The Great Experiment

The inter-war period marked the first serious attempts to provide a scholarly answer to the question 'what were the Dominions?'1 Although many ideas were put forward, there was, however, an obvious sense of reluctance about precise definitions; during a parliamentary debate in 1921, when David Lloyd George asked for an explanation he was told that to provide one would be dangerous.2 A decade later, a leading Australian politician expressed what had become an increasingly familiar and commonly held view when he compared his own country's connection with Britain to that of a family relationship. As such he did not 'want the relations of myself and my children to be determined by rules written in a book, to which each of us must refer to discover who is right and who is wrong'.3 At the same time, there also existed a sense of profound conviction that the Empire had its basis on a higher level. Lord Curzon believed that it was one of the instruments used by Providence for the benefit of mankind. Lord Rosebery, speaking to students at Edinburgh on the British Empire, saw its achievements being directed by human hands and minds but was also certain even the 'most heedless and most cynical must see the finger of the Divine' in its long history. Lord Blanesburgh, speaking publicly in January 1933, had argued that it was essential to preserve the Commonwealth of Nations as 'a civilizing force', one which would if needed be 'the final protector of Western civilization'.4 Lionel Curtis, one of the leading Imperial thinkers, thought that the British Empire and Commonwealth would eventually evolve into a federation in which the British government would provide the central authority; once again, he believed that this would bring not only order but spiritual fulfilment.5

In the early days of colonial governments the Parliament at Westminster was the supreme legislative authority for all British possessions. It had the authority and jurisdiction to legislate and did so for every part of the British Empire. The refusal of settlers in what became the United States of America to recognize the right of the Westminster body to impose taxation upon them when they had their own legislature which had the power to, and did, tax them ultimately led to the American revolution and the end of the first British Empire. The catalyst for the Dominions' creation was, however, John Lambton, more commonly known as Lord Durham, who was sent to what was then termed as 'the Canadas' in 1838 to investigate two rebellions of the previous year and produced, by way of response the following year, his detailed and celebrated 'Report on the Affairs of British North America'. In his view the colonists were capable of having an elected legislature, making their own laws and generally governing themselves, in short a modified form of responsible government with a legislative union of Upper Canada, Lower Canada and the Maritime Provinces. The 'British North American Act' became law on 1 July 1867 and with it a Dominion under the name of Canada was legally established, a confederation of several Canadian provinces agreed upon by Canadian statesmen. This, at least in part, was intended to help safeguard against lingering hostility from south of the border where a Bill had been introduced into Congress proposing that Canada should be made part of the United States. A federated Australia followed although not for over 30 years; 1 January 1901 marked the establishment of 'The Commonwealth of Australia', the end of a process begun in the 1850s when the parliaments of New South Wales and Victoria had been set up by Acts passed in London. New Zealand had formally become a British possession in 1840, as part of New South Wales, a separate colony the following year and then had gained self-government in 1856 with a constitution modelled on Westminster. In 1901 it was approached to enter the Commonwealth of Australia but declined and six years later it was recognized in its own right as a Dominion. For the purposes of this study Cape Colony, Natal and Transvaal joining, officially, in May 1910 with the Orange Free State to create the Union of South Africa was the final step in this developmental process.

There were many advocates who supported such moves. The great British radical Joseph Chamberlain had told the House of Commons in London in 1900 that relations with the self-governing colonies depended 'entirely on their free will and absolute consent'. At the 1902 Colonial Conference his appeal for integration was sober and serious and his eloquence did not conceal his belief in the need to re-examine Britain's Imperial organization and how it worked. As he told his peers at Westminster, the time had come to tell the visiting statesmen that their help was needed. 'The weary Titan staggers under the too vast orb of its fate. We have borne the burden for many years. We think it is time that our children should assist us to support it.'6 The conference held five years later was designated 'Imperial' rather than 'Colonial', and a new word entered the political dictionaries as it was agreed that the term 'Dominion' would in future be used instead of 'self-governing colonies'. This change in nomenclature was intended to help remove any sense of inferiority, and had a generally positive effect. The eventual outcome of this meeting was something approaching an organized system for collecting, analysing and disseminating information, allocating resources and pursuing a comprehensive grand strategy.7 At the 1911 Imperial Conference this understanding was first tested as the British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, warned the visiting Dominion leaders about Germany's European intentions and what, if they proved successful, this would mean for the British Empire. The message was now spread that if the centre were to collapse their future would be in jeopardy, and for the first time the Dominions had been 'initiated into the secrets of the foreign policy being pursued'.8

