59 Bruce to Curtin

Cablegram 167[A] LONDON, 15 October 1942, 12.17 a.m.

MOST IMMEDIATE MOST SECRET

At War Cabinet meeting this evening, the Prime Minister made a statement re prisoners of war. [1] It contained nothing new and he finished by deprecating any discussions at the moment and suggesting that any further action could be considered by War Cabinet as and when the position further developed. I said that, while I agreed that the position must be left as it was for the moment, I must stress the importance my Government attaches to this question and that any further statement or action should only be made or taken after it had had an opportunity of expressing its views.

I added that, while I was not in a position to define precisely what your attitude was, I thought that broadly you felt that we should have taken a tougher attitude on the question of treatment in the heat of battle and concentrated on Germany's breach of the Geneva Convention by her shackling of prisoners of war in safe custody.

I added that you had grave doubts of the efficacy of reprisals at all and that, while you had accepted what had already been done, I was quite sure that you would not agree to a mounting policy of competitive reprisals.

It was clear that the majority of Cabinet were in agreement with what I had indicated I believed your views to be.

The Prime Minister gave an assurance that no further decisions would be taken until you had had an opportunity of expressing your views.

As, however, this matter may boil up at any moment, it would be most helpful if you would advise me as to the line you want me to take. [2]

BRUCE

1 For the background to this issue see Document 57.

2 The Prime Minister's Dept advised Bruce on 15 October that the Commonwealth Govt's view was that reprisals were '(1) Contrary to express provisions of Geneva Convention; (2) repugnant to deep- seated humanitarian instincts; (3) quite ineffective as a deterrent to German barbarism; (4) likely to involve cruelty to prisoners in Japanese hands'. See cablegram 9439 on file AA:A1608, K41/1/1.

The issue proved difficult to resolve, since the German Govt insisted on an unconditional guarantee that prisoners would in no circumstances be tied, while the U.K. Govt argued that tying was sometimes necessary in the heat of battle. Negotiations were conducted through the Swiss Govt and the International Red Cross and, following a German decision to remove shackles on Allied prisoners for Christmas week, the U.K. Govt announced on 10 December that shackles on German prisoners would be removed on 12 December. All documents are on the file cited above and AA:A2937, Prisoners of War: Reprisals.

[AA:A989, 43/925/1/1]