File No. 855.48/249

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Germany (Gerard)


1547. Belgian Commission of Relief, London, desires substance of following brought to attention of Foreign Office:

The action of the German Minister at The Hague in declining to issue safe-conduct passes to relief ships from Rotterdam to British [Page 1037] ports seems to be contrary to the spirit of the German agreement to pass ships engaged in this humanitarian task. The commission desires the German Government to understand: First, that while relief cargoes from America bear safe-conduct to Rotterdam from the German Ambassador at Washington, they are compelled to call at Falmouth to secure permission from British Admiralty to proceed. Thus they are compelled [to] touch at British ports. Secondly, owing to high prices of food supplies, nearly one-half relief cargoes are now River Plata and Indian cargoes bought afloat, which come into Falmouth for orders and only at this point come under the control of the commission, and at Falmouth they receive commission markings and British permit to proceed. Therefore the commission asks to be supplied from The Hague with German safe-conduct passes which the Legation can hand to captains at Falmouth to carry them to Rotterdam. Thirdly, practically all the commission’s ships are engaged for only one single voyage and ships leave the commission’s service not when they have discharged at Rotterdam, but when they have returned in ballast to their next loading port, which is almost universally United Kingdom. Even when engaged for second voyage they must under British orders call at United Kingdom port, and in any event usually must do so for coal. Commission is unable to induce ships to go to Rotterdam unless they can be assured safe return. Therefore the commission deems it necessary to have right to secure from German Minister at The Hague upon application safe-conduct passes from United Kingdom ports to Rotterdam, and likewise on application at The Hague, to receive passes for ships from Rotterdam to United Kingdom or other port whither they proceed in ballast. Otherwise British Admiralty will refuse to issue any permits for British ships to proceed to Rotterdam, and as there are practically only British ships available, the whole business comes to an end. All these ships carry plain markings of the commission, and the commission puts every ship under bond to surrender markings upon reaching destination of her service. British Government has agreed to prevent use of these markings for any other purpose than the commission’s work.

For your confidential information, Ambassador Page states:

The German Minister at The Hague must be quickly instructed from Berlin to give safe-passage permits to commission ships both ways; else the work of the commission will come to speedy end and starvation will follow. Neither commission nor I believe that German Government deliberately wish to stop commission’s work. We believe the trouble is with German Minister at The Hague who will not listen to commission but must be reached from Berlin.