The Dominions' subsequent war efforts made it clear they were 'states that were in the process of becoming nations'.9 In August 1914 the British government announced that it intended to defend Belgium's recently violated neutrality. Although this committed it to war with Germany, none of the Dominions hesitated in offering their broadly unconditional backing of the decision. This support came despite a period during which a number of senior Dominion figures had expressed growing anxieties about their relationship with London. Few doubts existed within the British government, however, that Dominion assistance would be offered.10 With large populations of, in many cases, only recently arrived British settlers, emotional ties and moral concerns about the wider implications of German actions provided obvious stimuli for participation.11 At the beginning of the conflict the British Empire covered some 13 million square miles, within which there were nearly 500 million inhabitants. From this total the four white Dominions alone provided over 1,309,000 men, sending troops to fight not just in France but to every front in which fighting took place, from Samoa to Siberia. Vimy, Gallipoli and Delville Wood were just some of the celebrated battles in which the Dominion forces played a prominent part. New Zealand alone voluntarily sent about 20 per cent of its male population abroad. And with such a high level of involvement casualties were proportionately large, with 150,000 Dominion troops dead or missing by the conflict's conclusion. Australia, with a total population of only about five million people, suffered more casualties than the United States.12

Most scholars agree the war produced confusing signals about the Empire's future for those who fought it; some saw greater cohesion, others divergence.13 The horrendous casualty figures certainly placed enormous strains on the unity of the wartime coalition. Lloyd George's summons in spring 1917 for the Dominions' leaders to visit London produced high drama, confusion and false hopes, both at the time and during the post-war years. To federationists such as the members of The Round Table it seemed the great day was finally at hand. The then British Prime Minister David Lloyd George publicly transformed the discussions with Dominion leaders into what became styled as an 'Imperial War Cabinet', but this was misleading. There was intimate consultation as the Dominion leaders joined their British colleagues for 14 Cabinet meetings. But it remained only consultation; the British War Cabinet retained executive direction of the war. On the other hand few outsiders fully grasped this at the time, especially after Lloyd George added civilian and military advisers to the discussions and promoted it to a full-blown Imperial War Conference. Through 15 formal sessions those at the table discovered first-hand that even when the British 'family' lined up shoulder to shoulder to fight a titanic struggle the idea of 'Imperial Defence' was still a complicated one. The Australian leader W. M. 'Billy' Hughes did not arrive until mid-April; he was delayed by an acrimonious general election fought mainly over the question of conscription for overseas service. Louis Botha was convinced that his fellow Dominion leaders would be 'a damned nuisance' getting in the way of a busy British government and decided not to attend at all, remaining in South Africa to make sure the fractious Union stayed in the war. He sent in his place a minister who would remain a central figure in the British Empire's subsequent development, General Jan Christian Smuts. Joining them were William Ferguson Massey from New Zealand and Robert Borden from Canada.14

Just in time for the Empire to fight the grim attritional battles of 1917, this Imperial War Conference produced the political commitment Lloyd George needed. Dominion power added a vital increment to British economic and military strength everywhere. But practical experience sparked more movement in arrangements for Imperial Defence. At the spring meeting Smuts posed the pivotal question 'How are we to keep together this Empire?' Borden proposed what became the official reply, Resolution IX. The British and Dominion governments agreed the war was too pressing to allow them to sit down and formally adjust 'the constitutional relations of the component parts of the Empire' but also agreed this must be done as soon as the war was over. And any adjustment must start from the agreement the Dominions were 'autonomous nations of an Imperial Commonwealth' with a right to 'an adequate voice in foreign policy' and to 'effective arrangements for continuous consultation in all important matters of common Imperial concern'. Smuts saw the problem: it would do more harm than good to try to combine formal executive centralization in an Imperial Parliament with the self-governing responsibilities of each separate Dominion Parliament. Round Table insiders such as Curtis soon realized that cooperation in Imperial Defence was only being pushed forward by sheer military necessity, and this was promoting Dominion nationalism and sense of identity at least as strongly as any common imperial identity.15

