Source 9

Letter to Winston Churchill from Clement Attlee, 4 July 1947

Reference

CHUR 2/43 B (images 284 and 285)

Simplified Transcript

Prime Minister (Stamp)

10, Downing Street,
Whitehall

4 July, 1947.

My dear Churchill,

I’ve delayed replying to your letter until I’d heard from the Viceroy [Mountbatten] on the point about the title of the Bill. Owing to the time factor, it was impossible to make a change even if it were desirable.

I don’t agree with the point you make. Dominion Prime Ministers [such as Australia and Canada] constantly stress the point that they’re independent States within the British Commonwealth. They recognise the King is important but they’re independent countries.

I think this helps to prevent countries claiming complete independence and keeps them in the Commonwealth. This is, in fact, the meaning of Dominion Status.

Yours sincerely

C R Attlee.

Original Transcript

Prime Minister (Stamp)
10, Downing Street,
Whitehall

4th July, 1947.

My dear Churchill

I have delayed replying to your letter while awaiting any further communication from the Viceroy on the point raised by your colleagues as to the title of the Bill. Owing to the time factor, it was impossible to make a change even if it was desirable.

I do not agree with the point which you make. Dominion Prime Ministers constantly stress the point that they are independent States within the British Commonwealth. They bear allegiance to The King who is The King of all the Dominions. The insistence on independence does not touch the point of allegiance, but emphasizes the complete freedom of every member of the Commonwealth from control by any other member.
I…
I think this is a most valuable counter to the demand for independence outside the Commonwealth as it shows that this demand can be satisfied within it. This is, in fact, the meaning of Dominion Status.

Yours sincerely

C.R. Attlee.


The Right Honourable Winston S. Churchill,
O.M., C.H., F.R.S., M.P.

What is this source?

This is a letter to Churchill from Clement Attlee, 4 July 1947
 

Background to this source

This letter is a reply to Churchill’s letter to Attlee (Source 8) sent on 1 July 1947. Attlee was the Prime Minister of the Labour Government that drew up plans to grant independence to India. Churchill was the leader of the opposition Conservative Party and was deeply worried about the plans. He objected to the use of the term ‘Independence’ because the new legislation was supposed to grant India and Pakistan dominion status. This meant they recognised the British King, George VI, as their head of state and Britain would retain some influence over the country. Attlee made it clear that other dominions such as Australia and Canada were independent countries even though they recognised the British king as their head of state.

Clement Attlee had become Prime Minister in July 1945 after the Labour Party won the General Election held at the end of the Second World War. The Labour Government supported the principle of independence for India and in February 1947 it announced that British India would become fully independent by June 1948 at the latest. In June 1947 Attlee’s government agreed a plan with the Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, to bring about an early transfer of power on 15 August 1947 and to partition British India into two new independent countries – India and Pakistan. This would result in the partition of the provinces of Bengal and Punjab.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember, we’re hoping that the source can be useful to us in investigating whether opinion in Britain was divided on the question of Indian independence. The sources can be analysed in two ways.

Surface level

  1. Why had Attlee taken 3 days to respond to Churchill?
  2. How did Attlee disagree with Churchill?
  3. Why does Attlee say Dominion status is important to the Commonwealth?

Deeper level

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

 

  On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
This letter is useful because it is a private letter between two politicians showing Attlee’s views.
   
This letter only tells us about Attlee and nothing about Churchill.    
This letter tells us nothing about what other people thought about Indian independence.
   
There is evidence that some people in Britain supported Indian independence.    
There is evidence that some people in Britain opposed Indian independence.    

 

Need help interpreting the source?

The Indian Independence Bill established the following:

  • British India was to be divided into two new countries of India and Pakistan, from 15 August 1947;
  • The provinces of Bengal and Punjab would each be partitioned between the new countries;
  • Britain would have a representative of the King called the Governor-General in the countries.
  • The semi-autonomous areas of India known as princely states would be able to choose which country they wished to join.
  • The title ‘Emperor of India’ would be abolished and no longer used by the British King.

Explore the guide to interpreting letters