Oral Answers to Questions — Heligoland (Frisians)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th June 1949.

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Photo of Professor Douglas Savory Professor Douglas Savory , Queen's University of Belfast 12:00 am, 29th June 1949

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why the Frisians of Heligoland are neither permitted to return to their island, nor to accept the invitation of the North Frisians of South Schleswig to settle permanently on the island of Sylt and why the plans of the British Government with regard to this island and its inhabitants are still kept secret.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

There is no secrecy regarding British policy over Heligoland and I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT a statement issued on 5th October last by the British authorities in Germany. Nothing is known of any invitation such as that described in the Question, but His Majesty's Government would have no objection to any such invitation being accepted. The Land Government is sympathetic towards the transfer of Heligolanders to Sylt and some 20 persons have been moved from the mainland to Sylt on a voluntary exchange basis.

Photo of Professor Douglas Savory Professor Douglas Savory , Queen's University of Belfast

Can the right hon. Gentleman hold out any hope that these 2,500 Heligolanders, who have now been evacuated for four years from their native island, will be allowed to return to their beloved home?

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

I cannot give any assurance under that head, but that is not in the Question.

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton West

Could my right hon. Friend say whether this island was so heavily bombed during the war that it is unlikely to be habitable for some time?

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton West

Who is responsible for the compensation of these Frieslanders and for their present maintenance?

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

I should like to have notice of that question.

Following is the statement:

The memorandum on Heligoland which was handed to the Regional Commissioners of Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg and Niedersachsen by their Land Governments has received the careful consideration of British Military Government in Germany. It has been known for some time that the decision to continue using Heligoland as an R.A.F. practice bombing target is causing concern among the population of North-West Germany, but the following explanation should make it clear that this decision is not motivated simply by the desire to destroy an island which has for long been held in affection as a beauty spot and holiday resort.

Heligoland was one of the principal German Naval Bases in two world wars. In the last war it was severely bombed, and after the end of hostilities suffered further damage when its underground defences were demolished. Very little remains of the township—one report states that only six houses can be repaired—and the damage by air raids and demolition has made it necessary for the island to be abandoned.

Suitable targets for the training of a bomber fleet are extremely difficult to find and Heligoland in its present condition is the only place in a reasonably convenient geographical situation which is suitable and available for this purpose. It was only after prolonged discussions between the Air Ministry and the Foreign Office that the decision to continue using Heligoland as an R.A.F. practice target was taken.

The decision will inevitably postpone the commencement of reconstruction but it will not result in further significant damage to the island, let alone in its destruction. Generally speaking, only two types of exercise will be carried out on the island and only one type, namely individual attacks from single aircraft, will involve the dropping of high explosive bombs. During the other type of exercise, mass raids by heavy bombers, the planes will only drop indicators and flash bombs and no high explosive bombs of any type will be used. These practices are not expected to take place more than two or three times a month and it will be obvious that the limited use of high explosive can add but little to the damage which already exists.

Though the Germans' wish to restore Heligoland as a community and as a holiday resort is well understood it must be emphasised that the island contains no natural resources which would contribute towards German recovery and for this reason, its reconstruction must in any case come low on the list of priorities and could not take place for some years to come.

As regards the amount of warning that can be given to fishing boats that wish to use the harbours of the island as a temporary refuge during rough weather, it is unfortunately not possible to give more than forty-eight hours' warning, since plans for bombing practices must necessarily depend on short-term meteorological reports.