340.1115/2878: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom ( Kennedy ) to the Secretary of State

1668. Tour 960, September 14, 5 p.m.21 I can quite understand that you have encountered difficulties in your efforts to secure ships to assist in the evacuation of our people. We in turn have encountered difficulties in our efforts to get people to places of safety, to keep track of them and to convince them that the richest Government on earth is doing everything possible to get them out of danger. Thank God, we haven’t had any trouble. If we had had, we should have had to do a lot of explaining by this time.

I note that the special vessels are to be limited to American citizens. Vincent Massey22 has requested space on the Orizaba for a few injured Canadians from the Athenia 23 I believe that as a courtesy and on humanitarian grounds we should do this. There would not be more than 20 all told and they are prepared to pay the full rate, so that there is no question of a loss either to the United States Lines or the American Government.

I also believe that we should carry non-citizens from the Athenia in a few cases where to bar them would mean splitting up families. We have several cases where it would be unthinkable, in my view, to insist upon a rigid application of the ban upon non-citizens. In one instance, we have three American children with a British mother. All are suffering from shock and exposure. Are we to separate an American husband from his British wife? I should like specific instructions on these and similar cases.

Your reference to vessels sailing with less than capacity was dealt with in my cable of September 3. At that time it was said that the Manhattan could have carried 148 more. The number has now become 200. May I point out that the Manhattan sailed 4 days before the declaration of war, when the demand for space was not nearly so acute as it was later and is, as a matter of fact, now.

I should also like to reiterate what I said on September 3, that the only way to get more people on these boats is to put them in rooms with married couples, a thing to which the couples are apt to object. The Washington, as you may know, is carrying 1,758 passengers this trip which is about 600 more than her normal capacity. They are sleeping four and six to a room and on cots in the public rooms. Local [Page 604] officials of the Line maintain that they put on this ship every person who could possibly be accommodated. With 1,500 people standing outside the office begging for space I refuse to believe that there was any dearth of passengers for this vessel.

With regard to the special vessels, I do not believe that there is any doubt about filling them, even though the war will be a month old by the time the last of these vessels has cleared for home. Of course, while we have been waiting for these vessels several thousand people have been taken off by the regular services. I am inclined to think that you are overestimating the carrying capacity of these ships. I am familiar with the Acadia and the St. John and I must say that I feel sorry for any 860 people compelled to cross the Atlantic in October on ships like these. The fact that two of the special ships have to put into the Azores for fuel is an illuminating commentary on their suitability for this trade.

  1. See footnote 19, p. 601.
  2. High Commissioner for Canada in the United Kingdom.
  3. See vol. ii , section entitled “Investigation Concerning the Responsibility for the Sinking of the British SS Athenia…” under United Kingdom.