Post-war analysts focused closely on the constitutional questions raised by this public declaration. For the first time it had defined the Dominions as 'autonomous nations of an Imperial Commonwealth' who had supported the British war only as a result of 'mutual consultation'. The formal use of the new term 'Commonwealth' sparked great attention despite Lord Rosebery having pointed the way at a speech in Adelaide over 20 years beforehand.16 The New Zealand leader saw it as a major step towards an Imperial Parliament. The Resolution in fact turned out to be a promise by the British to take more seriously Dominion demands for a voice in return for sharing the burden, and not a Dominion pledge to commit more closely to any formal imperial machinery. The British had to make such a promise; the nature of the war dictated it with the rapidly deteriorating military position. The authorities in London needed to placate the concerns of the Dominion leaders who had temporarily relocated to the Empire's capital and help them find some relief from the growing criticism they faced back at home about an increasingly unpopular war. With its formal description of what had previously been a sometime vague relationship, as Curtis and his cohorts had feared, the resolution appeared to ensure that the Dominions would approach their future political dealings with Britain in a different manner. In the Canadian case it was said that this agreement was seen as signalling that the Dominion had reached full nationhood within the Empire. One of the most recent volumes on the subject is no doubt right to conclude that four themes in the end shaped the Great War for the Dominions: their military and economic contributions and the price they paid for both; divisions in public opinion about the war; the central direction of the war; the question of status. By 1918 'the coalition of the usually willing drove to total victory—but then faced the issue of where to go next'.17

Following the war's end, the members of the wartime alliance lost no time in demonstrating how they intended to use their newly secured status. Resolution IX had stated that foreign policy would no longer be made solely by Whitehall but, instead, would be based upon 'continuous consultation'.18 And for the peace conferences that followed the war's end, despite some reluctance by Lloyd George, who had first invited them to London, the right to separate Dominion representation was secured. As a consequence, for the first time, each attending delegate signed the official documents on behalf of his own government. Smuts believed this to be a critical development, equal status had been affirmed by the very fact that Dominion and British statesmen had been present together but at the same time separately.19 Hostility from the Dominions about the British government's response to the 'Chanak Crisis' in 1922 showed that pre-war security guarantees could no longer be counted upon. Indeed, as the again separate signing of the Locarno Treaty three years later emphasized, each of the Dominion governments was now prepared to exercise to the full the autonomy from British policy it felt it enjoyed.20

As important as the decisions reached by the politicians was the process upon which this radical experiment was grounded, the machinery of government that would oversee its management. A pledge phrased in very general terms at the 1907 Conference by the then colonial secretary, Lord Elgin, and given largely in deference to calls from the overseas politicians present, confirmed that the British government would create a governmental body to deal exclusively with the Dominions. Much of the impetus for this move came from the knowledge that many Dominions' statesmen had grown to dislike having to deal with the Colonial Office (CO), the long-established Whitehall department that oversaw relations with them. Alfred Deakin, Australia's second prime minister, was typical in his belief that the department had 'a certain impenetrability, a certain remoteness, a certain weariness of people much pressed with affairs and greatly overburdened, whose natural desire is to say "kindly postpone this; do not press this; do not trouble us; what does it matter. We have enough to do already?".'21 Post-conference, a reorganization was duly undertaken and three divisions were created within the CO, one of which was to be solely responsible for administering the relationship with the Dominions.22 Calls continued both at home and abroad for further reforms to be carried out. During the years immediately prior to the outbreak of hostilities with the Central Powers within Whitehall there was certainly a mounting sense of interest in the Dominions. The CO even found its dominant role challenged by both the Foreign Office (FO) and the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID).23 A complete re-allocation of ministerial responsibilities and the creation of an entirely separate Dominions' department was suggested at one point but ultimately there was scant support for such proposals.24

