Pacific Test

With Menzies' fall, his political challenge to Britain's leader was no more, but this did not signal an end to the tensions that had increasingly dominated relations between the two countries throughout the year. It would be down to his successor to finally secure an agreement that an Australian ministerial representative be allowed to attend the War Cabinet. Arthur Fadden had been appointed leader of the Country Party in October 1940 as a compromise candidate.1 As Treasurer in Menzies' coalition government, during his London visit he served as acting prime minister. Many of his political colleagues viewed him as a natural choice for leader, much safer and a more popular individual than his predecessor. There is even some suggestion that he might have encouraged this view, working at the head of the Canberra-based conspiracy which helped bring about Menzies' downfall. His new position was not the strongest, parliament refused to form a 'national' government and was clearly restless for further change and he remained still entirely dependent on the support of two Independent MPs for a majority. Many observers saw the new administration as, at best, a stopgap measure and few thought it would be long before power moved into the hands of the Labour leader, John Curtin.2 The pending Budget debate, which had to be concluded in September 1941, seemed to offer every opportunity for the opposition to mount a serious challenge but despite his weak position he lost little time in tackling the British authorities.3 Ronnie Cross reported back that the new leader was likeable on a social level, 'you couldn't meet a better chap in a bar' where there would be 'streams of rollicking smut', and he found him to be 'good-natured' and 'shrewd'. Despite such sentiments he also warned Whitehall, although only much later, that Fadden was, professionally, suspect and had 'hardly any real thoughts of his own'.4

From London Bruce advised that the British leader was opposed to anybody being admitted into the War Cabinet other than a prime minister. He repeated his view that such proposals should be dropped.5 This recommendation was ignored, Fadden telling the local press that he would soon be in a position to give them an actual name of the appointee; only a last-minute intervention from Cross, given in 'blunt terms', prevented him from going further. He could not, however, be dissuaded from contacting Churchill and telling him that an Australian minister would be sent to London on a special mission.6 This development had been anticipated within Whitehall and the preparation of a detailed response had been begun well in advance of the news being received.7 The new Australian leader was congratulated on his appointment before being told exactly what had been said to Menzies.8 Each of the Dominions had been asked previously to register their views on representation and, aside from Australia, each had rejected the idea. The rest of the alliance was 'well content with present arrangements'. So far as Churchill was concerned, Fadden could send anybody he wished, they would be treated with 'utmost consideration and honour' but they would have no special access to the War Cabinet. Even Waterson felt this was the right line to have adopted as this was 'an obviously impossible proposition'. Previously an agitator for a permanent Dominion role, the South African high commissioner had come to believe that anybody other than a prime minister would prove to be 'not only useless but embarrassing' as they would be joining an executive body which could not 'wait whilst a member refers things to another body for instructions'. He doubted the long-term merits of 'the British PM telling the Australian PM where to get off' and what this might mean for the coalition, but he hoped that Fadden would take Churchill's comments in the 'right spirit'. Privately he urged Smuts to consider making 'tactful representations' to his new Australian counterpart to stop 'rocking the boat'.9 The South African leader in turn was reluctant to intervene at this point, believing that Mackenzie King, who was still visiting London, would be far better placed to 'forestall the trouble' of potentially 'awkward constitutional questions'.

Churchill had followed up on his earlier stiffly worded telegram to Fadden with a much more restrained message.10 There were reassurances and the promise that Britain 'would never let you down if real danger comes'. Fadden responded in turn with the barest suggestion of an apology. The earlier messages, he explained, were unavoidable as the threat to Australia became more obvious, making security the 'predominant thought in people's minds'.11 The following day though he returned to his earlier position, now referring to discussions held during the 1937 Imperial Conference and, in the process, effectively issuing the British government with an ultimatum.12 The Australian delegates at the meeting four years before apparently thought they had secured a firm commitment from the CID that in time of war, Dominion representation in London would be expanded to offer them a greater say. Although appreciative of the efforts made by the Dominions secretary, the authorities in Canberra now believed that the time had come for 'direct consultation' as opposed to relying on Cranborne who, they still noted, remained largely excluded from the War Cabinet. This had been noted elsewhere in the pages of The Times which had followed closely the summertime clamour for an Imperial War Cabinet. Allowing him access would actually make no huge difference other than 'recognize the prestige attached to the office'. But, as an editorial at the end of August stated bluntly, his role needed to be fortified and making him a permanent member of the War Cabinet would surely suffice to meet 'the very reasonable desire' of the Dominions for a closer level of participation.13 While he would have obviously been aware of such suggestions with his relations with Churchill still uncertain, Bobbety was too discreet to be associated with them.

