No. 207  NAI DFA Secretary's Files P2

Letter from Robert Brennan to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

WASHINGTON, 10 June 1942

On Saturday the 6th of June, by appointment, I called on the President. He was not in the Executive Office but in his private office in the White House. He was clad only in a well-worn seersucker pants and open-neck shirt.

He greeted me very warmly and said, 'So you are going over to the old country, will you give my kindest regards to Mr. de Valera and also to Davy Gray and Mamie.1 They are a very dear old couple.'

I said I would do so and I thanked him for his message of February 26th to Mr. de Valera.2

He said, 'We are doing our best and we have to keep a lot of things in mind.' He immediately went on to talk of the war situation. It was all important they should keep Russia in the fight. If the Russians held up against the Germans they would win the war more quickly. The Russians, he was glad to say, were standing up well. They had had very heavy losses in the Pacific but the tide seemed to be turning. The need for men and materials in Australia was very great. In the Middle East things were more or less at a standstill and they hoped to keep them so. Taking into account the vast theatre of the war and the vast lines that had to be patrolled they could not deflect supplies from any of these territories. No one, however, knew what was going to happen and when a fellow was cornered he might do desperate things and they had to take into account the fact that the Germans might make an attack on Ireland so as to cut off supplies to England.

It was all very well for Mr. de Valera to say that if he had the weapons he could defeat an invasion. He, the President, would say the same thing if he were in Mr. de Valera's place.

I intervened to say that we could, with the necessary equipment, put up as good a fight as any outside forces.

He replied at once that that would be impossible, that it would take years of training in the present weapons of war. He went on to tell of the terrific task it had been in America to train even the forces now available. Apart from that he said there was a constant fight for every ounce of material now coming from the munition plants; a struggle between the Army, the Navy, the Air Forces and the Maritime Commission, as well as constant and increasing demands from the various theatres of the war. For instance, he had been asked to do something for Chile and Peru with their 2000 miles of coast line. He could not give them anything like the material they asked for and finally he succeeded in getting for them in the one case 20 and in the other 15 training airplanes nothing at all compared to their requirement but something to enable them to train their men with. He might later be able to give us a dozen or so training planes.

He changed the conversation and asked how was the food situation in Ireland. I gave him a rough idea of the position and I particularly referred to the matter of sugar informing him that unless we could get the 500 tons of steel parts for the sugar refineries we might not be able to produce anything like sufficient sugar next year. He immediately said that that would have to be remedied and he would speak himself to Donald Nelson3 about it. He took down a note of the particulars and said, 'Perhaps you could increase your sugar output so as to relieve the situation in England.' I said that every upset in our economy reacted against England since we were supplying them with so much food. He then asked me about the ships we had obtained and I told him of the position. He again took notes and said he would see Senator Bailey4 about the Ships Purchase Act and also that he would try to speed the legislation continuing the power of the Maritime Commission to charter ships.

Getting back to defense he said that apart from the difficulty of supplying modern weapons of warfare there was a vast expenditure involved. Why did we not do as the local guards were doing in New York State, Maine etc., and use shot guns which could very effectively deal with parachute landings. It must be the case that every man in Ireland could use a shot gun. I replied that every man in Ireland could handle a rifle and that shot guns would be of very little value against airplanes or gliders. He said he would see if anything could be done about rifles. He then said he was sorry Mr. de Valera had made the statement he did but, of course, he knew he had to make a protest if only for appearance sake. I immediately said that that was not the case, that we all felt very deeply on the partition issue and what seemed to be American sanction for same.5

At this stage he laughed and said, 'Very well, but tell him I'd like him to treat our fellows in the North very well.' He then wished me a very pleasant journey and said he would like to be able to go with me.

As I was passing through the hall I met Jim Farley6 who was on his way in to see the President and we had a few words of greeting.

[signed] ROBT. BRENNAN

1 Maud 'Mamie' Gray, wife of David Gray and youngest sister of Roosevelt's mother-in-law. Eleanor Roosevelt and Maud Gray had grown up together and the two were more like sisters than aunt and niece.

2 Not printed.

3 Donald M. Nelson (1888-1959), Chairman of the War Production Board (1942-4).

4 Josiah Bailey (1873-1946), Senator (Democrat) for North Carolina (1931-46).

5 See No. 198.

6 James A. Farley (1888-1976), chairman of the Democratic National Committee (1932-40) and Postmaster General (1933-40). Farley left the Roosevelt administration in 1940 and his relationship with the President deteriorated over the 1940 Presidential election.

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