The experiences of the First World War highlighted the continued need for changes to be made to the way in which the Anglo-Dominion alliance functioned but both wartime governments steadfastly rejected the need for any separate administrative body. Even the more modest suggestion that the title of colonial secretary might be altered to encompass a reference to the Dominions was roundly dismissed. One of the most significant post-war catalysts was the inability or unwillingness of successive governments in London to consult the Dominions over vital foreign policy decisions.25 This had caused mounting tensions, most notably in 1922 during the dispute between the British and Turkish governments discussed earlier.26 The disagreements which this caused were not the only source of complaint; Ramsay MacDonald's first Labour government's recognition of the Soviet Union in 1924, without any prior discussion with the Dominions, caused great upset. But with the announcement in November of the same year that Leopold Amery was to become colonial secretary in the new Conservative government, a substantial change in the relationship would not be long in coming. In accepting the position Amery had stipulated to Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin that he 'should be allowed to create a new and entirely separate office to deal with the Dominions'. The new secretary of state had long been a critic of, amongst other things, the CO's continuing responsibility for Dominion affairs and the manner in which it managed relations with the Imperial partners. As far as Amery was concerned the essential point to be borne in mind was that 'the Dominion and Colonial work are essentially different in character, as different as the work of the Foreign Office from that of the Admiralty. The Dominions work is entirely political and diplomatic. The Colonial work is administrative and directive. The one calls for great insight and infinite tact. The other for initiative and drive.'27 His argument in fact called for London to make it far more apparent that it held its dealing with the Dominion governments to be 'wholly different in character from the administration of the dependent Empire', and he called for the relationship to be formally placed on an equal level.28

Despite his drive and passion for the project, it was not until the middle of June 1925, eight months after he had first been appointed, that the 'sudden' announcement was made to the House of Commons of the DO's establishment; a department that would be headed by Amery in addition to his continuing oversight of the CO. Much of the delay had been caused by the Westminster debate that had followed the release of the Scott Committee's report which outlined the financial implications associated with the establishment of a new department.29 The argument put forward by Treasury Chambers was that this was merely duplicating existing duties and so adding to costs. In defending the necessity for change however, both Amery and Baldwin were quick to point to the differences in the nature of the departmental work involved in Dominion relations, on the one hand, and colonial administration on the other.30 The colonial secretary's cause was helped, not just by the strong backing he enjoyed from the prime minister, but also the high profile he had established for himself in the public eye.31 But it remained Amery's sheer determination to see Dominion affairs separately managed which in many ways ultimately enabled him to overcome the many obstacles he faced. Such was his passion that he even managed to persuade at least some of his opponents to soften their hostility towards the 'Foreign Office with a family feeling'.32 It would still take another five years though before his desire for a truly separate ministry responsible for the Dominions would be fully realized.

From the date of its establishment the DO operated out of the 'Government Offices, Whitehall, North Block', a building of five floors, one below ground level, located at the corner of Whitehall and Downing Street which was the CO's home.33 Known affectionately by those who worked within it as 'the Office', the DO remained here for the whole of its short existence. The building had originally been erected between 1862 and 1875; the famous architect Sir George Gilbert Scott presiding over a controversial project which initially suffered repeated delays from the interventions of the then foreign secretary, Lord Palmerston. In order that a self-contained area might be found for its new, junior colleague, the CO was reorganized and the DO took rooms in the basement, ground and first floors on the Whitehall front of the building. In the first-floor corridor a partition was erected, largely for the benefit of outsiders, although it was said to be difficult to point to an actual boundary between the two departments.34 The majority of the department's staff was actually located in a cluster of rooms on the ground and first floors.35 Some of these overlooked Whitehall and the Cenotaph, the remainder the prime minister's residence at No. 10 Downing Street.36 Above these rooms there was the library and below the Telegraph Section, both of which were common to the two departments. Although Amery thought it would not create 'the slightest difficulty or possibility of friction', for many years to come some of those moved would 'look with envious eyes at the comparatively few rooms [the DO] occupied'.37 Conditions were often difficult as space was at a premium and there were few luxuries. During the original construction period the CO's staff had petitioned about the unsatisfactory working conditions they faced. The greatest complaint was that 'the sky was visible through a large hole in the roof with rain and snow running down into one room'.38 As for the room for the secretary of state for Dominion affairs, on the Whitehall front, it was said to 'lack the splendour of the Colonial Secretary's room and was apt to be noisy'. But despite expenditure on the interior being kept to a bare minimum, a report prepared just before the outbreak of the Second World War nevertheless proved quite complimentary about the building's structure and its well-built, thick, solid walls and high ceilings.39