The secretary of state's views on what to do about Australia remained much the same as they had been throughout Menzies' summer intrigues. Fadden's first telegram had led him to suggest that the new government in Canberra should be encouraged to limit themselves to an announcement that they were sending an envoy 'on a visit of exploration and enquiry'.14 He hoped not to have to issue any more formal, definite invitation and, although he chose not to share this view with Churchill, this remained entirely in keeping with his recent discussions with his departmental colleagues. Fadden's formal request for a larger role forced another review upon him and the DO produced a detailed assessment. This noted that it would have been better if the authorities in Canberra had maintained the same attitude as the other Dominion governments but they had not and the British War Cabinet now had to face a potentially far-reaching problem. Simply put this asked whether 'constitutional niceties or considerations of political convenience' could be cited as reasons to reject the Australian claim when to do so would 'leave a sense of rankling injustice'. This, Cranborne warned, might affect the Australian war effort and, worse, could endure and 'poison the relations between the two countries' long after the war had been won.15 Adding to his difficulties was the British high commissioner in Canberra who had tackled Fadden and his complaints had leaked to the Australian press. Although this incident had been kept from the British tabloids, the Dominions secretary was worried about possible future 'unpleasant reactions'.16 Reluctantly, and with the acknowledgement that successive Australian leaders had deliberately pushed Whitehall into a corner, Cranborne could only recommend that Fadden's proposal be accepted.

Churchill's response was predictable and he was left both angry and even, on this occasion, a little flustered. But irate as he was, the prime minister still recognized the wider issues at hand. 'These people', he wrote to Cranborne, 'are politically embarrassed' but they had put a 'splendid army into the field' and it was this that would dictate what happened next. He therefore authorized that the necessary arrangements be made to receive Page, the former leader of the Country Party, who had already unanimously been selected by the Australian cabinet to be sent to London. It was clearly stipulated, however, that his involvement in discussions in the War Cabinet would be restricted solely to those matters which concerned Australian interests.17 Within the DO this decision was greeted with much apparent relief and was thought to be the best course to follow but neither Bruce at Australia House nor Cross in Canberra were to be told the department's exact position. The relevant documents dating from 1937 had been examined as part of an internal review of Fadden's argument and these made it clear that the discussions held then had in fact done no more than raise the possibility of the 'reconsideration' of the arrangements adopted during the First World War. Australia's case was obviously based on an entirely inaccurate premise but, with a solution apparently found, it was felt it would be best simply to welcome Page and keep Australian opinion satisfied.18

