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Historical documents

294 Bruce to Curtin

Cablegram 180A LONDON, 8 October 1943

From Dominions Office telegram No. 282 of 29th September [1] you
will have seen that Japanese are not prepared to proceed further
with the contemplated exchange unless the 331 Japanese merchant
seamen detained in Australia are included. This position was today
the subject of a full discussion by United Kingdom Committee
handling this matter, which Wheeler attended.

In the discussion United Kingdom representatives expressed grave
concern at the possibility of a breakdown of the exchange and
asked that the views expressed at the meeting be conveyed to you.

Following is a summary which Wheeler has given me of the views
expressed at the meeting:-

1. United Kingdom feel that complete breakdown would have
following repercussions-
(a) Lose all means of sending supplies and medicines to prisoners
and internees in Far East.

(b) Condemn 1,600 civilians including women and children and sick
to indefinite incarceration under gradually worsening conditions.

(c) British public are aware that negotiations have been
proceeding and would suffer considerable disappointment with
possible political repercussions, particularly as they know of the
American-Japanese exchange due to take place.

(d) The possibility that Japan may refuse to consider any further
proposals for exchange.

2. Admiralty advise there is no shortage of merchant seamen in
Japan and they have no security objection to the return of the 331
Japanese seamen held by you.

3. Foreign Office emphasise that exchange now under consideration
is merely continuation of original negotiations which commenced
before status of merchant seamen had arisen. They also point out
that lists of British and Allied nationals nominated for
repatriation this exchange include 44 merchant seamen (mostly
Allied) to whose inclusion Japanese have so far raised no
objection.

4. In view foregoing and after mature consideration United Kingdom
feel Japanese might now be advised that as the present exchange is
but a second operation under the original agreement made in 1942
and before the principle of assimilating merchant seamen to
prisoners of war status had been notified to the Japanese
Government, there is no objection to the inclusion of merchant
seamen in the exchange at present under negotiation but such a
concession is not to be regarded as a precedent for any future
operations of a similar nature.

I have gone fully into this matter personally. I find that there
is a very strong feeling here that it would be most unfortunate to
allow the exchange to break down.

The conclusion I have reached after examining all the facts and
after full consultation is that we should agree to the inclusion
of the 331 Japanese merchant seamen.

BRUCE

1 On file AA:A989, 43/460/10/2, ii.


[AA:M100, OCTOBER 1943]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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