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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume I

52 — The Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia1 to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

The Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia1 to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

21 November 1939
Cabinet has been considering the very difficult questions which arise in relation to sending troops out of Australia. As you know,

1 Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth of Australia during the war were:

Apr 1939 – Aug 1941Rt. Hon. Robert Gordon Menzies, PC, KC.
Aug 1941 – Oct 1941Rt. Hon. Arthur W. Fadden, PC.
Oct 1941 – death, Jul 1945Rt. Hon. John Curtin, PC.
Jul 1945 – to dateRt. Hon. Joseph Benedict Chifley, PC.
page 43 we have a division enlisted for service at home or abroad on terms similar to your own. Our general view is that, in spite of a reassuring survey of the Far Eastern position just received from the Foreign Office and promises made by the Admiralty in relation to the defence of Singapore,1 there is still some real uncertainty about the position of Japan, which might become more acute if Germany invaded Holland and the Netherlands East Indies were cut from their mother country. Further, while Australian public opinion would warmly support sending troops abroad if land warfare in Europe assumed a critical character, there is a feeling that in the present state of affairs—with only five British divisions in France and as yet no casualties—the despatch of Dominion troops cannot be very urgent. Another consideration which has puzzled us is that whereas we are finding the greatest possible difficulties in obtaining even a fraction of the shipping needed for some of our export commodities, it seems to be assumed that there would be no difficulty in securing ships and naval convoy for a military force. To sum up, our judgment is that we should watch developments of the next three or four weeks before committing ourselves to the despatch of our division overseas. At the same time, we do not wish to be out of step with you as we think that from every point of view the closest co-ordination between our policies is essential. Any comments you care to make on this matter would be greatly appreciated.

1 See Volume III, Appreciation of Probable Japanese Policy in the Far East, dated 15 Nov 1939; also memorandum on the Naval Defence of Australia and New Zealand, 23 Nov 1939.