Fadden had secured his first objective but a second still remained.19 When Menzies had arrived back in Canberra in late May 1941 the worsening military situation in the Middle East had left him facing immense pressures; following the news of Crete's fall he was described as looking 'about as happy as a sailor on a horse'.20 His mood was not helped by local media reports that insufficient logistics support had been provided to Commonwealth forces as they retreated through Greece and speculation that this had significantly contributed to the operation's eventual defeat.21 With the 9th Australian Division, the 18th Brigade of the 7th Australian Division and assorted other coalition forces surrounded in the North African port of Tobruk, it was hardly surprising that, following the completion of the Syrian campaign in late July, his government requested that its remaining troops in the Middle East be brought together to operate as one force. Churchill had been quick to say that he would be content to see this done so long as the position of the garrison at Tobruk was not affected; apart from the much smaller facilities at Benghazi, this was the best port along a thousand miles of North African coastline.22 With Menzies' focus elsewhere, the garrison duly remained besieged throughout the summer despite the best efforts of General Thomas Blamey, commanding the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) and principal advocate of the argument that Australian forces should be formed into a single force.23 Fadden's appointment signalled much greater levels of political resolve and the new Australian leader quickly told his colleagues that he intended to resolve the matter. Pointing to Menzies' earlier comments, he informed Churchill that he wished to announce the withdrawal had been completed by mid-September. He also warned of the consequences of any further inaction and what might happen should 'any catastrophe' occur in the interim but the leadership in London remained firm in believing that 'Australia would not tolerate anything shabby' and would 'play the game' if the facts of the military situation were put to them.24

Churchill agreed to the move but with the condition that any withdrawal would first require confirmation from the British commander on the ground that this would not hamper his overall operations. The report back from General Sir Claude Auchinleck who, in July 1941, had succeeded General Sir Archibald Wavell as Commander-in-Chief Middle East, was far from favourable, a relief of the Tobruk garrison would not be justified.25 Aside from Blamey there was agreement from all of the other commanders in theatre, including the other Dominion generals present, that such a withdrawal was the wrong decision. Oliver Lyttelton, who had been Minister of State in the Middle East since the end of June 1941, was even more forthright, telling the War Cabinet that no British commander would have considered the idea.26 The reason for Australian insistence was the anxiety of the government 'to take out a political insurance policy'.27 Similar sentiments were held by other leading political figures in London including both Eden and his private secretary.28 Somewhat wary of 'the miserable Australians', Cranborne also appeared to concur although he warned his colleagues of a growing feeling in Canberra that the AIF was bearing the brunt of the fighting in North Africa.29

Drawing upon the military assessments and various other technical arguments, Churchill therefore approached Fadden again. He confirmed that if still insisted upon, the garrison would be withdrawn 'irrespective of the cost entailed and the injury to future prospects'. He had nonetheless hoped that Australia would consider a delay but Fadden could not be swayed and, despite Churchill's 'flowery phrases', his cabinet found London's case against withdrawal 'unconvincing'.30 The British leader was willing to make allowances, recognizing the weakness of the Australian government's position, but, privately, he was 'astounded' by the refusal to offer more support. Auchinleck appears to have been even more disillusioned by Blamey's attitude and the subsequent decision by London to bow to Australian demands. So much so in fact that it was only with some apparent difficulty that he was persuaded not to resign, Churchill pointing out to him that 'any public controversy would injure the foundations of Empire'.31 He did, however, use his commander's bitterness as an opportunity to contact Fadden one last time and ask that the two brigades that had yet to be evacuated from Tobruk be allowed to remain but he was again unsuccessful.32 Cranborne meanwhile had contacted Cross and advised him to refuse any discussion of the matter and avoid any personal reproaches but events in the Western Desert had caused considerable bitterness in Whitehall. According to an official within the DO, writing near the war's end, the episode caused 'a great deal of fuss' and left many Australians 'feeling rather ashamed', although there is little firm evidence to support the latter argument.33

At the time the focus of attention in Canberra was actually Fadden's future political prospects and, following his failure to gain support for his Budget proposals, his decision to resign, a mere six weeks after he had taken power, was no real surprise.34 The governor-general now looked to the Labour Party, which had won by far the most seats in the September 1940 general election, inviting Curtin to form a new government. Despite not having been in power for ten years, it had taken an active role on the opposition benches and retained a considerable voice in Australian politics. How it had conducted itself since the outbreak of war, however, meant that the DO had some concerns about the new government's calibre.35 Cranborne himself lamented, earlier in 1941, that these were 'men who were entirely isolationist in their view and thought of nothing but the protection of Australia'.36 Curtin, the former journalist and trade union organizer, who had been jailed briefly for anti-conscription activity during the First World War, had been quoted in the British press back in August 1939 as being entirely opposed to Australia's involvement in another European war.37 By the time he took power, he had been Australia's opposition leader for five years but he had never held any high office and only two of his ministers had had any previous government experience. Cross found him very watchful and a British military visitor to Canberra reported back to London earlier in 1941 that, as a parliamentarian, Curtin 'didn't have the brains of Menzies'.38 His earliest act as leader was to deal with yet another request from his British counterpart to postpone the final withdrawal from Tobruk.39 Churchill pointed to the coalition's need for all available resources to support the imminent Allied operations in North Africa but Curtin was adamant that his remaining forces should be brought together. The Labour Party appeared to have entered office with few new ideas, adopting broadly similar policies to those of its predecessors.

