9th Division when they recently
returned to Australia, and said that he had hoped before the
escort broke off to have steamed close past the convoy and given
the Division a cheer as they had done so well in the Middle East
and must have been feeling a little unhappy at being out of the
follow up to the battle of Alamein in which they had played such a
conspicuous part. Upon his saying this Evatt got all worked up and
proceeded to say that this was the 'dirtiest crack that he had
ever heard.'. Somerville said that he did not know what he was
talking about, whereupon Evatt said that it was a 'crack' against
the Prime Minister and the decision of the Australian Government
to take the 9th Division back to Australia.

Somerville then said that he had meant nothing of the sort and
that he was not prepared to be talked to in the way Evatt was
talking to him and while he was quite prepared to answer any
question with regard to the Fleet or the defence of Australia he
was not prepared to tolerate the tone that Evatt was taking and
that if he persisted in it there was nothing that Somerville could
do but to leave.

To this apparently Evatt made no reply for some time and then
proceeded to ask Somerville various questions about naval matters
in the Indian Ocean. These Somerville answered, but before the
conversation had got very far Evatt said that the United Kingdom
Government had broken their promise to Australia to keep 5
Battleships and 3 Aeroplane carriers in the Indian Ocean. To this
Somerville replied that he had never heard of such an arrangement.

Upon this Evatt flared up again and accused Somerville of doubting
his word. On this apparently Somerville said that if Evatt was
going to get himself worked up again he was not going to stay and
Evatt then more or less quietened down and proceeded with the
asking of questions.

The sequel to this episode was that Somerville put in a report to
Pound of this conversation, which apparently the Prime Minister
saw. At some Garden function at the White House, the Prime
Minister came up to Somerville and said to him that he had been
quite right in the attitude he had taken in his conversation with
Evatt. Later the Prime Minister brought Evatt over to Somerville
and proceeded to put their two hands together with his own over
the top and said that they had all got to be friends in
Washington. This apparently was the end of the episode.

I should imagine the story as retailed by Somerville is correct
because he is an extremely forthright person not afraid in the
least to say what he thinks and from my conversation with him I
should imagine him taking exactly the line which he said he did in
response to Evatt's ill-mannered outbursts.

The only other thing he said about Evatt was that in a Conference
which they apparently had with the Chiefs of Staff and all the
Dominion representatives and their Advisers, Evatt created a very
bad impression by in his remarks appearing all the time to be on
the verge of saying something offensive and aggressive but not
quite saying it. Somerville said that if Evatt's observations had
been taken down they would have made a very illogical and confused
story. Somerville quite obviously did not like Evatt but I think
this prejudice would not affect his judgment with regard to the
statement at the Conference. From my own experience of Evatt I can
also imagine that the statement would be rather confused as for a
lawyer Evatt has the least logical and consecutively thinking mind
that I have ever come across.

I am afraid there is no getting away from the fact that Evatt did
not put the Australian story very well in Washington or create a
very favourable impression. This is certainly unfortunate and can
do Australia's name and reputation no good just at the time when
we want the maximum of good will towards us.

[matter omitted]


[AA:M100, JUNE 1943]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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