69 Attlee to Chifley

Cablegram 43 LONDON, 4 February 1946, 11.40 p.m.


Your telegram No. 28. [1]

Following personal from Mr. Attlee for Mr. Chifley:


I was most grateful to you for your very helpful telegram of 18th January about wheat. I am relieved to know that you will continue to give your personal attention to this problem. it is indeed hard to exaggerate the gravity of the situation. It now seems even worse than it did a fortnight ago.

2. According to latest advice, exports of wheat from the United States may well turn out at 500,000 tons below the figures assumed when Sir Ben Smith was in Washington, and exports from the Argentine may also fall short of estimates by 250,000 to 500,000 tons. There is no help to be got from rice which will also be well below requirements. Meanwhile, the needs of importing countries have increased. We have had most alarming telegrams from the Viceroy. [2] There has been widespread failure of crops due to a tidal wave in Madras and prolonged drought in Madras, Bombay, Mysore and the Punjab. There are insufficient stocks in the country to meet the short-fall and no possibility of economy by reducing rations which are already very low. India must thus have an import of at least two million tons of rice, wheat or millet, during 1946, if famine of a dimension and intensity greater than the Bengal famine of 1943 [is] to be avoided. This is an increase of 500,000 tons on their earlier request and I should not be surprised if in point of fact they do not need more. In the circumstances of political crisis which are approaching, a famine in India would be bound to lead to disorders and would be likely to remove the last hope of an orderly solution of the Indian problem.

3. We have been considering here how to bridge the gap caused by the reduction of nearly a quarter of a million tons in our own imports into the United Kingdom during the first half of 1946. We shall have to reduce our stocks far below the safety level, and run the risk of interference with internal distribution of flour and bread if there is any irregularity in the arrival of imports.

We shall have to increase our extraction rate of flour from 80% to 85% and return to the darker bread which we accepted as a wartime necessity but hoped we had discarded with the end of hostilities.

We shall also have to reduce our fat ration from 8 oz. to 7 oz. a week which is lower than at any time during the war. This last is a direct consequence of the wheat shortage; for India will have to use for food in India groundnuts which she would otherwise have exported to us for fats manufacture.

4. The decision to increase our flour extraction rate, coupled with the decision taken at Washington to divert coarse grains from animal to human use, will substantially reduce our supplies of meat, bacon and eggs. Our plans for re-establishing our livestock herds will suffer a heavy setback and a considerable slaughter of pigs and poultry will be inevitable. Finally, we shall launch a vigorous publicity campaign to economise to the utmost all food, particularly bread. These further sacrifices for which we must call will be a severe strain on our people who have been looking to some relaxation of the standards of austerity which they have cheerfully accepted throughout the war.

better. Even after the next harvest European production will be far below pre-war figures and the demand from Far Eastern countries will not be reduced and exportable world stocks will have been exhausted by our efforts to meet the crisis in 1946. It follows therefore that everything possible must be done, not only to economise in consumption, but also to increase world production of cereals. We here shall take immediate steps to encourage increased sowing this spring of crops to be harvested this summer.

But the world must look mainly to the big producing countries for substantial increases in supplies.

6. I am sending a personal cable to Mr. Truman and Mr. Mackenzie King, urging them to take all possible steps to increase exports.

In particular, I am asking them to consider whether they can increase the extraction rate for flour, increase the acreage sown to wheat for the next harvest and restrict rice consumption. It would be of immense help if you on your part could consider similar steps.

7. An increase in the extraction rate in all exporting countries would provide a major increase in supplies. Our own rate as I have said will have to be raised to 85% and all countries in Europe will have to adopt a figure of at least 80% and in many cases higher.

8. An increase in acreage would reduce the anxiety for next year.

Carry-over stocks will be small and I can see no possible chance of farmers finding themselves left next year with an unsaleable surplus.

9. As to rice, the wheat and rice situations are of course inter- related. it is certain that there will be a grave rice shortage this summer. We have decided to continue our policy of not issuing rice for the civil population in this country and we are urging European countries to do the same. If you could make some contribution, it would be of great assistance.

10. As regards the use of wheat for feed, I am very grateful for the action you have taken to withhold it from dairy stock. As regards poultry and pigs, while in the new circumstances we shall be more than ever dependent on Australia for our supplies of bacon and eggs, and while we should very much regret any reduction in them, we feel that so long as human beings are exposed to famine and starvation as a result of the present wheat shortage, human needs must have priority. Accordingly, if, in order to increase your exports of wheat to the maximum, you have to take steps which will affect the output of eggs and pig products, we shall quite understand the reason, though we hope the reduction will be as small as possible.

11. The world will pass through a period of great strain and hardship before we see the next harvest. I fear that thousands may die of starvation and many more thousands may suffer severely from hunger. It is for these reasons that I make this earnest appeal for your continued help in mitigating the disasters which threaten the world.


[AA:A1067, ER46/10/2]

1 Document 37.

2 Field Marshal Lord Wavell.

[5.]I Moreover, when we look further ahead, the outlook is little