There was, however, a much more forceful stance about the British Empire's defensive commitments in the Far East. The regional strategy had been a long-standing subject for discussion between London and the Antipodean Dominions.40 Since 1923 successive Australian and New Zealand governments had been reassured by their London-based counterparts that the stationing of a Royal Navy fleet at the Singapore Naval Base and the safeguard of that facility ranked only second to the defence of the British Isles themselves.41 But this guarantee had always carried with it a huge caveat, first revealed at the 1911 Imperial Conference when the Admiralty had complained about the Dominions' inability 'to comprehend the true principles of naval policy' and reiterated that the situation in the Pacific would always be 'absolutely regulated by events in the North Sea'.42 By April 1939 increased European tensions meant a variety of previously unanticipated questions now had to be considered. One result of this was that at the Pacific Defence Conference, held in Wellington, only qualified assurances were offered to the Dominions that a fleet would still be sent and the British delegation's assurances of continuing military support were clearly greeted with some suspicion. But there was no panic, at least not at this stage. The New Zealand government publicly 'remained cool-headed', noting that the decision represented a 'departure' from the previously given assurances yet asking merely that a review of Far East strategy be undertaken.43 The following month, in May 1939, the CID privately accepted that the 'Singapore Strategy' was no longer viable. A few weeks later a similar conclusion was reached amongst the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee but nothing was said to the Dominions themselves; indeed as far as they were concerned the strategy still held true.44

The decision of the Italian and Japanese governments to remain as bystanders in September 1939 meant that the Royal Navy could, in the short term at least, be deployed mainly in home and Mediterranean waters.45 As has been seen, this also allowed the British government to offer renewed guarantees to the Dominion delegates who visited London two months later that the Far East remained higher on the list of strategic priorities than the Mediterranean. Churchill did this despite the private acceptances that had been reached previously. The position changed with France's rapid collapse, the subsequent entry of Italy into the war and the increasing deterioration of relations with Japan. As it had long feared it would have to do, the DO now found itself having to tell the Dominion leaders that it was most unlikely a fleet could be spared for the Far East.46 Bruce complained bitterly on hearing the news so much so General Sir Hastings Ismay felt obliged to remind him that nobody had foreseen France's collapse, a disaster which removed both her fleet and her naval bases from previous strategic calculations.47 Such interpretations of pre-war British strategic planning were commonplace. Back in 1923 Churchill had argued that to not defend the Pacific Dominions with a British Fleet would be 'an act of desertion, of abrogation of duty and of ingratitude both cruel and fatal'.48 But emotive words dimmed with time; in March 1939 he had stressed to Chamberlain that 'on no account must anything which threatens in the Far East divert us from the prime objective'.49 By the year's end, when he produced his ambiguous memorandum on Australian Naval Defence, he was even more convinced that while fighting Nazi Germany it would not be possible to make commitments in the Far East.50 Official policy emanating from London in the months that followed seemed intent on saying as little as possible and when some form of reply was unavoidable it was given only in the vaguest terms.51

