845.5018/56: Telegram

The Officer in Charge at New Delhi (Merrell) to the Secretary of State

727. Following is paraphrase of a note from External Affairs81 dated October 4.

Recent expression by Consulate General to Bengal authorities of willingness to assist purchase and shipment wheat from America to Bengal deeply appreciated.

Government of India has made every effort to meet Bengal crisis but despite sympathy and utmost effort, His Majesty’s Government has arranged for import of only 200,000 tons cereals owing immense difficulty obtaining ships. While any additional import very desirable, it is appreciated independent search for wheat and shipping [Page 303] from North America might prejudice shipping programs and that India’s needs must be considered together with civil requirements of United Nations generally. If American authorities feel able to help, first step essential would appear to be discussion between them and representatives in Washington of British Ministry War Transport and Ministry Food.

Will you be good enough to approach your Government with view to initiating such discussion and say much appreciation would be felt by Government of India of any assistance found possible. (End of paraphrase).

In acknowledgment Mission informed External Affairs substance its communication telegraphed Department. Mission added that while much information available in Washington on India food shortage, it suggests Government of India provide Mission with full statement actual steps taken to obtain wheat imports and shipping space and results together with statement requirements particularly for Bengal. Suggested this desired for transmittal to Washington to preclude loss time through inquiries from there. (End acknowledgment).

Mission not informed of any assurance by Consul General except that to Mayor Calcutta as instructed by Department.

This request fully discussed with Blyth. For Department’s information but without prejudice to fullest consideration relief measures, Mission understands 35 new British vessels built United States and Canada will arrive India between now and end of year, also several other British vessels en route or on berth for India from America. All these vessels will continue on India run. Many of these are transferred to British registry on transfer program of about 15 months. Inasmuch as Australian Government has announced availability of wheat for relief India, most practicable course may be to send some of these ships for Australian wheat after discharging cargoes India.

Mission requests fullest information any decisions reached. It believes our military authorities in India do not contemplate proposing such assistance but will leave initiative to Government of India and British.

While Mission believes Bengal famine was in large measure avoidable and that situation could be improved now by more realistic administrative measures by Government of India, the Washington discussions may reasonably assume that the only alternative to large grain imports soon is situation predicted in Mission’s background despatch September 3.82 Tendencies since then support that view.

Fischer83 agrees that aside from any effect on military situation, disturbances or economic dislocation in Eastern India might seriously [Page 304] interfere American procurement and shipping of burlap, jute, mica, and commodities such as bristles, tin, and tungsten from China.

  1. The External Affairs Department of the British Government of India.
  2. No. 195, not printed.
  3. John Fischer, senior representative of the Board of Economic Warfare in India.