File No. 763.72114/3169

The British Ambassador ( Spring Rice) to the Counselor for the Department of State ( Polk)

No. 665

My Dear Mr. Polk: I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter, personal and confidential, of the 22d instant, with regard to [Page 644] the question of food supplies being shipped from the United States to Russian prisoners of war in Germany.

Since my memorandum of the 17th December was written, I have been in further communication with the Foreign Office, who state that they fully concur in the view expressed by the United States Government—that it is important to do nothing which might result in losing touch with Russia. The British Government, however, are doubtful whether the relations between Russia and the other Allies would be much improved by furnishing supplies for prisoners in Germany, as it is quite likely that under present conditions a proportion at least of such supplies may never reach the prisoners. It is agreed that it would be most undesirable to make any public announcement that the forwarding of supplies was prohibited, and it was only intended to suggest that further consignments might be withheld by means of private instructions to the Customs, or by some similar departmental action.

The events of the past week seem to the British authorities to show that there is considerable danger in such consignments being made for the present, and the Russian Prisoners-of-War Help Committee in London is very shortly to bring its work to an end of its own initiative.

A further consideration in this matter is that of the employment of Russian prisoners while in Germany. It is understood that some 750,000 of them are employed in the manufacture of munitions, a kind of labour which has always been resisted by prisoners from the other Allied armies. It is also believed that there is now an ample supply of corn in Russia, but that the peasants are unwilling to sell it. A report on this point was, it is believed, forwarded to the United States Government by the American Legation at Copenhagen on the 31st October last.1 In view of all these circumstances, the British Government think that it is hardly justifiable at the present crisis to allow food-stuffs to continue to go forward to Russians in Germany.

In this connection I may add that we were informed some days ago that the War Trade Board were considering the question of granting an export license for 10,000 pairs of woolen hose and three cases of sole leather, to be consigned to the Y.M.C.A. at Copenhagen for the use of Russian and Roumanian prisoners of war in Germany. The British Government are quite prepared to authorize the issue of letters of assurance for such of the goods as are destined for Roumanian prisoners but, for the reasons indicated above, they [Page 645] would prefer that export licenses should not be issued for goods for the Russian prisoners, if this can be arranged.

Believe me [etc.]

(For the Ambassador)
Colville Barclay
  1. Not printed.