Sir Alexander Cadogan

Sir Alexander Cadogan. Reference: Cadogan Papers, ACAD 1/19.

The United Nations celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2015. The Churchill Archives Centre holds the papers of a number of individuals connected with the UN, including those of the senior diplomat Sir Alexander Cadogan (1884-1968), who in February 1946 became the first Permanent Representative of the UK at the newly established headquarters of the United Nations Organisation in Lake Success, New York.

Cadogan had a long and varied career in the diplomatic service: after heading up the small but influential League of Nations section of the Foreign Office during the 1920s, he took a short posting to Beijing as Britain’s first ambassador to the Republic of China in 1933, and succeeded Robert Vansittart as Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in 1938. A key delegate at a number of major Allied conferences during WWII, Cadogan had been the senior British representative at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in 1944 and the drafting of the United Nations charter in San Francisco in 1945. Upon his retirement from the UN in 1950, the diplomat was appointed a government director to the Suez Canal Company and, (despite confessing to journalists that he had never seen a BBC television programme), chairman of the board of governors of the BBC. Between 1933 and 1968, Cadogan found the time to document his experiences and relationships in an almost daily diary, leaving a fascinating personal record of the unfolding of global politics and diplomacy during war and peace.

Cadogan’s newly-established post at the UN required formidable tact and diplomatic skill, at a precarious moment for Britain as a world power. As David Dilks, editor of the diplomat’s wartime diaries, suggests, “Cadogan contrived to exercise an influence at the UN out of all proportion to British material strength”. A report from the Sunday Dispatch announcing Cadogan’s departure from the Foreign Office in February 1946 declared:

“Foreigners create in their own minds a conception of what a British ambassador should be. He must have good though reserved manners. He must be cleverer than he looks. He must keep his balance in any storm. […] Certainly his colleagues on the Security Council will not be disappointed in Sir Alec.”
(Reference: ACAD 2/7)

Over the next few years, Cadogan would play a key role in tricky negotiations surrounding disarmament and the uses of atomic energy; the Soviet Union’s expansion into Eastern Europe and the Berlin Blockade; the Partition of India and the Indo-Pakistani war over Kashmir; the UN Partition Plan for Palestine and the first Arab-Israeli conflict; the Chinese Communist Revolution; as well as the day-to-day development of a whole host of committees, bureaucratic procedures, and the admission of new member states.

The post-war diaries also provide a rich source on the social and cultural life of a diplomat in New York at the peak of his career, including a constant whirl of dinners, shopping, concerts, and Broadway shows. During quieter periods, Cadogan appears to have given over a significant proportion of time to what he described as ‘lazing’: playing golf and the fashionable society card game ‘Oklahoma’, enjoying walks in the sun and snow on Long Island, and reading classic novels like Jane Eyre (“a terrific story</em>"; ACAD 1/17). The diary for 1947 (ACAD 1/18) almost met a tragic end when the diplomat accidentally packed it alongside an open bottle of whisky in his attaché case (though as Cadogan mused upon salvaging the notebook, "it is quite pleasant to write on“).

ACAD 1/18

ACAD 1/18, Cadogan’s 1947 diary, still showing the effects of being soaked in whisky.

Cadogan frequently used his diaries to record irritations and reservations which he could not afford to reveal in his public life. As he would explain in 1960 in a draft fragment of his autobiography:

“a diary is often written in time of stress, at the end perhaps of a frustrating day and at the end of one’s temper or restraint of it.”
(Reference: ACAD 7/1)

Readers of the volumes which chronicle his time in New York will discover Cadogan’s frequently exasperated opinions of the Soviet representatives at the UN as well as his private reflections on Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill’s leadership during WWII (ACAD 1/19); his reaction to Bernard Baruch’s plan to regulate the uses of nuclear power in peacetime (ACAD 1/18); his observations on the alternate members of the British delegation: “Mrs. Barbara Castle, our lady Delegate, trying to be glamorous</em>; and his thoughts upon reading the radical journalist Douglas Goldring’s memoir: "I must put M.I.5. on to him” (ACAD 1/16).

ACAD 1/19

ACAD 1/19, Cadogan’s diary for October 1948.

The collection is open to researchers and also includes correspondence, official papers, and a series of large annotated scrapbooks containing newspaper cuttings, photographs, and souvenirs illustrating every aspect of Cadogan’s career between the 1920s and the 1960s.

— Heidi Egginton, Archives Assistant

The Cadogan Papers

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