File No. 763.72114/2819a
The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Great Britain ( Page )
The French, Russian, Belgian, Serbian, and Roumanian Governments have asked this Government through their representatives at Berne to purchase and ship food supplies for their respective prisoners in Germany and Austria-Hungary. The matter has been turned over to the American Red Cross which has it, as well as the question of sending food supplies to American prisoners, under serious consideration. Great numbers of Russian, Serbian, and Roumanian prisoners in German and Austro-Hungarian camps are asserted to be actually and presently starving, such small relief as was supplied having entirely ceased.
The American Red Cross is considering the following projects:
- The relief as urgently pressed by the Russian Government of all suffering Russian prisoners and also of all Serbian prisoners. The total relief thus projected would run as high as an average of 480 tons of war biscuit or its equivalent in food value per day. It is entirely unlikely that the American Red Cross will feel justified in undertaking any such amount of relief, even though money for the Russian portion thereof be furnished by or for the account of the Russian Government. This on account of lack of shipping facilities and independently of any political or military considerations. Nevertheless, the Department will be glad to have the views of the British Government concerning this suggestion, which is very urgently pressed upon the American Red Cross by the Russian authorities.
- The supply of Russian, Serbian, and Roumanian prisoners who are actually in hospital or are incapacitated by wounds or disease. It is estimated that the whole number of such prisoners in Germany and Austria-Hungary may reach a total of 600,000, but it is believed that if a proper survey of such prisoners can be made the number of those who will be found to be in really desperate need of relief will be very largely reduced. For the purpose of considering this project the Red Cross are assuming that such survey would disclose the possibility of reducing the number to be relieved to not exceeding 300,000, and they are inclined to attempt the relief of such last-mentioned prisoners [Page 627] if arrangements can be made for transportation, which seems difficult but perhaps within the bounds of possibility. This would mean the transportation upon the average of the tons per day of foodstuffs.
- The relief mentioned under 2, adding thereto the relief of the remainder of the Serbian prisoners who are suffering from lack of food. It is assumed that this would add about 65,000 prisoners to the foregoing and would involve an average addition of 16 to 17 tons per day.
- The Red Cross, of course, is intending, whatever else it may or may not do, to relieve the necessities of all American prisoners who have fallen or may fall into the hands of the enemy, adopting about the same scale of relief as that employed by the Canadians with respect to Canadian prisoners in German hands.
Before any concrete progress can be made it is important that the Department obtain a clearer understanding as to what will be acquiesced in and what objected to by the British Government. It is therefore desirable that the Department learn the attitude of the British Government towards the following points:
- The amount of supplies that may be sent into Germany without objection upon the part of the British Government; whether supplies for the relief of Russian prisoners and prisoners of Allied nationalities, other than American, may be sent and if so to what extent; whether the attitude of the British Government will be different with respect to relief forwarded through Denmark or Holland, upon the one part, or through Switzerland, upon the other.
- Physical shape in which such supplies may be sent, whether they may be sent in bulk, in standard packages or in individual packages, or by all three methods. It is assumed that biscuits or bread may be sent in bulk.
- The conditions, if any, other than transmission through authorized organizations, which should be observed in order that supplies may be forwarded.
- The Russian Government urges that supplies for their prisoners to the extent furnished should be sent to Copenhagen. The Department should be informed whether Great Britain would object to this, and if not, what means (shipping facilities) may best be employed in order to meet the convenience of the British Government in laying down food and other supplies in Copenhagen or other ports which are affected by the blockade of the Central Powers.
In your conversation at the Foreign Office you will take up these matters and endeavor to obtain at the earliest moment practicable a definite statement of the attitude of the British Government towards each of the points herein mentioned. Please regard the matter as urgent.