National Archives of Australia

Draft cablegram from Curtin to Churchill

Page(s): 1  
Title: Draft cablegram from Curtin to Churchill
Date: 23 February 1942
Content creator: John Curtin
Keywords: defence, defence agreements, governance, government, military campaigns, military service, prime ministers, War, Australian Imperial Force (AIF), Burma, Ceylon, Japan, Middle East, Second World War
Record creator: Department of Defence Coordination, Central Office
Reference: A5954, 573/2

Future employment of AIF - Return to Australia and proposed diversion to Burma



Cablegram to Dominions Office

Prime Minister to Prime Minister.


Reference your 241.

In your 233 it was clearly implied that the convoy was not proceeding to the northward. From 241 it appears that you have diverted the convoy towards Rangoon and had treated our approval to this vital diversion as merely a matter of form. By doing so you have established a physical situation which adds to the dangers of the convoy and the responsibility of the consequences of such diversion rests upon you.

2. We have already informed the President of the reasons for our decision and, having regard to the terms of his communications to me, we are quite satisfied from his sympathetic reply that he fully understands and appreciates the reasons for our decision.

3. Wavell's message considered by Pacific War Council on Saturday reveals that Java faces imminent invasion. Australia's outer defences are now quickly vanishing and our vulnerability is completely exposed.

4. With AIF [Australian Imperial Force] troops we sought to save Malaya and Singapore, falling back on NEI [Netherlands East Indies]. All these northern defences are gone or going. Now you contemplate using the AIF to save Burma. All this has been done as in Greece without adequate air support.

5. We feel a primary obligation to save Australia not only for itself but to preserve it as a base for the development of the war against Japan. In the circumstances it is quite impossible to reverse a decision which we made with the utmost care and which we have affirmed and re-affirmed.

6. Our CGS [Chief of General Staff] advises although your 241 refers to the leading division only the fact is that owing to the loading of the flights it is impossible at the present time to separate the two divisions and the destination of all the flights will be governed by that of the first flight. This fact reinforces us in our decision.

Learning content

Marked 'most secret', this is the draft of a cablegram written by Australian Prime Minister John Curtin to his British counterpart, Winston Churchill, on 23 February 1942. Curtin points out that Churchill has ignored Australia's wishes by diverting ships carrying Australian troops towards Burma, apparently expecting Australia's approval as a matter of form. Curtin restates Australia's wish for the troops to be sent home, as Australia's 'outer defences' are quickly vanishing and the country's vulnerability is 'completely exposed'.

Educational value

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