Foreign Office Memorandum January 1915

Transcript of Memorandum in US National Archives file RG 84 Records of Foreign Service Posts / Diplomatic Posts / Great Britain  / Volume 0669

It is likely a copy is also preserved in the National Archives in Kew, London, but the precise file has not been identified.



January 9th 1915

Your Excellency: –

I have the honour to transmit herewith to Your Excellency, for such use as you may wish to make of it, a Memorandum which I have caused to he prepared showing the actual state of the various questions now pending between His Majesty’s Government and the

German Government with regard to the mutual exchange of various classes of persons now detained in the respective countries. The beginning of the year appeared to be a fitting time for drawing attention to the various questions still awaiting settlement, and especially to make clear the attitude of His Majesty’s Government as regards the question of individual exchanges.

I have the honour to be with the highest consideration,

Your Excellency*s most obedient,

humble Servant,

(for the Secretary of State)


The Honourable



As to questions concerning; attained civilians and Military prisoners outstanding between His Majesty’s government and the German Government on January 1915.

On December 31st 1914 the position with regard to proposals for the exchange of various classes of persons made to German Government as to which no reply had. been received was as follows –

The medically unlit.

On October 8th (57078) His Majesty’s Government proposed the exchange of invalids and of persons who on medical grounds would clearly be of no military value. This was refused by the German Government on November 3rd (66998).

His Majesty’s Government renewed their proposal on November 10th (70501).

His Majesty’s Government again called attention to the proposal on November 30th (75165).

No reply has yet been received as to the attitude of the. German Government.

His Majesty’s Government have from time to time transmitted to the German Government through the United States and received from the German Government through the same channel, medical certificates relating to persons whose state of health would justify their release, but it has not been and will not be possible to take action in the matter until a reply is given by the German Government to the repeated proposals of His Majesty’s Government.

It would appear, however, to be unlikely that the German Government would have forwarded medical certifications unless they had had the intention of agreeing to the proposal which alone would make such certificates of value, and it is hoped that it is only by an oversight that this intention has not yet taken the form of an acceptance of His Majesty’s Government1s proposals.

Persons on lists (man for man exchanges)

This exchange was to be one of persons in equal numbers who, as a general rule had had no previous military training and would therefore be of equivalent service to the two Governments on exchange. This proposal was made to the German Government through the United States Embassy on October 8th (57078) at the same time as the proposal for the exchange of the medically unfit.

On November 3rd (66998) His Majesty’ s Government were informed that the German Government would agree to a cartel for a man for man exchange of German and British subjects detained in. the respective countries, but would accept no general restrictions as to military training.

This was understood by His Majesty’s Government to mean that the German Government would name the persons whose return was desired from the United Kingdom and the British Government the persons whose return was desired from Germany.

But as the German Government would under this proposal naturally name persons who would be specially useful to them in a military capacity – a class which is almost, if not entirely, absent among the British subjects in Germany, this proposal was incompatible with the principles which have been adopted by His Majesty*s Government, namely that neither nation should gain any marked military advantage from any exchanges that took place.

On November 10th (70501) His Majesty’s Government renewed their original proposal and offered to send lists of Germans v/without military training whom they were prepared to release. His Majesty’s Government proposed to include the names of German Honorary Consuls in these lists, but, as the number of such Consuls exceed that of the Honorary British Consuls hold by the German Government, the balance ‘was to be made up by the inclusion of British subjects who had had military training.

On November 30th (75165) His Majesty*s’ Government again called attention to their proposal, explaining it more fully.

It should be noted that in this letter His Majesty’s Government modified their original proposal to the extent that they no longer claimed that the German subjects in Great Britain to be named by the them for exchange with British subjects in Germany to be named by the German Government should be of necessity persons without military training, and more over that they have in a letter of November 23rd (70501) definitely stated that “they are further prepared, to allow the departure of such German honorary Consular Officers as may be German subjects and desirous of. returning. Their names would, be included in the list of persons who have had no military training, even though in fact they may have had such training.”

No reply has yet been received from the German Government.

Individual exchanges

It will be noted from the foregoing that the main proposal of His Majesty’s Government as to exchanges of classes of persons have remained without result though originally made no less than 3 months ago. Under these circumstances His Majesty’s Government have not been able to consider the proposals for individual exchanges which the German Government have made from time to time. If for no other reason the procedure of negotiating individual ex-changes is an extremely difficult one owing to the suggestions of favouritism and undue influence which it entails, but were some considerable progress to be made with His Majesty’s Government’s proposals above mentioned these suggestions would be less likely to be made, and therefore after such progress had been, and as this would show that that the German. Government had looked with goodwill upon the proposals of His Majesty’s Government, His Majesty’s Government would do their best to find among the British subjects -who might remain in Germany persons of equivalent value to those whose return the German Government might socially desire from among those remaining in Great Britain.

