740.00114 European War 1939/3906: Telegram

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

3928. The following letter dated June 6 from Mr. Eden4 has been received:

“Once more I must ask for your help. This time it is a question of our disabled prisoners of war in German and Italian hands.

On May 16th we received through the Swiss Minister proposals from Germany and Italy for the repatriation of disabled prisoners of war. Both Governments asked that their disabled men who had been captured in Tunisia should be repatriated and in return they offered to release all our disabled prisoners of war in their hands, who are entitled to repatriation under the Prisoners of War Convention of 1929. They offered to send hospital ships to a North African port and suggested that Barcelona should be used as the port of exchange. The Swiss Legation reported that an identical proposal has simultaneously been made to your Government.

It was obvious that we had to concert with the United States Government as soon as possible the most effective method of dealing with these proposals. After consultation between the Departments concerned I accordingly telegraphed on May 22 to Halifax indicating our provisional views and asking for those of the State Department, both with regard to the conduct of the negotiations with the Axis governments and also to the issue of the necessary instructions to military and naval authorities for carrying out the agreement as soon as it is reached.

So far we have received no reply from the State Department. I fully realize that there are a great many points about this matter which need very careful consideration. It was indeed with the idea of saving time that in a further telegram sent to our Embassy on May 27th we suggested that both the negotiations with the enemy governments and the administrative plan should be conducted by a small central organization in London, on which the United States would be represented by military and diplomatic officers with authority to take rapid decisions on their own responsibility where no major issues are involved. The British members would include representatives of the Admiralty, War Office and Foreign Office, and we suggested that this organization, which would not exceed six members in number, [Page 54] should be set up without delay. The German proposal is of special importance to us. We have already got most of our disabled men out of Italy, but (not one man has been repatriated from Germany). I do not know how many American disabled prisoners there may be, but the number of British is over 3000. Many of these men have now been there since the time of Dunkirk. The recovery of the blind and the permanently crippled cannot be carried any further until they leave Germany, and the reports of their mental and physical deterioration which I have received are extremely bad. Our attempt to get them all out in 1941 failed. A great many families in this country are concerned and they have shown a great patience and understanding of our difficulties. These arose from the fact that the Germans held more prisoners than we did. Now for the first time the balance is redressed, and we have a real chance of getting our men out. I am most anxious that our two Governments shall seize this opportunity and press it home. I shall accordingly be very grateful for anything that you can do to impress upon your Government the need for early action.”

  1. Anthony Eden, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.