The worsening situation in the Far East was undoubtedly Curtin's primary cause for concern.52 Both he and his government colleagues believed that their soon-to-arrive representative in London would help keep them much better informed of developments. Page had set out with Fadden still in charge, travelling via the Dutch East Indies on to Singapore where he attended a conference at which defence measures for the Far East region were the main subject of discussion. Here he reviewed the significant Australian contribution to the island's defence. An exhaustive review of Singapore's defence capabilities had been concluded by Menzies in October 1940, following which it had been agreed to send Australian troops to the island. This took the form initially of a single brigade from the 8th Division sent with the caveat that it was to be relieved by Indian troops, allowing it to join its parent in the North African theatre. Under the command of General Gordon Bennett, this force had in fact remained and been expanded.53 Despite the change of government Curtin asked Page to continue and the Australian eventually reached Britain by way of the Philippines, the United States and Canada. This choice of route meant that he would not attend his first War Cabinet meeting until the last week of October. In the meantime he looked to Richard Casey, now Australian minister in Washington, to advise him of the American assessment of the situation. Since his arrival in 1940 to take charge of his country's first foreign diplomatic post Casey had proven a great success in establishing excellent contacts in Washington and these told him that the State Department believed there to be 'very little chance' that the Japanese would attack in the near future.54

As Page continued his long journey Mackenzie King cabled the British leader to reassure him. He had entertained the Australian in Ottawa and believed his guest only to be interested in the situation in the Far East with 'no thoughts of urging any kind of an Imperial War Cabinet or representation of Australia in the War Cabinet'.55 This was helpful information as fears remained in London that problems lay ahead. Page's selection was seen by one observer as 'an unfortunate choice' for, despite his being an elder statesman with considerable domestic political experience, he had 'little knowledge of defence or foreign affairs, no experience in diplomacy—he was a doctor by profession [who] owned a cattle station and was Minister of Commerce when appointed—and lacked the strength of character required to stand up to Churchill'. He was held to be 'genial' but at the same time 'fussy and rather stupid', not perhaps the best qualities for the job ahead.56 Others who had met him in Australia were more complimentary in their depiction of a 'straight, kindly country gentleman' although even these noted that he was 'a little inclined to stress the obvious at some length and without any pause for interruption'.57 In official circles there were undoubtedly those who considered Page's presence to be distracting and unhelpful. His bitter complaints at his initial meeting with the British War Cabinet about the poor state of the defences in Singapore and the unsatisfactory assistance he had been given during his journey did not improve the position.58 There was also disquiet among the Dominion high commissioners who were unhappy about the apparently preferential treatment being afforded to Australia.59 Page knew nothing of this and quickly settled down to address what he thought was his principal objective. This was influencing British policy 'while it was still fluid', so that it would bear 'a definite Australian colour and impress'.60

In the first instance this meant trying to obtain an agreement from Churchill to provide reinforcements for the Far East, but he was to make little progress. At the end of August 1941 Canberra had been told that the authorities in London were finally thinking that they would be able to station a naval unit in the Indian Ocean. Curtin had been pleased to hear this news, and he pressed his British counterpart to make good on some of his earlier more grandiose promises, urging that a modern ship be included in this proposed force. Churchill agreed to this, despite the opposition of his most senior naval advisors, and towards the end of October 1941 the authorities in Canberra were informed that the battle cruiser Repulse would be joined by the Royal Navy's latest battleship, the Prince of Wales.61 Page's insistence that more should be done, at the same time drew the response that while Britain was 'resolute to help Australia if she were menaced', Japan was considered to be unlikely to invade. With his access to MAGIC intelligence decrypts, Roosevelt had known since July 1941 of the adoption of a dual policy by the Japanese Imperial Cabinet. This called for negotiations in the first instance and military action if they failed. The discussions between the two sides had subsequently proven lacklustre, at least in part because of America's decision to implement a total oil embargo as 'punishment' for the Japanese invasion of southern Indochina. This economic policy had been resolutely supported by Churchill who maintained the role of interested bystander throughout the negotiations. Believing that Japan was 'likely to pursue a policy of pinpricks' but not 'embark on total war', since late 1940 Whitehall had effectively restricted itself to sending vague warnings to the government in Tokyo. Once more the Dominions were not always fully informed, specifically when these were to be issued, despite the DO's complaints that this left their governments feeling that they were being forced into policies to which they had no input.62