From the outset the department faced considerable challenges. Perhaps the most immediate was the fact that, according to one of the DO's own people, not everybody in Whitehall was willing 'to accept the full implications of equal partnership'.40 Put in another fashion, this meant that for the majority of the 22 years it existed, with only limited resources and manpower, the department's often difficult job was to try and reconcile the agendas of seven different governments, its own being one of them. Indeed the DO often found itself having 'to act as the conscience of the British government to ensure that they lived up to their part of the bargain'. It was widely derided by other civil servants and even the Dominions themselves were not always entirely sure as to its role.41 Even one of its own could only conclude that there were no grounds to claim 'that the DO ever loomed large on the stage in Britain itself or that it made any dramatic impact on Parliament, the Press or public opinion. Indeed to a wider public it remained largely unknown ... In Parliament, the fixed opinion died hard that [it] was nothing but a Post Office'.42 Meanwhile its senior cousin strode like a colossus. The Canadian diplomat Lester Pearson offered his assessment from his many years spent watching from Canada House:

The Dominions Office, in its people, its attitudes, and atmosphere, was similar to other civil service departments. But the Foreign Office was the Holy of Holies, occupied by an aristocratic, well-endowed elite who formed part of the British diplomatic service, and who saw to it that the imperial interest was protected and enlarged in accord with policies worked out in their high-ceilinged, frescoed Victorian offices, to be accepted, they usually assumed, by their political masters in Cabinet and Parliament.43

Making matters worse, if the new department were to have any chance of success, it was essential that it maintained a strong voice in the decision-making process of the British government, and at the earliest possible stage. Only then could it keep policy-makers informed of any difficulties that it believed their proposed approach might create. Instead, the DO found itself often faced by a certain degree of distrust and even disdain from within Whitehall, with the commonly made complaint that it was 'much too inclined to take the extreme Dominion, as opposed to the Imperial, point of view'.44 Hostility such as this made it hard for the department to secure any real measure of influence at the critical stages of policy formulation. Certainly in its early years even some of those who were generally supportive could see the new office as no more than 'a quasi-diplomatic machine', to be short-circuited on urgent occasions.45 Faced by growing Dominion requests for information from London, the DO almost inevitably therefore tried to achieve a compromise between those parties concerned while facing complaints from each side that its case was not being sufficiently pressed.46

Politically there were big developments to match the changes that had taken place in Whitehall. Lengthy negotiations were being conducted behind the scenes between London and various Dominion politicians in which some sympathy was shown towards claims that there should now be a more publicly developed role for them in international affairs. The British rationale, although it was never stated, seemed to be based upon a belief that the Dominions should take greater responsibility for their own problems, leaving the authorities in London free to focus on more important 'Great Power' issues. These negotiations were effectively made public at the 1926 Imperial Conference, with the celebrated opening address given to the Committee of Inter-Imperial Relations by the Lord President of the Council, Lord Balfour. The famous declaration, which Amery claimed to be his idea, identified Great Britain and the Dominions as autonomous communities within the British Empire, united by a common allegiance to the Crown, but freely associated and equal in status to one another in all matters domestic and external.47 What this did was 'to emphasize the complete equality of status between the United Kingdom and the Dominions. It in fact made the United Kingdom one of the Dominions.' It did not transform self-governing colonies into Dominions, 'that particular transformation had taken place well before the war'.48

With the 1931 Statute of Westminster, which attempted to formalize it and other, earlier statements, the Balfour Declaration provided the basis from which analysis of the inter-war Anglo-Dominion relationship would be conducted.49 The provisions of the statute dealt only with the removal of certain legal restrictions on the power of the Dominions. From this point on Britain could only legislate for a Dominion at its request and with its permission. The Dominions could also repeal or amend Acts that had their origin in Westminster but also affected them. As one report written much later—in 1946—by a member of the DO put it, this document was a 'landmark' in the British Empire's constitutional development as it established legally the equality of the Dominions with Britain and 'their complete independence to this country, subject only to the binding link of the Crown'. The Sovereign was still common, Britain's king remained their king, they shared a common allegiance to the Crown and the inhabitants of the Dominions were still deemed to be 'British subjects'.50 Crucially, in Balfour's opinion, it was 'the only constitution possible if the British Empire is to [continue] to exist'.51 The statute would be adopted formally by each of the Dominions but it would take time. It was an offer for the Dominions to accept and, in the case of the last to do so, New Zealand, it was not until late November 1947 that the Adoption Act was passed finally in its own parliament.52

