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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume I

4 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Governor-General of New Zealand

page 3

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Governor-General of New Zealand

2 September 1939

The following is the text of a statement in the House of Commons at 7.45 p.m. this evening by the Prime Minister:1

Sir Nevile Henderson2 was received by Herr von Ribbentrop3 at half past nine last night and he delivered the warning message which was read to the House yesterday. Herr von Ribbentrop replied that he must submit the communication to the German Chancellor.4 Our Ambassador declared his readiness to receive the Chancellor's reply. Up to the present no reply has been received. It may be that the delay is caused by consideration of a proposal, which meanwhile had been put forward by the Italian Government, that hostilities should cease and that there should then immediately be a conference between the Five Powers—Great Britain, France, Poland, Germany, and Italy. While appreciating the efforts of the Italian Government, His Majesty's Government for their part would find it impossible to take part in a conference whilst Poland is being subjected to invasion, her towns are under bombardment, and Danzig is being made the subject of a unilateral settlement by force. His Majesty's Government will, as stated yesterday, be bound to take action unless the German forces are withdrawn from Polish territory. They are in communication with the French Government as to the limit of time within which it would be necessary for the British and French Governments to know whether the German Government were prepared to effect such a withdrawal. If the German Government should agree to withdraw their forces, His Majesty's Government would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the frontier, that is to say, the way would be open to discussion between the German and Polish Governments on the matters at issue between them, on the understanding that the settlement arrived at was one that safeguarded the vital interests of Poland and was secured

1 Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom during the war were:

28 May 1937 – 11 May 1940Rt. Hon. Arthur Neville Chamberlain, PC.
11 May 1940 – 26 Jul 1945Rt. Hon. Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, PC, OM, CH.
26 Jul 1945 – to dateRt. Hon. C. R. Attlee, PC, CH.

2 Rt. Hon. Sir Nevile Meyrick Henderson, PC, GCMG; United Kingdom Ambassador at Berlin, 1937–39.

3 Herr Joachim von Ribbentrop; German Ambassador to the Court of St. James, 1936–38; German Minister for Foreign Affairs, 1938–45; convicted of war crimes, and hanged, Nuremburg, Oct 1946.

4 Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of the German Reich, 1933–death, 1945; Head of the German State, 1934–45.

page 4 by an international guarantee. If the German and Polish Governments wished that other powers should be associated with them in the discussion, then His Majesty's Government for their part would be willing to agree.

There is one other matter to which allusion should be made in order that the present situation should be perfectly clear. Yesterday Herr Forster,1 who on 23 August had, in contravention of the Danzig constitution, become the Head of the State, decreed the incorporation of Danzig in the Reich and the dissolution of the constitution. Herr Hitler was asked to give effect to this decree by German law. At a meeting of the Reichstag yesterday morning a law was passed for the reunion of Danzig with the Reich. The international status of Danzig as a Free City is established by a Treaty2 of which His Majesty's Government are a signatory, and the Free City was placed under the protection of the League of Nations. The rights given to Poland in Danzig by Treaty are defined and confirmed by Agreement concluded between Danzig and Poland. The action taken by the Danzig authorities and the Reichstag yesterday is the final step in the unilateral repudiation of these international instruments, which could only be modified by negotiation. His Majesty's Government do not, therefore, recognise either the validity of the grounds on which the action of the Danzig authorities was based, the validity of this action itself, or of the effect given to it by the German Government.

1 Herr Albert Forster, Nazi District Leader of Danzig; appointed by Hitler on 23 Aug 1939 to be Head of the State of the Free City of Danzig.

2 The status of Free City was conferred upon Danzig by Articles 100–8 of the Treaty of Versailles. Its separation from the German Empire became effective on 10 Jan 1920, although the formal proclamation to that effect was not made until 15 Nov 1920, when the new status of the city was officially proclaimed by the representative of the League of Nations. A High Commissioner appointed by the League was resident in the Free City. The position of the city was strengthened by the Danzig-Polish Treaty, 9 Nov 1920, and by the Warsaw Convention, 24 Oct 1921. The Danzig Constituent Assembly handled the internal administration of the Free City, but the conduct of its foreign relations was in the hands of the Polish Government.