Volume 7 1941~1945

Doc No.

No. 408  NAI DFA Secretary's Files A2

Memorandum from Joseph P. Walshe to Eamon de Valera (Dublin)

DUBLIN, 3 April 1944

Following your instructions, I went to London on Thursday, 30th March, with Mr. Seán Leydon. Sir John Maffey, who already had arranged to go by 'plane from an aerodrome in Belfast (Long Kesh), offered us transport both ways.

On Friday morning, 31st, we had a conference at the Dominions Office with Sir John Stephenson, Assistant Secretary of the Dominions Office, and officials from the Coal and Shipping Departments. Mr. Dulanty was present. As Mr. Leydon is giving a full account of this and the afternoon conference in relation to the coal and shipping position, I shall only mention the general conclusions.

Our coal imports are to be reduced from an early date by 50% of the present supplies. Mr. Leydon tells me that this reduction will involve very severe hardship indeed, especially on that section of our urban population which relies on gas cooking. It will also involve a considerable reduction in the number of trains available for passenger and goods traffic.

Our trade with the Iberian Peninsula is to cease absolutely, probably within a fortnight from now, but the British will pick up our cargoes at Lisbon on their ships and will deliver them here. British ships will be taken off the Irish Sea trade and the ships freed from our Iberian trade will be used instead.

It does not appear that we shall, therefore, be deprived of the goods which in the normal course come to us from Great Britain, and our cattle trade is also to remain unaffected. There may, however, be some diminution due to indirect causes, for instance, we may get less goods from Britain because our internal transport system is working to capacity, and we may have to send less cattle because of the extent to which our railways will be affected by the coal shortage.

No mention was made at any time of the labour supply from Ireland. They may have realised that, in the new conditions, we shall be very hard pressed for extra labour ourselves, but it is also not improbable that they do not require any more workers from here. Moreover, no doubt, they would be glad to be able to tell Parliament that our isolation is complete. That they have this question of satisfying public opinion in mind is shown by the interruption of the Aer Lingus service between Britain and Ireland, an interruption for which they gave a very inadequate explanation, viz., that they wanted to be able to say that they had neglected no precaution. They had to admit that the passengers on both the British and Irish lines were equally controlled and they were reduced to saying that the pilots might be a possible danger. Although it is difficult to be very definite about their purpose, the British, without actually imposing sanctions, would like to be able, if the occasion arose, to give the impression that they had done so.

Lord Cranborne
I was told during lunch on Friday (given to us by Sir Eric Machtig, Under Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs) that Lord Cranborne wished to see me at 3 o'clock. I had not made the slightest attempt to secure this interview, but I was very glad to have the opportunity of conveying your good wishes to him and generally letting him know how you felt about recent events.

He was very friendly indeed, and obviously anxious to hear about the repercussions to the American Note. I told him that your reaction, and that of the Government and people generally, was one of pained surprise. Our neutrality had been extremely benevolent. He must know all the details in which that benevolence had been shown, but the harshness of the American Note and the unreserved condemnation in Mr. Churchill's speech seemed to show complete ignorance of our attitude. That was rather discouraging after four years of friendly and helpful relationship.

Lord Cranborne replied that he understood fully how friendly you had been all the time, and was fully aware of all that you had done, and he asked me to tell you that his own friendly dispositions towards you had not changed in the slightest – quite the contrary. He said it was a real difficulty for them that the German and Japanese missions should remain here because there was always at least a possibility that at some moment some item of information of vital import might be conveyed through that channel.

At this point he asked me to urge on you to grant him, as a personal favour, the release of the remaining British airmen internees. He said the apparently unimportant fact of the internment of even a small number of British airmen was a constant obstacle in the way of his desire to act in a friendly fashion towards us. It caused him difficulties in the Cabinet, and the possibility of an attack on him from that angle in the House of Commons was a constant nightmare to him. He remained on this point for about ten minutes. He regarded it as so important from the point of view of our good relations that he hoped most earnestly that you would accede to his request.

I explained the difficulties of the Government in this matter. He fully understood our home difficulties, but he felt the release could be effected in a manner calculated to lessen these difficulties.

We ranged over the whole field of Anglo-Irish relations. He was inclined to go back again and again (as Sir Eric Machtig had in my two chats with him) on the difficulties they would have had if the Six Counties had not been open to their ships and troops.

