Wartime PM John Curtin did not demand the return of the 6th and 7th Australian divisions from the Middle East for service in the defence of Australia, according to Grahame Freudenberg in his new book, Churchill and Australia, (Macmillan Australia $59, available 1 November, 2008.)
He did not have to. It was Churchill, just after Pearl Harbour, who first proposed sendng one division to join the fight against Japan, writes Mr. Freudenberg, who was EG Whitlam’s and other Labor Leaders’ speech writer (Sydney Morning Herald, print version only, 25-26 October, 2008).
If I recall correctly, they disagreed over Churchill’s wish to send the troops to Burma, and it was then that Curtin insisted they return to the direct defence of Australia.
Churchill even considered making a radio appeal direct to the Australian people, but his advisors talked him out of that.
And contrary to suggestions, John Curtin was strongly attached to Britain, telling the nation after Pearl Harbour “We shall hold this country and keep is as a citadel for the British –speaking race, and as a citadel where civilization will persist."
Mr.Freudenberg also says that Curtin’s famous Christmas 1942 speech has also been misinterpreted. Curtin had said “ Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom”
This was never intended as an appeal to US President Roosevelt, but merely as a message to the Australian people. But it went around the world.
Churchill later claimed it was used by the enemy, and Lady Casey said President Roosevelt was not impressed, thinking it smacked of “panic or disloyalty.”
Freudenberg also casts light on the recent controversy about whether Japan was planning to invade Australia. He says the army rejected a navy proposal for a full-scale invasion of Australia, on the grounds that it would need 10 divisions and 1.5 million (tonnes) of shipping".
In the meantime, a documentary is to be broadcast on on ABC1 on Thursday 6 November, 2008 at 8.30pm about the participation by Robert Gordon Menzies in Churchill’ s war cabinet in 1941.
Mr. Menzies was probably the best orator Australia has ever produced, and the best parliamentary performer. He was certainly an outstanding advocate. He had an air of great authority and charm, and even his opponents warmed to him.
He was feted in London, and the programme suggests that he seriously considered suggestions he replace Churchill as British prime minister.
"Menzies has made a great impression here, not only for his oratory, but for the soundness of his judgment, the breadth of his vision and the freshness of his world viewpoint," Lord Beaverbrook’s Daily Express declared.
"The British people would rejoice if Menzies were able to stay in the motherland. Will Australia make the great gesture?"
But his daughter, Heather Henderson, has told Camerson Stewart of The Australian (“Robert Menzies in the cabinet with Winston Churchill,” 24 October, 2008)
"My father did not want to stay in England, I can tell you that categorically. My mother said he was very flattered that some people might have wanted him to stay but he told them, 'No, I am Australian and my life is in Australia."' She dismisses as fanciful the claim that Menzies harboured ambitions to become Prime Minister of Britain. Mrs. Henderson is a most creditable witness; her testimony is to be believed over mere conjecture.
She does explain why some in Britain would have liked him to take over:
"My father stood up to Churchill in the war cabinet and that was unusual. I think the others were fairly browbeaten, but he was one of these rough colonials and so maybe he could get away with more than the others."
How fortunate the nation was to have in its time of trial such great leaders, united in their loyalty to the Australian Crown and the Australian people.