Note by Mr S.M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, of Meeting on 16 November 1939 of U.K. and Dominions Representatives

LONDON, 16 November 1939 [1]

PRESENT Neville Chamberlain, U.K. Prime Minister Lord Halifax, U.K. Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Anthony Eden, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs R.G. Casey, Minister for Supply and Development S.M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London Peter Fraser, N.Z. Minister of Education, Health, Marine and Police

T.A. Crerar, Canadian Minister of Mines and Resources, and Colonel Deneys Reitz, South African Deputy Prime Minister, were also in London for consultations, but it is not clear whether they attended the meeting.

FOREIGN AFRAIRS The first matter that was discussed was the question of the reply to be sent to the French with regard to their communication on war aims.

I had spoken to Casey before the meeting and discussed with him the Prime Minister’s cable to the Dominions Office, No. 165. [2] I pointed out that it was rather difficult to discover what Menzies was getting at as his cable was hardly a reply on the subject of the answer to be sent to the French but was more in the nature of a further general contribution on the broad question of war aims.

I pointed out to him, however, that the first paragraph of the cable appeared to suggest that he wanted the reference in paragraph 4 of the reply-finding a German Government willing and able to accept the allied terms-omitted. I also pointed out to Casey that it seemed to me the reply to the French ought to more or less finish on the 4th paragraph and not go into the rather controversial points raised in the subsequent paragraphs.

At the meeting Casey suggested that the words in para. 4 of the draft reply from ‘unless a German Government’ down to ‘accept their terms’ should be omitted. He also rather half-heartedly suggested that there did not seem very much necessity for the latter part of the reply. He said, however, that I had been more closely in touch with the matter and suggested that I should indicate what were my views.

I pointed out that Menzies’ cable did not make it quite clear what he wanted and the suggestion of omitting the words in para. 4 was an attempt to interpret his views.

The Prime Minister said that he was very anxious to retain the words as he certainly did not want to leave the impression that if there was a revolution, for example, in Germany, that [sic] we should still insist on fighting the war out to a finish.

I said that I quite agreed and I did not imagine that Menzies would attach very great importance to the omission of these particular words. I said, however, that it seemed to me that the reply might well end on the 4th para. by following up our reference to our primary war aims with a short paragraph dealing with the position that would arise after we had achieved victory and suggesting that this involved complicated issues which would need exhaustive discussion and suggesting that there should be oral and personal discussions as suggested in the Dominions Office cable No. 67. [3]

I pointed out that there were two questions involved. The first was an interim reply to be sent to the French; the second was the attitude of the British Empire towards the whole question of the settlement after the war. I pointed out that it appeared to me that Menzies’ cable was more a contribution towards the latter question than towards the former. I said that it seemed to me the reply to the French had to be limited to making it clear that we based our primary war aim, the winning of the war [sic]; and our secondary was that after we had won the war there would be an end of aggression. I said, however, that having done that we should make it definite that we desired personal discussions with regard to how the second objective could be obtained and that before those discussions took place, in fairness to the Prime Ministers of the different parts of the Empire, two of whom had already expressed definite views, there should be a common agreement between all the Empire Governments.

In supporting the view that the reply. should end on para. 4 I instanced para. 6 and suggested that it was undesirable to include it. The Prime Minister said he would be very reluctant to have that paragraph taken out as it was intended as a warning to the French that we would not tolerate the assumption that after the war Germany was to be divided up and politically dismembered.

I replied that I had every sympathy with that view and thought it was very imperative that such a warning should be issued to the French, but I did not regard para. 6 as doing anything of the sort. It seemed to me the interpretation that the French would put upon the paragraph was that while we did not want any suggestion made that we would be prepared for the political dismembered [sic] of Germany in the event of our victory being of an overwhelming character we would be prepared to subscribe to such a policy.

There was a long and desultory conversation with an amazing amount of crooked thought, to which Mr Fraser (New Zealand) contributed handsomely, and the upshot was that the reply was broadly satisfactory-the Prime Minister indicated that an attempt would be made to redraft para. 6.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs reminded me that Mons.

Colban [sic] [4] when he had first raised this question of the French note being followed by personal discussions, he, the Secretary of State, had made it clear that it was his intention to follow our reply up by asking for conversations.

On this basis I let the matter go.

Mr Fraser made a long and rambling statement down the lines of Savage’s cable [5] on war aims and rather insisting on the necessity for a Conference at which the neutrals would be present to try and arrive at a settlement before millions of lives had been lost.

Halifax pointed out the difficulties of such a Conference down the lines that the Scandinavian countries, Belgium and Holland, being so apprehensive of what might happen to them if the war went on, being in favour of peace at any price, and he stressed that America was probably the only impartial neutral but he was extremely doubtful if they would come to a Conference. This part of the discussion was quite futile and led to nothing.

The political appreciation of Japan’s attitude was then referred to somewhat briefly, and it was arranged that there would be a further discussion on this question linked up with a discussion of what actual steps Britain could take navally in the event of Japan proving troublesome.

After the meeting I sent Menzies the cable attached [6], indicating that I could not quite understand his No. 165 and to it received the reply also attached’ which shows that his cable was really directed to the wider question of war aims and not to the specific reply to be sent to the French.


1 Although this note was dated 16 November 1939 the wording of the last paragraph suggests that it was not completed until the following day.

2 Document 359 3 Document 339.

4 This presumably refers to Charles Corbin, French Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

5 M.J. Savage, N.Z. Prime Minister. The text of this reply is contained in his reply to Menzies printed as Document 326.

6 Document 364.

7 Document 367.


[AA: M100, NOVEMBER 1939]