868.48/2008: Telegram

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

249. Following up my message 180 of January 13th in which I forwarded a communication from Mr. Eden on the question of food shipments to Greece through the British blockade, I am attaching a memorandum given me this evening by the Foreign Office with a request for comment and reply.

The delay in getting a decision on this matter and in answering the Department’s cable 5630 of December 3rd stemmed from the same source. More than 2 months ago I took up with the Foreign Office the need of sending foodstuffs to Greece and also mode of getting reestablished the quota for meat allowed to pass through the British blockade for French prisoners of war in Germany. The British position on both these issues were making enemies for her in both Greece and France. Eden promised to assist but had to leave for Russia and delegated the task to Sargent in the Foreign Office. Both issues went before the Cabinet and Dalton, Minister of Economic Warfare, got them turned down. Eden has been able to get a reversal on these positions since his return. He tells me that although Cabinet authority has been granted to attached memo for only that one shipment of wheat to Greece it is realized that in making this concession monthly shipments will follow.

I talked over these two problems with Burckhardt14 who was here for the Red Cross and also the possibility of doing something for Greek children. The British are discussing with the Greeks the possibility of evacuating a large number of them although I am very dubious about the successful culmination of this plan. I also arranged a meeting between Maisky15 and Burckhardt to discuss prisoners of war problem. Maisky told me on his return here that he had urged his Government to take action in relation to the treatment of prisoners of war as recognized under the Geneva Convention.16 Eden supported him in this.

I had hoped that the Russians might sign the Geneva Convention or at least agree to adhere to its provisions on a reciprocal basis. Brutal practices in the treatment of some prisoners are apt to affect the treatment of all prisoners captured in the same area.

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Burckhardt was there when we were attacked by Japan. I knew him when I was in Switzerland and more particularly Huber, Chairman of the International Red Cross. Burckhardt brought me a message from him. I am sure that they will want to protect our interests.

The aide-mémoire from the Foreign Office follows.

“The Cabinet have given the most serious consideration to Mr. Winant’s letter of December 11th. Reports reaching His Majesty’s Government agree with the information of the United States Government as to the deplorable and terrible conditions existing in Greece and His Majesty’s Government have also reached the conclusion that some relaxation of the blockade in the Greek favor is now imperative. Of the two proposals contained in the telegram from the state Department enclosed in Mr. Winant’s letter His Majesty’s Government greatly prefer the former, namely the despatch of a single cargo of wheat to Greece under the auspices of the International Red Cross. It is considered that this proposal is likely to be both more expeditious and effective in practice and more easily justified against the general background of the blockade.

His Majesty’s Government are grateful for the public support which Mr. Hull has given to their blockade policy and particularly to the basic principle that Axis are responsible for the territories they have overrun. His Majesty’s Government are indeed fully conscious that without the support they could not have maintained the blockade in the face of the insistent and moving appeals of the various allied governments notably the Belgian Government. The making of the concession to Greece now contemplated will inevitably lead to a renewal of these appeals and it will be impossible for His Majesty’s Government to maintain their position unless the United States Government are ready to continue their support and associate themselves fully and publicly with the measure now proposed.
As regards the immediate steps to be taken His Majesty’s Government propose to instruct the Minister of State at Cairo to arrange with the International Red Cross for the immediate despatch of a large shipload of wheat from Alexandria to the Piraeus. The International Red Cross will be asked to obtain a safe conduct from the Axis and to supervise distribution through its organization already existing in Athens.
It is not proposed to give any advance publicity to this shipment but when it becomes necessary to make a statement it is suggested that generally similar engagements might be issued in London, Cairo.

‘The United Kingdom and United States Governments have viewed with increasing dismay the appalling conditions observed in Greece. Despite their undoubted ability to do so, the German Government have done practically nothing to meet the situation created by the pillage and extortion of their Armies in the spring of 1941. They have indeed shown themselves quite indifferent to the fate of the Greek population, no doubt because the industrial resources of Greece are too small to be of any value to the German war machine.

His Majesty’s Government and the United States Government have accordingly authorized a single shipment of 8,000 tons of wheat to Greece to be [Page 735]applied under the auspices of the International Red Cross in relief of the present emergency. This is an addition to the existing relief schemes namely shipments of foodstuff from Turkey (not justifiable inside the blockade area) and the proposed evacuation of Greek children and nursing mothers.

The two Governments, nevertheless, continue to maintain in the most categorical manner that it is incumbent upon the enemy to feed the countries occupied by him and their policy in this respect remains unaffected by the exception which it has been found necessary to make in the special circumstances obtaining in Greece.’

His Majesty’s Government would be glad to receive urgently the observations of the United States Government on the foregoing more especially as to their willingness to lend the indispensable weight of their authority to the proposed policy.”
  1. Charles J. Burckhardt, President, Mixed Commission of the International Red Cross.
  2. I. M. Maisky, Soviet Ambassador in the United Kingdom.
  3. Signed July 27, 1929, Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. i, p. 336.