Skip to main content

Historical documents

59 Bruce to Curtin

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


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

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

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

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]


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,

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]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top