Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_League of Nations

Did the League of Nations matter in the 1920s?

Source 6

Foreign Office report on League of Nations Conference about action on sleeping sickness


➜ CHAR 22/38/1-2

Simplified Transcript

Early in December the League of Nations Secretariat (the civil service of the League) sent a report of the Health Committee of the League. Among other things it proposed a conference of countries which ran colonies in Africa to discuss the possibility of sending a mission to look at the issue of sleeping sickness.

The Colonial Office welcomed the suggestion of a conference.

The Ministry of Health said it would help. It suggested that Sir G Buchanan of the Ministry of Health and Member of the League’s Health Committee should be kept informed.

Once the other governments had agreed, arrangements were made and the conference was held in London on May 19th.

Original Transcript

Early in December last we received from the secretariat a report on the work of the Third Session of the Health Committee of the League of Nations, dealing, inter alia, with the recommendations of an expert committee appointed to study the problem of sleeping sickness. Among those recommendations was one for summoning a conference of representatives of colonial Administrations to discuss the financial and administrative possibilities of despatching a special mission to study epidemiological problems connected with sleeping sickness in Equatorial Africa. The report was sent to the Colonial Office and the Ministry of Health for their observations.

The reply of the Colonial Office, received in March, was to the effect that His Majesty’s Government, who attached great importance to the problem of sleeping sickness, welcomed the suggestion that such a conference should be convened.

The Ministry [of Health] subsequently intimated that it might facilitate the work of the conference, and, at the same time, be helpful to Sir G. Buchanan, of the Ministry of Health and British member of the Health Committee of the League, if he were informed of the meetings and programme of the conference, when settled. Copies of subsequent correspondence were accordingly supplied to the Ministry.

The other Governments consulted by the secretariat having acquiesced, arrangements were made for the conference to assemble at the Colonial Office on the 19th May.

What is this source?

This is a Cabinet Memorandum explaining what the Colonial Office and the Ministry of Health had done to help the League of Nations hold a conference about the problem of sleeping sickness to get nations working together effectively towards a solution. Documents like this were designed to give the members of the British government an outline of the main developments in important areas.

Background to this source

As well as trying to resolve political disputes between nations, the League also aimed to improve the lives of people all over the world. One of its key areas of activity was in health care. The League’s Health Committee was one of its most successful agencies.

Additional information

The League had many agencies which not only tried to improve health, but also working conditions and economic recovery. The League also fought drug trafficking and slavery. It did not employ teams of experts, but instead its key role was to bring together the experts who were already working in particular areas such as sleeping sickness and allow them to share research and put forward new ideas and proposals. In a time before the internet and similar forms of communication this was an extremely helpful and significant role performed by the League.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating how far the work of the League of Nations mattered in the 1920s:

Surface level: details, facts and figures

1 What was the League proposing?
2 What was the attitude of the Colonial Office?
3 What was the response of the Ministry of Health?
4 What was the outcome?

Deeper level: inferences and using the source as evidence

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
The British government was not co-operating with the League of Nations

The League was doing important and valuable work

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Need some help interpreting the source

  • This source is potentially very helpful in interpreting the work of the League. In a time before the internet and similar forms of communication it was difficult for scientists and doctors to share ideas, technologies and treatments.
  • The League did not create new departments with scientists and doctors. What the League did do was to arrange events like the one described here which allowed experts to come together and exchange ideas. This was an extremely helpful and significant role performed by the League.

 Source 7

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