In April, a wartime letter from Robert Gordon Menzies to our High Commissioner in London, Stanley Bruce was “found”. It formed the basis of an attack on one of the greatest and certainly most successful Prime Ministers.
Most of the letter had in fact been previously published.
Paul Keating, never backward when he can drag Menzies reputation down, thundered that this was proof of Menzies cowardly policy of appeasement.
That Menzies was an arch royalist no doubt explains much of Keating’s hatred – but both Curtin and Chifley were monarchists too. In fact Curtin recommended a Royal Duke as Governor-General!
I sent a response to this letter to the Sydney Morning Herald: 30 April 2001 :
Whatever his expertise in architecture, town planning, whether Berlin or Sydney, Mahler and French clocks, Paul Keating must be marked down in history as David Day amply demonstrates (30/4/)
Mr Keating has previously surprised us with his assertions – completely unfounded – that, for example, the Australian constitution was drafted in the Foreign Office! Or that Britain abandoned this part of the world in the Second World War! (What were Sir William Slim and Lord Mountbatten and those they led- tourists?)
Now we have this gratuitous vilification of Robert Gordon Menzies.
Clearly, in those momentous five days following the fall of France, all of the costs and benefits of either continuing to fight or treating for peace, however temporary, had to be considered. Not to have done this would have been negligent.
After all the Commonwealth was virtually alone with the USA neutral, Stalin still Hitler’s ally, and Europe occupied. Is it so surprising then, that Menzies sent his tour d’horizon to guide our High Commissioner, who would of course then brief Churchill?
But once taken, none of them – Halifax, Menzies or Curtin – resiled in any way from that considered decision to fight on. Australians will read Mr Keating’s observation more in sorrow than in anger. As Ross Terrill writes in his book The Australians, Mr Keating "said more things, more passionately that were wrong than any Prime Minister within memory.