Catalogue description Records of various First World War Departments

Details of Division within FO
Reference: Division within FO
Title: Records of various First World War Departments

Records of various First World Departments relating to specific wartime responsibilities:

  • Arab Bureau, FO 882
  • Contraband Department, FO 382
  • Foreign Trade Department, FO 833
  • Jedda Agency, FO 686
  • Prisoners of War and Aliens Departments, FO 383
  • Restriction of Enemy Supplies Department, FO 845
  • Trade Clearing House and War Trade Intelligence Department and Finance Section of the Ministry of Blockade, FO 902

Date: 1911-1925
Separated material:

For records of the War Department and the Political Intelligence Department for 1918-1920 see FO 371

For records of the Prize Court Department see FO 372

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English
Physical description: 7 series
Administrative / biographical background:

On the outbreak of war in 1914 the Eastern and Western (Political) Departments were amalgamated in one War Department to deal with the general political, naval and military questions connected with the war, including (until the News Department was established) censorship. The War Department was dissolved in October 1920.

A Prize Court Department was established in 1914 to take over responsibility for Prize Court matters from the Treaty Department. It was wound up in 1920.

In February 1916 the Contraband Department of the Foreign Office became the Ministry of Blockade, under a Minister of Blockade who was also a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The ministry was nominally under the control of the Foreign Office, but in practice it operated virtually independently. It provided a service of economic intelligence about enemy countries and enforced the policy of blockade. It was itself sub-divided into a number of departments.

In March 1916 the Trade Clearing House was attached to the new Ministry of Blockade and renamed the War Trade Intelligence Department. Its purpose was to collect intelligence for issue in a convenient form to the various government departments concerned. It remained officially subordinate to the War Trade Department until January 1917.

A Finance Section was established in the Ministry of Blockade in May 1916 to prevent the use of London credits by bankers in neutral European countries for the advantage of the enemy. A Restriction of Enemy Supplies Department was formed in June 1916 to deal with enemy supplies from neutral countries which did not pass through the blockade or were not otherwise dealt with.

A Foreign Trade Department was set up in the Foreign Office in January 1916. It took over the Trading with the Enemy Department of the Home Office and became part of the Ministry of Blockade, achieving a certain measure of independence within it. The department administered the Trading with the Enemy Acts, and its work included the drawing up of a statutory black list of persons and firms of enemy nationality or association with whom dealings were to be prohibited. The Ministry of Blockade was disbanded in May 1919, but a residual Contraband Department continued at the Foreign Office until November 1920.

The Arab Bureau was formally established in February 1916, although certain of its functions had been carried out for some time previously by a branch office of the British High Commissioner in Egypt. It was essentially an instrument of political warfare against the Turkish forces in the Arabian peninsular. It operated from Cairo and Ramleh and worked closely with the other British para-military organisation in the area, the Jedda Agency, formed in 1914.

The Jedda Agency originated in the appointment of a British agent to the Sharif of Mecca at Jedda, succeeding the consular post which closed at the outbreak of war with Turkey. Early in 1917 he was joined by a British military mission. The prime function of the Jeddah Agency was, in concert with the Arab Bureau, to further British aims in the Middle East.

During the war the agency operated against the Turks in Arabia as an arm of the Arab Bureau. After the war the bureau ceased to exist but the Jedda Agency continued as a military establishment until 1922, when it was brought under the Foreign Office and merged with the Jedda Consulate. In 1929 the agency and consulate were raised to the status of a legation.

The Political Intelligence Department originated as the Intelligence Branch of the Department of Information. From March 1918 to its dissolution in 1920 it was linked to the News Department of the Foreign Office. Its function was to remedy from various other sources the lack of information from countries in which diplomatic representation was no longer possible.

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