Cadogan was born into an aristocratic family on 25 November 1884. He studied at Eton (under Arthur Benson - see also A C Benson’s inner life) and Balliol College, Oxford; and he began his working life as a civil servant in 1908. In 1912, he married Lady Theodosia Louisa Augusta Acheson, and they had four children. After being posted to Vienna in 1913, he was temporarily in charge of the British embassy when news of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (see also The Archduke’s travels) came in from the consul at Sarajevo. He returned to London a few weeks later, once Britain had declared war on Austria-Hungary.
For 20 years, Cadogan rose up the diplomatic ladder in the Foreign Office, heading a small, but influential, League of Nations section. Between 1933 and 1936, Cadogan was posted to Peking, where he established a good relationship with Chiang Kai-shek (see also Chiang Kai-shek’s diaries). Against his own inclination, he was obliged to enact a British policy towards China that was compromised by its need to stay friendly with Japan, a country that had growing military and political ambitions in China. In 1935, Cadogan’s legation was upgraded to an embassy, and he was promoted to ambassador. However, the following year, the foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, invited him back to London to become deputy under-secretary in the Foreign Office. By 1938 Cadogan had been made permanent under-secretary - the highest ranking civil servant in the Foreign Office.
Cadogan assumed an increasingly important role through the Second World War with both Winston Churchill and Eden relying on his advice and efficient administration. At one point, it was even rumoured he himself might be appointed foreign secretary. After the war, he was appointed the first Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations, a position he retained until 1950. Subsequently, he served as chairman of the governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation until 1957. He died in 1968. Cadogan was widely respected for his ability, character, and experience, and he enjoyed much prestige in diplomatic circles, though never became a public figure as such. He was admitted to the Privy Council in 1946, and appointed to the Order of Merit in 1951. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Cadogan Family Archive, or The Peerage.
Cadogan kept a regular diary from the beginning of 1933 to the last year of his life. It was first edited by David Dilks and published in 1971 by Cassell & Company as The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, OM, 1938-1945. The fact that Cadogan had kept a diary was known for a good 20 years prior to this: various authors - not least Winston Churchill - used a few extracts in their own publications. But only one author had seen the full manuscript before then - Sir Llewellyn Woodward who compiled the official history of British foreign policy in the Second World War.
There is every reason, Dilks says in his introduction, to believe that Sir Alec Cadogan’s diary reflects faithfully his official advice, although the language and style are different. It would be easy but most misleading, he continues, to conclude that the diary somehow represents the ‘real man’: ‘It reflects a part of him - the dry wit, quick grip of essentials, intense practicality and lack of illusions - but distorts other features; for whereas a reader of the Diary might imagine Cadogan to have lived in a fever of irritability, most people who saw him at work day by day believed him to personify calm, moderation and common sense.’
The diary was a place, David Dilks explains, where Cadogan could express himself without restraint, ‘a comforting outlet in a life of excessive burden and business’. He was only rarely reflective in the diary, not given to self-examination; and nor did he make any attempt to be literary: ‘a telegraphic style saved precious minutes’. Until 1947, when Cadogan began to type, each entry was handwritten, usually after dinner or when he had finished the evening’s boxes.
13 February 1942
‘German battle-cruisers eluded us and must be home by now. Another blow. Poor Winston must be in a state.’
15 February 1942
‘Winston broadcast at 9. Announced fall of Singapore. His broadcast not very good - rather apologetic and I think Parliament will take it as an attempt to appeal over their heads to the country - to avoid parliamentary criticism.’
28 February 1942
‘Found P.M. had sent a rather silly telegram to Stalin. Cancelled it (or held it up) and rang up A [Anthony Eden, Foreign Secretary]. He agreed and I sent him down some modifications and additions.’
3 March 1942
‘10.45 meeting with A. and others about this wretched message to Stalin. P.M. evidently reacted strongly last night against our alterations. I still say that it’s worse that nothing to send the P.M.’s original draft painting a black picture with a hint of blacker to come. But A. evidently thinks he can’t over-persuade P.M. . . . Department produced yet two more drafts of P.M. message as a result of our meeting this morning. I can do no more - I am confused by drafts: there are now at least five. If the P.M. accepts any it will be the one nearest to his original. Heard later from Ismay that A. had approved both the new drafts! I don’t know what that means, as they were quite different! Fact is P.M. is in a sour mood - ill, I think - and frightens anyone - including A. I quite sympathise with them!’
4 April 1944
‘Several of the more disreputable papers canvass my appointment as S. of S. - deprecating it. I most cordially agree with them! Jim Thomas tells me it’s been going all round the Lobbies, on the grounds that that is what P.M. wants - so that he should have complete control of F.A., I suppose! He may have toyed with the idea, but it’s a bad one.’
10 April 1944
‘Went to ‘Something for the Boys’ at the Coliseum. An American musical show, slick without being tuneful, well-drilled and quite uninteresting. There was one good tune. The rest was jazz, which all sounds alike to me - a pulsating noise, such as one hears when one has run upstairs too fast . . . Shall have an awful fortnight with the P.M. in charge [of the F.O.], complicated by Stettinius [US Under-Secretary of State], but hope to get through.’
17 July 1944
‘Not much doing in the morning. 4.45 talk with A. and others about Turkey. In view of Soviet (and U.S.) attitude, I think we must press them to declare war. But there are many considerations against. 5.30 Cabinet, which is becoming more and more rambling, disorderly and voluble. News not bad, but not v. good. What are we doing in Normandy - with 1,229,000 men and a mass of material (255,000 vehicles! Over a million tons of stores!) Maybe we have plan. There is no inkling of it. Cabinet agreed we must go for the Turks coming into war. I slipped away at 8.10! Cabinet having several other items to take. P.M. is evidently ageing, and the rambling talk is frightful. Whatever little the Cabinet settled would have been settled in 7 mins. under Neville Chamberlain.’
1 December 1944
‘Went to see P.M. (in bed) with Alexander, Lyttelton and Bevin, about Italian prisoners. P.M., who looked a bit ruffled, said ‘Excuse me receiving you like this, but this is the morning after the night before.’! He must have had a hell of a birthday party!’
24 February 1945
‘3.15 walked into Green Park. Spent about 5 mins watching a baseball match. It’s the silliest - and the dullest - game I’ve ever seen. I’d sooner play dominoes with mangold wurzels. Back at the F.O. about 4. Yellow crocuses well out, some purple in flower and a few white. Forsythia just showing yellow. Not too much work. Home at 7.’
The Diary Junction