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211 Attlee to Commonwealth Government

Cablegram 127 LONDON, 4 June 1943, 2.55 p.m.


Your telegram of 28th May, No. 128. [1]

1. Your paragraph 1. Priority. Please see my immediately following telegram. [2]

2. Your paragraphs 2 to 10. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom note views of His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia. Before however passing these on to Japanese Government they would like Commonwealth Government to review the matter in light of following considerations.

3. Our object in the present exchange is twofold. The first to obtain the return of certain persons of use to war effort and the second to effect repatriation of a maximum number of British and Allied subjects (particularly children and mothers with young children) whose plight especially in Hong Kong is extremely precarious. It is no exaggeration to say that if they remain much longer in Japanese hands many of them will certainly die.

4. From our point of view with our large number of officials and civilians left in Malaya and elsewhere, we are no less anxious than the Commonwealth Government to see extension of the exchange to other areas. The Netherlands Government who have at least 70,000 European Netherlands citizens in the Netherlands East Indies alone are even more anxious for extension of areas but realise that in view of reported and categorical refusal by Japanese it is useless to press further for extension. The position of the Governments of India and Burma is similar.

5. The only Governments who are able to put Japanese internees into a common pool are those of the British Commonwealth, Netherlands and Fighting French and these Governments have been prepared to co-operate in this manner in order that not only their own nationals but also those of other Allies such as Belgium, Greece, Czechoslovakia and Poland may benefit.

6. It will be seen from my telegram of 22nd May No. 115, repeated to New Zealand No. 124 [3], that largest contribution of Japanese internees will come from India. As the Japanese have for political reasons interned few Indian subjects under the present arrangement, the proportion of Indians being repatriated compared with number of Japanese released by Government of India will be very low. In spite however of the difficult political position the Government of India have agreed generally to the scheme in the interests of the common Allied cause and on humanitarian grounds.

7. The other main source of internees is the Netherlands East Indies and Netherlands Government have similarly agreed to join in the scheme although the proportion of Netherlands subjects they will get under present arrangements is also trivial.

8. If the Commonwealth Government are not prepared to take part in the exchange except on the basis set out in your telegram under reference, this will make it very difficult for the Governments of India and the Netherlands to justify their continued participation in the scheme and the result will be possibly its abandonment and certainly a very considerable delay with the effect upon our internees already explained in paragraph 3 above. Such an action would of course also offer excellent material to Japanese propaganda.

9. In the light of the above considerations we strongly hope that the Commonwealth Government will be prepared to come into the exchange on the same basis as the other Governments. If however they feel it necessary to maintain their attitude as set out in your telegram under reference, the United Kingdom Government feel the only course is for separate communication to be made on behalf of the Commonwealth Government to the Protecting Power. [4] In order to ensure that there can be no possible misunderstanding they would prefer it if the Commonwealth Government could undertake to supply the exact text of communication which they would wish to have made on their behalf. In view of the urgency of the matter a very early reply to this telegram would be appreciated.

1 Document 202.

2 Cablegram 128 (on file AA:A989, 43/460/10/2, i) indicated that the U.K. Govt agreed with the Commonwealth Govt's views on priorities.

3 On the file cited in note 2. This cablegram was in fact dispatched on 24 May.

4 Switzerland.

[AA:A989, 43/460/10/2, i]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History