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The Imperial War Cabinet at No. 10 Downing Street in 1917

The Imperial War Cabinet was the British Empire's wartime coordinating body. The Imperial War Conferences of 1917 and 1918 were a series of meetings held concurrent with the Imperial War Cabinet to co-ordinate governance of the British Empire during the war and prepare for the post-war situation.

World War I Imperial War Cabinet

The Imperial War Cabinet was created by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George in the spring of 1917 as a means of co-ordinating the British Empire's military policy during the First World War. Its creation was the result of a recognition by Lloyd George that the increased contribution by the dominions to the war effort necessitated increased consultation with dominion governments on the conduct of the war. The body met through 1917 and 1918 and consisted of, in addition to Lloyd George: Sir Robert Borden, Prime Minister of Canada; Louis Botha and General Jan Smuts, each successively Prime Minister of South Africa; Billy Hughes, Prime Minister of Australia; Bill Massey, Prime Minister of New Zealand; and Sir James Meston, the Lieutenant-Governor of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. Other senior Ministers of the Crown from Great Britain and the dominions also served on the Imperial War Cabinet, as did Lieutenant-General His Highness Shriman Rajrajeshwar Maharajadhiraj Sri Sir Hari Singh Indar Mahindar Bahadur, Sipar-i-Sultanat, Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO and Major-General Sir Ganga Singh, the Maharaja of Bikaner, a representative of British India. Other eminent imperial statesmen in the Imperial War Cabinet were Lord Curzon, the Leader of the House of Lords and a former Viceroy of India, and Andrew Bonar Law, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons (and future British Prime Minister).

Imperial War Conferences

The Imperial War Cabinet existed concurrently with Imperial Conferences (or "Imperial War Conferences") which were held from 21 March to 27 April 1917 and from 12 June to 26 July 1918.

In April 1917, the conference passed Resolution IX which resolved a conference was to be held after the war in order to rearrange Imperial constitutional arrangements "based upon a full recognition of the Dominions as autonomous nations of an Imperial Commonwealth", and should give the Dominions and India "a right... to an adequate voice in foreign policy and in foreign relations." This was the first instance in which the term Commonwealth was used officially.[1] The Imperial War Conference acknowledged the importance of the whole empire in defence policy by admitting India, not yet self-governing, to future imperial conferences. In 1917 the Imperial War Conference also passed a resolution regarding a future special Imperial Conference to readjust the relations of the component parts of the Empire. That readjustment should be based upon the full recognition of the dominions as autonomous nations of an Imperial Commonwealth, with an "adequate voice" in foreign policy.

Second World War

Australian prime ministers Robert Menzies and John Curtin campaigned for the creation of an Imperial War Cabinet during World War II that would include representatives of all four dominions. British prime minister Winston Churchill was the unenthusiastic as he felt the concept was unwieldy and since he was tepid towards the idea of sharing authority with the dominions. Australia was unable to secure the support of the other three dominions: Canada, South Africa and New Zealand (the Irish Free State was neutral during war).[2] Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was concerned that the idea would be a step towards Imperial Federation, which he opposed, New Zealand's government was satisfied with Churchill's conduct of the war and saw no need for change while South African prime minister Jan Smuts was already a Churchill confidante and similarly saw no need to change the way the war was run. It was also felt impractical for dominion prime ministers to spend extended periods in London instead of in their own capitals and that dominion ministers appointed to sit in an Imperial Cabinet would lack the authority to make decisions.

Instead of creating an Imperial War Cabinet per se, Churchill invited Smuts and Menzies to sit in and join the deliberations of Britain's War Cabinet whenever the leaders were in London. (These meetings of the British War Cabinet have sometimes been referred to as an Imperial War Cabinet.)

Stanley Bruce, Australia's High Commissioner to London, was delegated by his government sit in on meetings of Churchill's War Cabinet. However, Churchill found Bruce's advice to be contrary to his own priorities and, as a result, Bruce found he was often not told when meetings were being held. The 1944 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference was called to obtain Commonwealth agreement to the Moscow Declaration of war aims and to co-ordinate Commonwealth efforts in the concluding years of the war and prepare for peacetime reconstruction and restructuring.

See also


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