Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Travel info/historical/HistDocs.nsf

Previous Document | Next Document | Volumes

189 Broadcast Message by Mr R.G. Menzies, Prime Minister

3 September 1939, 9.15 p.m.

It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that, in
consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland,
Great Britain has declared war upon her and that, as a result,
Australia is also at war. [1]
No harder task can fall to the lot of a democratic leader than to
make such an announcement. Great Britain and France, with the co-
operation of the British Dominions, have struggled to avoid this
tragedy. They have, as I firmly believe, been patient; they have
kept the door of negotiation open; they have given no cause for
aggression. But in the result their efforts have failed and we
are, therefore, as a great family of nations, involved in a
struggle which we must at all costs win, and which we believe in
our hearts we will win.
What I want to do tonight is just to put before you honestly and
as clearly as I can a short account of how this crisis has
developed. The history of recent months in Europe has been an
eventful one. It will exhibit to the eyes of the future student
some of the most remarkable instances of a ruthlessness and
indifference to common humanity which the darkest centuries of
European history can scarcely parallel. Moreover, it will, I
believe, demonstrate that the leader of Germany has for a long
time steadily pursued a policy which was deliberately designed to
produce either war or a subjugation of one non-German country
after another by the threat of war.
We all have vivid recollections of September of last year.
Speaking in Berlin on September 26, 1938, Hitler [2] said,
referring to the Sudeten-German problem which was then approaching
its acutest stage:-
'And now the last problem which must be solved, and which will be
Four days later at Munich, when the problem had been settled on
terms which provided for the absorption of the Sudeten country
into Germany and which otherwise professed to respect the
integrity of the remainder of the Czecho-Slovak State, Hitler
participated with the Prime Minister of Great Britain [3] in a
statement which went out to all the world. Its most important
sentence was this:
'We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the
method adopted to deal with any other question that may concern
our two countries and we are determined to continue our efforts to
remove possible causes of difference and thus to contribute to
assure the peace of Europe.'
What a strange piece of irony that seems today, only 12 months
later. In those twelve months, what has happened? In cold-blooded
breach of the solemn obligations implied in both the statements I
have quoted, Hitler has annexed the whole of the Czecho-Slovak
State; has, without flickering an eye-lid, made a pact with
Russia, a country the denouncing and reviling of which has been
his chief stock-in-trade ever since he became Chancellor; and has
now, under circumstances which I shall describe to you, invaded
with armed force and in defiance of civilised opinion the
independent nation of Poland.
Your own comments on this dreadful history will need no re-
enforcement by me. All I need say is that whatever the inflamed
ambitions of the German Fuehrer may be, he will undoubtedly learn,
as other great enemies of freedom have learned before, that no
Empire, no Dominion, can be soundly established upon a basis of
broken promises or dishonoured agreements.
Let me now say something about the events of the last few days.
The facts are not really in dispute; they are for the most part
contained in documents which are now a matter of record.
On Friday, August 25-that is, nine days ago-Hitler asked the
British Ambassador [4] to call on him and had a long interview
with him. Hitler said that he wished to make a move towards
England as decisive as his recent Russian move, but that first the
problem of Danzig and the Corridor must be solved.
He went on to indicate that he was looking forward to a general
European settlement and that if this could be achieved he would be
willing to accept a reasonable limitation of armaments.
On Saturday, August 26, the British Ambassador flew to London to
give a detailed account of his conversation to the British
On Sunday, August 27, the British Cabinet fully considered the
whole matter and, incidentally, was apprised by me of the views of
the Australian Government.
On Monday, August 28, the British reply-which I may say was
entirely in line with our own views-was taken back to Berlin and
was delivered to Hitler in the evening. That reply stated that the
British Government desired a complete and lasting understanding
between the two countries and agreed that a pre-requisite to such
a state of affairs was a settlement of the German-Polish
differences. It emphasised the obligations which Great Britain had
to Poland and made it clear that Great Britain could not acquiesce
in a settlement which would put in jeopardy the independence of a
State to which it had given its guarantee.
The Government said, however, that it would be prepared to
participate in an international guarantee of any settlement
reached by direct negotiation between Germany and Poland which did
not prejudice Poland's essential interests.
The Note pointed out that the Polish Government was ready to enter
into discussions and that it was hoped that the German Government
would do the same. On the night of Tuesday, August 29, Hitler
communicated to Sir Nevile Henderson his reply to the British
Note. In it he reiterated his demands, but agreed to accept the
British Government's offer of its good offices in securing the
despatch to Berlin of a Polish emissary. In the meantime, it was
stated, the German Government would draw up proposals acceptable
to itself and would, if possible, place these at the disposal of
the British Government before the arrival of the Polish
Astonishingly enough-for the German proposals were not then even
drafted-the Note went on to say that the German Government counted
on the arrival of the Polish emissary on Wednesday, August 30,
which was the very next day.
Sir Nevile Henderson pointed out at once that this was an
impossible condition, but Hitler assured him that it was only
intended to stress the urgency of the matter. On the Wednesday,
Hitler's communication was received by the British Government and
their reply was handed by Sir Nevile Henderson to von Ribbentrop,
the German Foreign Minister, at midnight.
At the same time the British Ambassador asked whether the German
proposals which were to be drawn up were ready, and suggested that
von Ribbentrop should invite the Polish Ambassador [5] to call and
should hand to him the proposals for transmission to his
Government. I would have thought this was a very sensible
suggestion, but von Ribbentrop rejected it in violent terms.
Von Ribbentrop then produced a lengthy document containing the
German proposals, which you subsequently saw in the newspaper, and
read it aloud in German at top speed. Sir Nevile Henderson
naturally asked for a copy of the document, but the reply was that
it was now too late as the Polish representative had not arrived
in Berlin by midnight.
You see what a travesty the whole thing was: the German Government
was treating Poland as in default because she had not by Wednesday
night offered an opinion upon or discussed with Germany a set of
proposals of which, in fact, she had at that time never heard.
Indeed, apart from the hurried reading to which I have referred,
the British Government had no account of these proposals until
they were broadcast in Germany on Thursday, August 31.
On the night of August 31, the Polish Ambassador at Berlin saw von
Ribbentrop and told him that the Polish Government was willing to
negotiate with Germany about their disputes on an equal basis. The
only reply was that German troops passed the Polish frontier and
began war upon the Poles at dawn on the morning of Friday,
September 1.
One further fact should be mentioned and it is this: in the
British Government's communication of August 30, it informed the
German Chancellor that it recognised the need for speed and that
it also recognised the dangers which arose from the fact that two
mobilised armies were facing each other on opposite sides of the
Polish frontier, and that accordingly it strongly urged that both
Germany and Poland should undertake that during the negotiations
no aggressive military movements would take place. That being
communicated to Poland, the Polish Government on Thursday, August
31, categorically stated that it was prepared to give a formal
guarantee that during negotiations Polish troops would not violate
the frontiers, provided a corresponding guarantee was given by
Germany. The German Government made no reply whatever.
My comments on these events need not be very long: the matter was
admirably stated by the British Prime Minister to the House of
Commons in these words:-
'It is plain, therefore, that Germany claims to treat Poland as in
the wrong because she had not by Wednesday night entered upon
discussions with Germany about a set of proposals of which she had
never heard.'
Let me elaborate this a little: you can make an offer of
settlement for two entirely different purposes. You may make your
offer genuinely and hoping to have it accepted or discussed with a
view to avoiding war. On the other hand, you may make it hoping to
use it as 'window dressing' and with no intention or desire to
have it accepted. If I were to make an offer to my neighbour about
a piece of land in dispute between us and, before he had had the
faintest opportunity of dealing with my offer, I violently
assaulted him, my offer would stand revealed as a fraud. If
Germany had really desired a peaceful settlement of questions
relating to Danzig and the Corridor she would have taken every
step to see that her proposals were adequately considered by
Poland and that there was proper opportunity for discussion. IN
Who wanted war? Poland? Great Britain? France?