The importance of constitutional change remains influential in any study of the Dominions' relationship with Britain; one argument has it that the statute marked the creation of a 'Third Empire' of real partners, the ultimate triumph of the 'liberal empire' concept. British world power came to depend more and more upon this relationship, the 'economic resources, manpower reserves and political fidelity' of the Dominions turned them into vital Imperial assets.53 On the other side of the equation migration, commerce, common ideals and sentiment were just some of the factors that kept them bound to Britain.54 There was now both legal recognition and an administrative apparatus in place but their often complicated national characteristics presented considerable problems for Whitehall. Canada, geographically within the North American continent, contained a growing body of opinion that saw the United States as having become more important to it than Britain.55 Added to this was the fact that by 1939 over one-third of the population were French-speaking, the vast majority of these living in Quebec. Although liberal opinion in the country as a whole was generally internationalist in outlook, this province tended to be far more isolationist, saving its energies for promoting the idea of the Canadian nation. This meant that in terms of the Dominion idea there was scant support within the province and amongst the significant proportion of the national population that it contained. In an attempt to reconcile the French-dominated province and maintain some sense of national unity, successive Canadian leaders chose to keep consultation with Britain and the other members of the Commonwealth of Nations on an informal level.

The issues attached to the Union of South Africa were much more difficult. In 1906, when he was still just A. J. Balfour, the later Declaration writer had described plans to establish the Union as 'the most reckless experiment ever tried in the development of a great colonial policy' and with good reason.56 In the first instance, out of a total population of just over 11 million people, fewer than one quarter were of European origin, and of these some 60 per cent were Afrikaans-speaking against 40 per cent English-speaking. In proportion to numbers the latter played a comparatively small part in politics, their interests instead lying predominantly in the domination of industry and commerce. One contemporary writer noted that it was not easy for the English reader to recognize just how fundamentally apart the Afrikaans and English-speaking sections of the population were. As a consequence somebody looking from Britain would be 'apt to look upon South Africa as he does upon any other British possession that will spring like a young whelp to the defence of the Commonwealth and Empire'.57 In a devastating report written to London in October 1932, the British high commissioner left the Dominions secretary in little doubt about the serious nature of the political situation in the Union. Sir Herbert Stanley's conclusion was stark, 'the doctrine of sovereign independence is being pressed to a point at which membership of the Commonwealth becomes barely distinguishable from an alliance between friendly but foreign Powers'. The British connection was hanging 'upon a slender thread'.58 Many of the key figures dealing with Whitehall were men with distinctly Anglophobe outlooks who were opposed not just to the Dominion idea but to the British Empire as a whole. Generals J. B. M. Hertzog and Jan Smuts, the old Boer War colleagues, existed in an often uneasy coalition, the United Party overseeing a country which reflected the government, a sometimes unstable collection of peoples differing in language, religion and outlook.59 Even those individuals who were committed supporters of Britain, most notably Smuts, retained doubts about how the Union should respond in the event of another war in Europe.60 The full cabinet was only consulted intermittently; the prime minister's preferred style of leadership was to make a statement of his preferences when it met and expect its approval rather than to pursue any attempt at genuine consultation. Hertzog was secretive by nature and had 'the virtues and weaknesses of an autocrat'.61