With the alliance still beset by uncertainties, the relationship between the secretary of state and the prime minister showed little sign of improvement. Cranborne still believed not enough information was being supplied and increasingly he was of the view that the point had been reached where the DO was no longer able to function effectively. The most serious problem was the degree to which he was still being excluded from meetings, most significantly those of the War Cabinet and Chiefs of Staff Committees, as a result of which he continued to have little knowledge of the general war situation. This position was known to the London-based high commissioners who bypassed him more and more and went to other sources which talked 'more freely'. This made the Dominions secretary's position 'a farce', one which could only be remedied if he were given a free hand to pass information on as he saw fit using his discretion not to discuss operational matters or any other inappropriate issues. These comments were confirmed by Waterson in a private assessment of the British Commonwealth's position in the war sent to Smuts. In this the British War Cabinet was said to be an ineffective gathering, 'something approaching a cabinet of one who meets his colleagues twice a week and informs them of what is to be done'. As for Churchill he was undoubtedly 'a great national and imperial asset but he is not a superman'. The high commissioner nonetheless continued to remain generally optimistic about the future. He had attended a recent meeting of the local council in Lambeth: 'Proceedings were too like a council meeting to be true! Terrific arguments ... It might have been any town council in the Empire. When you see the similarity of things like these you understand why the Empire hangs together!'63

At the same time as Cranborne was still struggling with Churchill, he also had to keep a close eye on Menzies. Back in the summer Alfred Duff Cooper had been moved from the Ministry of Information to become Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and he left the following month on a mission to the Far East, where he quickly earned the nickname 'Tough Snooper', to investigate measures for the coordination of regional defence. As part of the report he subsequently produced, he had called for the appointment of a British commissioner general based at Singapore and Menzies' name had been proposed for the job.64 This was the second high-level suggestion in as many months that he be given a new role, the first having come from the governor-general in Canberra in early October. Lord Gowrie had proposed that a seat be found in the House of Commons in London for Menzies where 'his wide experience and knowledge of the Australian outlook would be useful'.65 Both Churchill and Cranborne had dismissed this idea, and the new proposal from Duff Cooper found them no more receptive. It was rejected on the basis that it was uncertain how Menzies would react if he was required to implement instructions to which the authorities in Canberra were opposed.66 Although the situation in the Far East was rapidly deteriorating, Churchill nonetheless seemed generally quite happy with how events were proceeding.67 He was not alone; Bruce had been concerned about the British government's failure to offer any guarantee to the authorities in the Netherlands East Indies.68 The Australian high commissioner's fears had apparently disappeared by late November and, despite having previously been one of the most vocal opponents of letting Washington take charge, he and his Dominion counterparts were now willing to accept that this was the right line to follow.69 Page alone remained worried, largely on the basis of a 'very depressing' interview he had held with Sir Charles Portal, Chief of the Air Staff, who had told him an invasion of the Dutch East Indies might not result in Britain declaring war on Japan.70 This, the Australian warned, would demonstrate how little the feelings of the Dominions on either side of the Tasman were understood and 'break the Empire'. This was in turn relayed to Churchill by his deputy along with the caution that there existed the potential for 'a very serious breach in empire relations'.71 Despite the growing evidence now beginning to accumulate that Japan was poised to attack southwards, there was only silence in response.72

