No. 202 NAI DFA 219/49

Confidential report from John J. Hearne to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Ottawa, 26 June 1940

Views on the war situation are this week at the lowest level of depression yet reached. No one (i.e. no unofficial person) with whom I have spoken now sees any prospect of a long war – the long war which was to enable the Allied blockade to do its work and so bring final victory to Great Britain. The capitulation of France, although not unexpected, nevertheless, brought a realization of penultimate defeat. 'Peace this summer' was one comment made to me. 'I suppose we must just keep on', was another. 'Why can't it be fixed up now?' etc. etc. There were many comments of similar import. Resignation had taken the place of hope. 'It will be a long time before there is good news' Dr. Skelton said to me, rather dispiritedly, yesterday. I had a moment's conversation with Mr. King on the occasion – Friday last – of the arrival of the Earl of Athlone.1 But he did not speak of the war.

The Prime Minister seems more weary than ever. One cannot but admire the brave smile on the grey, haggard face (as he greets everyone) and the obvious physical effort in the quick footsteps of the burdened statesman.

I have kept Dr. Skelton informed of the position in Ireland, as I know it, from your cables, the Taoiseach's recent speeches, and the speeches of Mr. Traynor (in the Dáil),2 and Dr. Ryan (At New Ross).3

In a recent conversation which I had with Sir Gerald Campbell he spoke of the dissatisfaction he had heard expressed by Canadians with Mr. King's conduct of the war. He said that if Mr. King would 'make way for Ralston, something might be done'. Mr. David Meyer (who was also present) said that he too had heard the view expressed that Mr. King's tempo was too slow. I said nothing on this point although I know that Conservative circles in Ottawa are very critical of the Prime Minister. There is no doubt that the British are annoyed (the word 'annoyed' is mild) at Mr. King's caution. Mr. King's caution is not due to his sixty-five years (of age) or any lack of energy or conviction or zeal. It is evidence of his astuteness as a Canadian statesman who knows his people well.

Mr. Churchill's bitterness against the French has been the headline for many editorial attacks on Marshal Pétain, M. Laval4 etc. Dr. Skelton has referred to Mr. Churchill's bitterness in conversations with me but not unkindly. The editorials are rather poor. Apart from them there is still but little jingoism. Ordinary Canadian people learn of events in Europe from day to day with heavy hearts and deep disappointment, but without exasperation. They can be extraordinarily detached and objective. Some, I know, take an objective view because they feel that it was the affair of both the British and the French Governments to have known beforehand where they were going when they went to war with Germany. Many more take an objective view because they regard the whole British Empire business as somebody else's business. They are able to reconcile a very realistic outlook upon the future of the Empire with a pathetically sincere devotion to colonial forms and British royal persons. The appointment of the Earl of Athlone as Governor General is welcomed by great numbers of Canadians who resented the lack of strain in the blood of the Tweedsmuirs.5 It was nothing to them that the Tweedsmuirs were enobled more by nature than by patent and that they sought so splendidly to tone up the cultural life of the people. It matters almost everything to those of whom I write that Lord Athlone is the King's uncle and that the Princess Alice is the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. The Tweedsmuirs, moreover, had brought the office of King's representative nearer to the common people than any previous occupant of the position; but that again was felt to be wrong, the Governor General must, it was thought, be aloof from the people. I have heard even Irish Canadians say that there could never be a Canadian Governor General. And all this is talked about even while the war goes on as it does and its tide swirls around the steps of the English throne.

The suggested Canadian U.S.A. customs union would have been an impossible conception a few weeks ago. But with Canada's European markets dwindling the U.S.A. may have to stabilize the North American economy. Canada has sent trade representatives to South American countries.

The view is canvassed here that if Great Britain can hold out until the autumn the blockade will bring famine to Europe. The siege of England will result, in other words, in the siege of a starving Europe and by then the American and Canadian industrial machines will be supplying planes and tanks and guns and ships. It is felt that if the war party in the United States tried to get war declared now they would split the country. The United States is in fact in the war already as much as it can be now. And, if Britain holds out until November, a declaration of war by the United States would be the beginning of a new hope. But no one overlooks the possibility of a cessation of hostilities in the interval, or the entry of new factors which may complicate or confuse the situation more than ever.

[signed] John J. Hearne

1 Major General Alexander Cambridge, 1st Earl of Athlone (1874-1957), Governor General of Canada (1940-6).

2 Hearne may have been referring to Traynor's speeches during the passage of the Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act by the Oireachtas in early June 1940.

3 Speaking at New Ross on 6 June 1940 during an all-party meeting, Minster for Agriculture Jim Ryan told his audience that it was Ireland's 'obvious duty … to convince the belligerents that no small force will be permitted to gain a foothold in this country … we are united against all comers'.

4 Pierre Laval (1883-1945), Prime Minister of France (July-Dec. 1940).

5 John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (1875-1940), Governor General of Canada (1935-40), Scottish novelist best known for The Thirty-Nine Steps (London, 1915).

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