The two Dominions either side of the Tasman Sea, at the south-western edge of the South Pacific Ocean, apparently presented less cause for concern in London. Australia's approach differed considerably from that adopted by both Canada and the Union as its connections with, and indeed dependence on, Britain was far more pronounced. With its 'White Australia' policy actively discouraging the immigration of non-British Europeans, by 1939 nearly 90 per cent of the country's population came from the British Isles. Although the government in Canberra remained proud of the autonomy attached to its Dominion status, during the inter-war years there was a lack of interest in foreign affairs and a general willingness to defer to British policy. The only noticeable exception to this rule was the situation in the Far East. In neighbouring New Zealand, held by many within Whitehall to be 'the dutiful Dominion', there was an even greater sense of commitment to the 'Imperial Idea'.62 There was no mockery when a senior New Zealand government figure commented that the people of the Dominion tended to look at the Empire through English eyes—'it is English history that has been important and the parts of the world generally coloured red. The adult New Zealander knows more of Charles I, of Robert Clive, of Francis Drake and the rest than he does of the Treaty of Waitangi'.63 Amery had confirmed this view when he returned to London following his 1928 Empire tour and told his cabinet colleagues that in New Zealand he had found support for the Empire to be 'a passion almost a religion'.64 The government in Wellington was 'emotionally content to be seen as dependent'.65 The New Zealand high commissioner in London, William Jordan, although sometimes concerned about the direction of British policy also was vehement in his support for the 'Mother Country': as he told a group of British and Dominion statesmen 'New Zealand believed in the British Commonwealth of Nations. It would be beside Great Britain always. If Great Britain was at war, New Zealand would be at war.'66

A key feature determining how London and the Dominions reacted to one another was finance and the global economy. In 1897 Canada had been the first of them to introduce a conditional form of 'Imperial Preference' into its tariff. From this point onwards, escalating economic dependency effectively required all of the far-flung Dominions to retain the closest possible link with the fiscal actions of the authorities in London.67 Figures for trade between Britain and its Empire before 1914 reveal a mixed picture. Less than a quarter of all imports came from the Empire: staples were especially significant with foodstuffs such as tea, cheese and spices all being major imports; certain raw materials were also significant, most obviously jute and tin. Exports were different, however, with just under 200 million pounds, or 37.2 per cent of all goods, going to the Empire. Although India was perhaps the largest market, the Dominions also took a significant share. The Empire was useful as a market for goods that faced major international competition but the pattern of imports was such that the Empire could not offer any real measure of independence to Britain in terms of a guaranteed supply of essential imports.68 The 'Final Report of the Dominions Royal Commission', released in 1917, recommended that there be greater exploitation of Dominion resources and it is clear that after 1919 the 'white Empire' did play a much greater role in Britain's trade.69

The global financial crisis that worsened at the beginning of the 1930s only confirmed this, now placing even greater emphasis on the role played by the British government. With the world's economies in turmoil, at the Imperial Economic Conference held at Ottawa in September 1932, the importance of protective 'Imperial Preference' measures was re-endorsed by all sides. This took place against a backdrop of generally deteriorating political relations and the raising of more questions about the durability of the Dominion idea.70 But there seemed few economic alternatives to the agreements and although future commercial relations were often worse rather than better, the fiscal policies accepted by the Dominion governments kept them close to London, in mind if not always in heart. Following Ottawa there was a considerable increase in trade, with 41.2 per cent of all Britain's exports between 1934 and 1938 going to the Dominions and one-quarter of all goods imported into the British market. By the Second World War's outbreak the Dominions were effectively no less financially dependent on Britain than they had been 25 years before.

The Dominions' statesmen who visited from distant shores did not always find a warm welcome awaiting them at the Empire's heart. Walter Nash, one of the key political figures of the new administration, had publicly confirmed that 'the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom are loved by the people of New Zealand'.71 Nonetheless, as his biographer has noted, visiting London pre-war meant dealing with people who could be difficult as 'their frame of mind was usually that of weary, impatient schoolmasters; their tone tart and superior. It did not alter much if they were dealing with a rough ignoramus or someone much better read than themselves.'72 In light of this it seems hard to disagree with those who have wondered how the DO was able to function at all, prior to 1939, other than in 'mounting salvage operations to limit the harm caused by differences between the Dominions and the British Government'.73 The inter-war environment had proven to be a sometimes difficult and complicated one for the department, and by the late 1930s the political relationship between the British government and its often apparently disinterested Dominion counterparts had changed. As international tensions worsened, fears grew that the emergence of a significant threat might test the unity of what some now referred to as the 'Commonwealth of Nations'.74 When meeting in London for the 1937 Imperial Conference, with Germany's increasingly belligerent attitude much in the minds of those present, it seemed that such a challenge had emerged. As the statesmen of the various Dominions indicated that their thinking lay squarely in terms of conciliation, within the DO the focus moved to considering what might happen should this approach fail.75

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