A review of all these circumstances makes it clear that the German
Chancellor has, throughout this week of tension, been set upon
war, and that the publication of his proposals for settlement was
designed merely as a bid for world opinion before he set his
armies on the move.
We have, of course, been deluged with propaganda from Berlin. We
have been told harrowing stories of the oppression of Germans; we
have been told that Poland invaded Germany; we have even been
told-somewhat contradictorially [sic]-that Germany was forced to
invade Poland in order to defend herself against aggression. The
technique of German propaganda; of carefully fomented agitations
in neighbouring countries; the constant talk of persecution and
injustice; these are all nauseatingly familiar to us. We made the
acquaintance of all of them during the dispute over Czecho-
Slovakia, and we may well ask what has become of the Czech
minority and the Slovak minority since the forced absorption of
their country into the German State.
It is plain-indeed it is brutally plain-that the Hitler ambition
has been, not as he once said, to unite the German peoples under
one rule, but to bring under that rule as many European countries,
even of alien race, as can be subdued by force.
If such a policy were allowed to go unchecked, there could be no
security in Europe, and there could be no just peace for the
A halt has been called. Force has had to be resorted to to check
the march of force. Honest dealing, the peaceful adjustment of
differences, the rights of independent peoples to live their own
lives, the honouring of international obligations and promises-all
these things are at stake.
There never was any doubt as to where Great Britain stood in
relation to them. There can be no doubt that where Great Britain
stands there stand the people of the entire British world.
Bitter as we all feel at this wanton crime, this is not a moment
for rhetoric; prompt as the action of many thousands must be, it
is for the rest a moment for quiet thinking; for that calm
fortitude which rests not upon the beating of drums but upon the
unconquerable spirit of man, created by God in His own image. What
may be before us we do not know, nor how long the journey. But
this we do know, that Truth is our companion on that journey; that
Truth is with us in the battle, and that Truth must win.
Before I end, may I say this to you? In the bitter months that are
to come, calmness, resoluteness, confidence and hard work will be
required as never before. This war will involve not only soldiers
and sailors and airmen, but supplies, foodstuffs, money. Our
staying power, and particularly the staying power of the mother
country, will be best assisted by keeping our production going; by
continuing our avocations and our business as fully as we can; by
maintaining employment and with it our strength.
I know that, in spite of the emotions we are all feeling, you will
show that Australia is ready to see it through. May God in His
mercy and compassion grant that the world may soon be delivered
from this agony.

1 The British declaration of war was heard in Australia on a
short-wave radio broadcast at 8 p.m. Canberra time, immediately
following the expiry of the British ultimatum to Germany (see Paul
Hasluck, The Government and the People 1939-1941 (Canberra, 1952),
pp. 151-2). A special issue (no. 63) of the Commonwealth of
Australia Gazette on 3 September 1939 contained the formal
proclamation of the existence of a state of war. Commonwealth
Departments were informed that the Government had authorised the
adoption of the war stage, and were asked to take necessary action
in accordance with Commonwealth and Departmental War Books (see
memorandum from F. Strahan, Secretary of Prime Minister's
Department, to Departmental Secretaries, 3 September 1939, on file
AA: A1608, M41/1/1).
2 Adolf Hitler, German Chancellor.
3 Neville Chamberlain.
4 Sir Nevile Henderson.
5 Joseph Lipski.

[AA: A981, AUSTRALIA 39, i]

Previous Document | Next Document | Volumes