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Foreign Office: Political Departments: General Correspondence from 1906-1966

FO 371
Foreign Office: Political Departments: General Correspondence from 1906-1966

This series contains correspondence, etc., of the Foreign Office's Political Departments (including the War Department, 1914 to 1920, the Political Intelligence Department, 1918 to 1920, and the Political Intelligence Department, 1939-1946), and of certain of the joint Foreign Office/Commonwealth Relations Office departments established in special circumstances (e.g. the Joint Malaysia/Indonesia Department of 1964 to 1965) or prior to the creation of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1968.

Subjects covered include the UK's political, trade and other relations with:

  • All states and territories outside the British colonial empire
  • Dominion territories and Commonwealth states
  • International defence organisations (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the Central Treaty Organisation and the South East Asia Treaty Organisation)
  • League of Nations
  • United Nations Organisation and its various subsidiary bodies (the Economic Commissions for Africa and for Asia and the Far East, the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, and the Commission for Technical Co-operation in Africa)
  • International economic organisations (the European Economic Community, Euratom, the European Coal and Steel Agreement, the Brussels Treaty Organisation, the Colombo Plan)
  • Council of Europe
  • Baghdad Pact
  • South Pacific Commission

Broad subjects that are covered in some depth include:

  • International communications (including radio and television broadcasting, telecommunications, the activities of Cable and Wireless Limited, civil aviation, international rivers and international transportation, posts and telegraphs, shipping and territorial waters)
  • Various health and humanitarian issues (drugs and drug trafficking, especially the opium trade)
  • Aid and development
  • International health programmes
  • Refugees and relief organisations
  • Slavery
  • Events related to the two world wars, and post-second world war disarmament efforts (arms trafficking, the blockade of occupied Europe, war crimes, post-war planning and reconstruction and nuclear test-ban treaties)
  • Censorship
  • Energy and nuclear energy matters

In any one year records relating to the colonial possessions of foreign powers will be found either under the name of the colony or under the name of the colonial power, depending on the administrative arrangement of the Foreign Office departments involved in that year.

For each Foreign Office territorial political department, the general correspondence in each year includes correspondence relating to British colonial or Commonwealth territories in that geographical area (e.g. the American Department, General papers include correspondence relating to British Guyana, Jamaica etc.) which will supplement the correspondence held in the relevant Colonial Office/Commonwealth Relations Office/Commonwealth Office series by giving Foreign Office views that were not communicated to the other Office at the time.


From the beginning of 1950 a revised filing system was adopted by the Foreign Office. This system was based on:

  • i) an initial letter (or letters) indicating the Department concerned
  • ii) a file number
  • iii) a further number indicating the particular paper in the file

Thus A 1234/56 stands for paper 56 on file 1234 in the American Department's general series. The addition of a second or third initial letter provides for more specific classification, thus AA 2071/7 stands for paper 7 on file 2071 of the American Department's Argentina series.

In the case of papers dealt with by the German Section and Refugees Department, the new system was not applied in 1950 and the former filing arrangements continued. Thus C4914/119/3 stands for paper 4914 on file 119 in the German Section's Austria series, while WR 539/4/48 stands for paper 539 on file 4 of the Refugees Department's series.

Held by:
The National Archives, Kew
Legal status:
Public Record
Physical description:
190967 files and volumes
Immediate source of acquisition:
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Series is accruing.
Unpublished finding aids:
Reference is by means of the card index and registers in FO 566 and FO 662 for years up to 1920, and thereafter by the indexes in FO 409 Details of departmental sub-divisions, showing the countries to which they refer, and additional index letters, showing the subjects to which they refer, will be found in the paper finding aids.

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