Mr A. Eden, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Mr N. Chamberlain, U.K Prime Minister

Letter LONDON, 3 November 1939

Casey [1] and Bruce [2] lunched with me to-day when Hore-Belisha [3] and Maurice Hankey [4] were also present. We had some discussion about an Australian expeditionary force. Casey made it quite plain that the only element which was holding back an Australian decision was a doubt of the attitude of Japan. Any appreciation of the international situation such as the Foreign Secretary [5] has now taken steps to collect would greatly help them in coming to a decision. In the meanwhile Casey would agree to telegraph to his Government giving them his personal impressions as a result of the conversations we have had here.

This is to pave the way.

Casey then raised another question which he said was a constant anxiety for every Australian Government. Should we be in a position, if the need arose, to send any capital ships to Singapore? Assurances on general terms on this subject had been made at the Imperial Conference of 1937 and at different times in 1938. It was to be anticipated that Italy’s neutrality and the modifications in the situation in the Far East brought about by Russia’s closer association with Germany would make it easier for us to pronounce on this subject than it was even a few months ago.

We pointed out to Casey that British capital ships were at the present time by no means confined to the home waters and those of the Mediterranean. This matter was clearly one for the Admiralty, but we hoped that it might be possible to give the Australian Government some satisfaction on this score.

My own strong feeling is that if we can give Casey a measure of comfort in respect of Japan’s political attitude, combined with an indication of our willingness and ability to send capital ships to Singapore, should the need arise, the Commonwealth Government will then at once decide that the division which they are now training can proceed overseas. Casey thought that the troops would be ready to do this very early in the New Year, possibly in January.

I am sure that you will agree that from every point of view it is desirable that the despatch of the first Canadian division, which is due to take place in December, should be followed as soon as possible by the despatch of the first Australian division and of the first contingent from New Zealand. The psychological effect on our French friends and on Germany of the knowledge that these troops will be in the field in France, probably in time for a spring campaign, will be most salutary. I hope therefore that it may be possible to meet the Commonwealth Government on the two points which they raise.

I am sending copies of this letter to the Foreign Secretary and the First Lord of the Admiralty. [6]



1 R.G. Casey, Minister for Supply and Development.

2 S.M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London.

3 Leslie Hore-Belisha, U.K. Secretary of State for War.

4 Lord Hankey, Minister without Portfolio in the U.K. War Cabinet.

5 Lord Halifax.

6 Winston S. Churchill. Casey met Churchill on 6 November 1939 and reiterated the Australian Government’s desire for as firm a commitment as possible on the reinforcement of Singapore (see PRO:

DO 35/1007).


[PRO: FO 371/23572]