Retired Officers 

On the outbreak of war, the German Government detained several retired naval and military officers, who are mostly of advanced years and in feeble health. After the conclusion of the agreement as to the release of males over 55 years of age; it was confidently expected that, such officers would be released.

When it was found that they were still being detained representations -were made in reply to which the German Government stated that these persons must be assimilated to the status of officers., prisoners of war, and that they could only be released when there was an exchange of such prisoners. His Majesty’s Government had never contemplated that the German Government would so interpret the agreement and had, in good faith, allowed retired German officers to benefit by it and return to Germany.

The German authorities, although they had included retired British Officers in the category of officers, prisoners of war, nevertheless in some cases treated them as interned civilians until representations were made.

On December 10th (80878) His Majesty’s Government requested the United States Embassy to inform the German Government that they expected these retired officers released when the exchange. of British and German Officers men certified to be incapacitated for further service was agreed to.

The German Government have not yet replied this point.

Diplomatic and Consular Officers

On November 10th (70501) His Majesty’s Government stated that all German Consuls de carriers had been allowed to leave and that honorary Consuls would be included in the lists drawn up for the man for man exchange. Several German Honorary Consuls are still detained in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Their exact rank and standing are not always clear.

On December 11th (79193) His Majesty’s Government proposed an exchange of such Consuls and furnished a list of the so officials detained in the United Kingdom and in German: respectively. They have only received a partial reply to this proposal.

Officers of the Military Medical Services.

On December 21st (81766) His Majesty’s Government proposed to the German Government the mutual exchange of such officers.

Bank officials.

On November 13th (69582) His Majesty’s Government wrote to the United States Embassy pointing out that all British bankers and their staffs at Hamburg were reported to have been Interned whilst German bank employees in the United Kingdom were at liberty.

On November 26th (76316) the United States Ambassador transmitted to the Foreign Office copy of a letter from the United States Ambassador at Berlin from which it appeared that the German Government did not consider: as sufficient the. assurances given by His Majesty’s Government as to the treatment of German bank officials in the United Kingdom and asked for the names of those not interned.

On December 16th (82787) His Majesty’s Government furnished a list of the names and addresses of 120 bank officials of German nationality in the United Kingdom who had not been Interned.

No information has yet been received to show that British bank officials in Germany have been released.

General Exchange

On November 10th (70501) the United States Arnbassador was informed that “His Majesty’s Government will consider in a friendly spirit any proposal for a general exchange of prisoners. This proposal which formed part of a private letter from Mr. Acland to Dr. Page was confirmed in an official note of November 23rd. It was refused by the German Government.

There have been several complaints from the War Office as to the unsatisfactory manner in which lists of military prisoners are compiled. These complaints were brought to the notice of the United States Embassy on December 17th (81592). Such lists of interned civilians as have been received are also unsatisfactory.

The Prisoners of War Information Bureau attached to the Prussian Ministry of War has refused to reply to enquiries from private persons, although this duty is clearly imposed upon the Bureau by Article 14 of the Annex to the Hague Convention No. IV of October 18th, 1907, and although the British Prisoners of War Information Bureau replies to the best of its ability to the large number of private enquiries received.

His Majesty’s Government have, at the suggestion of the United States Ambassador, furnished the German Government with very complete statement as to the treatment and conditions of internment of German prisoners of war and interned civilians in the United Kingdom, but they have received no corresponding information from the German Government.

Thu proposal made to His Majesty’s Government that a committee of prisoners should be formed in each place of r detention to co-operate with American officials for the distribution of funds provided by the German Government for furnishing additional comforts to German prisoners was accepted by them, and the United States Ambassador was in- formed of their acceptance on December 14th (79885). The United States Embassy has been furnished with all the information which was desired in order to put this scheme into operation, Committees have been elected and their chairmen are in communication with the official of the Embassy in charge of the matter, and it is believed that the scheme of relief will within a few days be in active operation.

His Majesty’s Government have made similar proposals with a view to the provision of comforts for British prisoners of war and interned civilians in Germany with the co-operation of American officials and expect that their proposals, which were brought to the notice of the United States Ambassador on December 26th (87208) will be speedily accepted by the German Government.

His Majesty’s Government desire to call attention to the fact that, while practically all male British subjects in Germany are believed to be interned, this is far from being the case with German subjects in the United Kingdom. The total number of male Germans above the age of 17 in the United Kingdom is about 27,200 and of these only 8,600 have been interned. Some 18,600 Germans are thus at liberty, and further, a careful sifting of those who have been interned is now being carried out. On December 5th the number who had, as the result of this process, been released from internment amounted to 600, and other persons have since that date received their liberty.

As far as can be Judged, British civilians in Belgian territory in German occupation have not been allowed to benefit by the arrangements referred to in this Memorandum although in several cases those arrangements would aptly.

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