I emphasised the usual arguments and pointed out to him what a very different attitude the United States would have adopted towards the present war if the British still remained in occupation of Virginia or Massachusetts. It was a great pity, I thought, that men in his position did not take the same calm historic and national view about Ireland as they did towards other countries in a parallel situation. Irish unity was essential for the regularisation of good relations between Ireland and Britain, because, so long as Partition remained, the abnormality of that factor would affect all our relations. If the issue disappeared as an issue from British party politics, its solution would become simple. I knew it was your earnest hope that the British Government would see Ireland in its proper perspective when they came to solve post-war problems. They wanted Ireland to be friendly, as we did, and the need for closer collaboration in the world we had all to face after the war required a completely new outlook.

He gave me an opportunity of talking about British subjectship and the desirability of eliminating the element of British supremacy from any future groupings of which Ireland and Britain might happen to be members.

When I was leaving, he sent you his 'most friendly greetings' and personal good wishes.

Generally, in my two talks with Sir Eric Machtig and Sir John Stephenson, I found a note of pessimism about the future of Europe. They do not seem to be so buoyant as they were in November, 1942, although the military situation then was far from good. They are depressed by the growing evidence that Russia intends to play a dominant role in Europe. I think this aspect of the situation rather inclines them to be somewhat more friendly with us. They are not too happy about Mr. Churchill's handling of the international situation, and I got one or two clear hints that his views on Ireland are not shared by the majority of the Cabinet and certainly not by Lord Cranborne or the officials of the Dominions Office.

There was not any attempt to conceal a certain feeling of annoyance with the Americans for their general attitude of condescension towards Britain. There is quite clearly a considerable degree of worry in official circles about some disagreement in the Cabinet which may result in Mr. Eden leaving the Foreign Office.

When I suggested that Lord Beaverbrook might be Mr. Eden's successor, they expressed frank horror, but did not rule it out as a possibility owing to his inexplicable friendship with the Prime Minister.

It was also clear that Churchill's deal with Stalin in relation to the method by which Poland was to be compensated for her loss of territory in the East was not approved of.

During the period of special tension, telephone calls between Ireland and England will be reduced to a minimum, but official calls will not be interfered with.

With regard to cables to our representatives abroad, I was asked to take particular care that we should not mention anything, however remotely, relating to military matters.

Since all our bags to the Continent are now carried on the ships engaged on the Lisbon route, I had to ask them to provide for taking them by air. We shall have a reply in the course of a few days.

I spoke to Lord Cranborne and the two heads of his Department about this matter and explained that we were ready, as they knew, to accept further suggestions for the period immediately ahead. They all expressed appreciation of what had already been done.

I was invited to dine by Mr. Marlin to meet two of his chiefs.1 We had a very long and interesting conversation.

Mr. X.2 was especially worried at the very bad political position in which the Allies found themselves at the present moment. The attitude of unconditional surrender had proved fruitless and would be a cause of great loss of life to the Allied armies. Russia would soon become a greater danger than help, and, whatever confidence the American military authorities might feel about their ability eventually to conquer Russia if the need arose, he personally could not believe that the American people would stand for another war in Europe. Indeed, the soldiers were already getting tired of being away so long from their homes, and another year would sap their remaining enthusiasm.

He asked me to give him a frank statement about Mr. David Gray's position in Ireland and to tell him what I thought about the present feelings of the Irish people for America.

I told him very frankly what we felt about Mr. Gray, and he agreed with me that some new channel of communication was essential if Ireland's friendship was to be preserved intact for the United States.

He agreed with me that there was no country in the world where there was such genuine and such disinterested affection for the United States as amongst the Irish people, and he regretted very much that our relations should have been clouded by recent mishandling on the American side. He said that the organisation of the State Department was most unfortunate. Nobody there seemed to have a complete knowledge of American relations with Ireland, and they certainly did not seem to know how close our relations with the American Intelligence people had been.

I expressed your desire to eliminate all sources of friction in the future and your readiness to be even more helpful in the sphere of Intelligence during the critical months ahead, and we should be glad to have some suitable person in Dublin for that purpose.

Both Mr. X. and his military colleague agreed that such a step was desirable, but they said they would have to get authority from the military chiefs.

I told Mr. X. that I felt certain you would be extremely glad to see him if he could come over.

He takes a completely unprejudiced view of world affairs and is genuinely anxious for a peace settlement which will eliminate all possible causes of friction. I have seldom met a man with such a balanced objective outlook on the world of the future, and he left me with the impression that he regards the final settlement of the Irish problem as a vital factor in the future relations amongst the English-speaking peoples of the world. He has a very high esteem for the organisation and influence of the Catholic Church.

Mr. X. and his military colleague were most friendly during our conversation of some four hours.

1 Ambassador Hugh R. Wilson and Colonel Ingram, Deputy to Colonel Bruce.

2 Ambassador Hugh R. Wilson.