Page's concerns were the exception not the rule; where the Far East was concerned, there appeared to have emerged a surprising inclination to 'follow father'.73 This was, in part, due to other considerations which dominated. Beginning in mid-November 1941 Operation Crusader had been a focus of attention throughout the Empire. British Commonwealth troops had successfully reached Benghazi only to be thrown back, and South African troops were heavily involved earning considerable praise for their bravery. During the course of the fighting the 5th South African Infantry Brigade was overrun at Sidi Rezegh, just south of Tobruk, and approximately 3,000 men were killed, wounded or captured, the worst losses experienced by the South African military in its history. Smuts never publicly criticized the British military leadership for this disaster and he reacted strongly to negative comments made in the South African media but the defeat threatened his domestic political position.74 Meanwhile in Canada 'rampant personal quarrels' and other domestic distractions remained broadly to the fore while New Zealand's voice was also still only rarely raised and even more rarely heard.75 Perhaps the greatest revelation was the degree to which even the Australian government appeared to have fallen noticeably more in line with British thinking. Curtin and his fellow ministers had found many domestic political distractions to occupy themselves as generally positive messages from London and Washington and the optimistic assessments of various British visitors helped ease fears of a possible Japanese attack.76 Such was the growing optimism that parliament was even told in early November there was now no desire by the government to recall the AIF and an earlier decision to send an Armoured Division to the Middle East was confirmed.77 Announcements such as these perhaps helped to explain why the complacency among the Australian public, which British high commissioners had referred to in the past, had if anything become worse.

High profile public criticism of London seemed to come almost solely from Dr Herbert Evatt, Curtin's Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs. Elected to parliament in 1940, as a justice in the Australian High Court he had previously been a vocal supporter of greater federal powers. His public censure of Britain's failure speedily to declare war on Finland, Hungary and Romania, each of which had sided with Nazi Germany following the latter's attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, was but one example of the many complaints he had to make. On this occasion though, Churchill responded with a stiff rebuke to Canberra, forcing even Curtin to apologise.78 The reports reaching London about the attitude of the Australian leader were in fact favourable in tone, offering a far more optimistic assessment of his character and abilities than had initially been the case. In mid-October 1941 Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham visited Canberra, as commander-in-chief Far East, to offer reassurance that regional security was not being neglected by the chiefs of staff in faraway London. He subsequently provided a detailed analysis for the British authorities of what he had found and perhaps key amongst the points raised was the degree to which he had been impressed by the Australian leader. Equally impressed was Duff Cooper when, in November 1941, he was sent to Canberra to 'tell the Australians how wonderful they are and how almost as wonderful we are'. In a subsequent private letter to Cranborne he recorded that Curtin was 'a modest, sincere, intelligent and honest man and is generally regarded as such'.79

Despite such positive words the Australian leader actually remained greatly distressed about the security situation in the Far East. In mid-November 1941 his chiefs of staff had presented a report to him which made it clear Malaya could not be defended in the event of a major attack by Japan.80 This led to another strongly worded telegram to Whitehall, sent on the first day of December, in which the British government was reminded of its previous promises that there would be strong defences at Singapore. Before any response could be given Japanese forces attacked the US Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor and various other British and American targets in the Pacific and South East Asia. As Waterson put it, 'the Japs have gone over the top' and he believed there to be 'a reasonable chance of this year being the last year of the war', although it was not entirely clear who he thought would emerge victorious.81 Churchill immediately hurried to Washington, against the advice of a number of his War Cabinet colleagues, not merely to coordinate the finer details of how the newly expanded alliance would function but also to ensure guarantees about the 'Hitler first' strategy. More commonly referred to by its short 'ABC-1' title, this proposal had originally been agreed in early 1941 during the Washington Staff Conversations. The future Allied effort was to be focused on the European theatre, not the Far East, and the prime minister did not want to see this altered despite the obvious ramifications for the menaced Tasman Dominions.82 A young Nicholas Mansergh, serving in the public relations section of the DO, apparently agreed with the sentiment and he would later write that, from this date, the war had entered an entirely new phase. This would be one in which 'the importance of exclusively Commonwealth organizations declined'.83 The alliance had a new member, one that could itself have been a Dominion had it not broken away, but as it had already shown it held serious doubts about the way in which this coalition was operating. Churchill went to sleep in the knowledge that the Empire was saved and Britain would prevail. There would be a price to pay though, and the long-standing relationship with the Dominions would have to be prominently included in the bargain.

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