Menzies on War

M enzies experienced first-hand the battlefields of the Middle East, the Blitz and its aftermath and Winston Churchill in the British War Cabinet. The experiences had a profound effect on Menzies and throughout the Diary he reflected on the nature of war and its effect on the British people.

On a visit to Coventry, Prime Minister Menzies talks to workers in their factory canteen.

London, England

The history of war is that of one man building on another’s foundations. The flashy and unscrupulous seem to come to the top. The public are very childlike: they like something that rattles. It is the age of publicity, which means that the most illiterate of trades, that of newspaper writing, becomes dominant. Judgement is handed over to the unjudicial. The man of words is treated as a man of action, providing the words are sufficiently rhetorical to reach the ears of a press reporter.

London, England

The P.M. in a conversation will steep himself (and you) in gloom on some grim aspect of the war [e.g. tonight shipping losses by Fokker wolf planes and—the supreme menace of the war, on which, with Dudley Pound, 1st Sea Lord, we have had much talk], only to proceed to “fight his way out” until he is pacing the floor with the light of battle in his eyes. In every conversation he ultimately reaches a point where he positively enjoys the war. “Bliss in that age it was to be alive”.

Why do people regard a period like this as “years lost out of our lives”, when beyond question it is the most interesting period of them? Why do we regard history as of the past, and forget that we are making it?

Why do we regard history as of the past, and forget that we are making it?

While in Cairo, Prime Minister Menzies talks to Lieutenant Gullett, son of the late Sir Henry Somer Gullett. Gullett was killed in a plane crash near Canberra on 13 August 1940, along with two other Federal Ministers and the Chief of the General Staff. Sir Henry Gullett was Vice-president of the Executive Council and Minister in charge of Scientific and Industrial Research.

London, England

War Cabinet. Sinkings are still very grave. 1 But great compensation in the news of the naval victory in the Mediterranean.

Winston’s attitude to war is much more realistic than mine. I constantly find myself looking at “minor losses” and saying “There are some darkened homes”. But he is wise. War is terrible and it cannot be won except by lost lives. That being so, don’t think of them.

London, England

Feeling very homesick and depressed. London’s savour has gone. A city living in the darkness is queer, and life becomes formless.

London, England

The generals of the War Office are still behind the times. “We have so many divisions”—as if divisions counted. Armour and speed count, and when we catch up to that idea, we will catch up to the Germans.

Only tonight I was horrified to hear Churchill saying, à propos of Tobruk to which we are retreating and where we hope to make a stand, “If stout hearted men with rifles cannot hold these people until the guns come up, I must revise my ideas of war”. Well, he should revise them quickly!

Menzies films a fire on board an oil tanker in Tobruk Harbour.

  1. Sinkings still very grave Menzies is referring here to the disastrous British shipping losses in the Atlantic at the hands of the German U-boat fleet and bombers.

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Menzies on People