HL Deb 22 April 1942 vol 122 cc677-86

LORD PORTSEA had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government, what steps arc being taken to assure the loyal islanders of Jersey and Guernsey of some interest in them and their well-being; whether any steps are being taken to feed or help to feed the few remaining people in these islands before it is too late, or to reassure and satisfy the thousands of islanders now serving in His Majesty's Forces that an effort is being made to save their parents and families from starvation, the cause of much misery and such a reduction of vitality (especially among the children) as to make further existence problematical; further to ask, whether help and food can be sent to aliens in conquered countries occupied by the Germans and whether His Majesty's Government will accept or assist in the offer made, and now made again, to send a small food ship or plane to the island if a crew can be found, risk accepted and food paid for; further to ask, if a home crew be not acceptable, whether His Majesty's Government will allot a small number of German prisoners of war unfit for war service to man the ship under the command of a retired officer of His Majesty's Island Royal Forces; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am asking the questions which are contained in my Motion neither needlessly nor without earnest thought. I wish to endeavour to obtain your Lordships' generous help, and a satisfactory answer from the Government, knowing that that will follow if I enlist your help. The Government do not seem to be disposed to move, or even to try to move. Can they be gently pushed off the primrose path along which as a nation we have loitered for so long, and brought to realize that difficulties are made to be overcome? If I cannot succeed before your Lordships, the only alternative is to appeal to the public, and I do not wish to do that. I am terribly in earnest about this, in view of the sufferings which are being endured needlessly by a small people owing to what I consider to be the injustices inflicted upon them. Your Lordships well know the story. It is the story of a small people, a people of our own origins, of our own blood, of our own language, religion and history. They were abandoned during a panic, and they were worse than abandoned, because they were handed over to the Germans—after the Germans had bombed them—bound hand and foot. Their arms were taken from them; and they were not even allowed to defend themselves, their families and, above all, their children. For two long years not one note, not one word of sympathy or encouragement, no syllable of regret or remembrance or even of remorse, from any source whatsoever, has been sent to these poor, loyal, islanders. Loyalist to the core, abandoned and betrayed by us: this is a matter which touches the honour of every Englishman and of England herself.

I have received innumerable letters from friends and strangers, men and women, all offering help and service, not one counting any possible cost or probable danger. I have the offer of two ships, one a large ship, but in that case the offer is conditional on the Government undertaking to replace the ship or pay its value in the event of the ship being sunk. The other is from an old friend of mine, seventy-seven years of age, who possesses, unfortunately for him, only one eye. He offers me a small trawler, twenty feet long; she draws only two and half feet of water, and she has a good eight horsepower engine to help her along. This trawler would serve to carry an experimental cargo to Jersey, a small cargo which even the most timid Minister would not be afraid to risk. It is said by some—I have heard it more than once—that we have no right to send food to our own people if we do not send food to others. That is an amazing proposition to me; it is monstrous. To me it is our own people first, and if there is anything over the others can have it.

We can send food from neutral and non-belligerent countries with and by the permission of the Germans. We can send it from Turkey, or Egypt, or Portugal. Why should we not send it from Eire? I do not believe that there lives an Irishman who would refuse to succour the children of the Norman islanders abandoned by England—not one. The passage would of course be more adventurous and a little more dangerous, and certainly longer, than the passage from England, but that would be nothing in view of the health and the happiness produced thereby. There are some members of your Lordships' House who may remember what Gordon wrote from Khartoum when he was in desperate need. "Send me," he said, "one British soldier in uniform to inspirit my people, to let them know that they are not lost." That is what we ask. The ship I am thinking of would be loaded here; of course I do not suppose that Eire would give us food. She would be loaded here in this country, and get her bill of lading from an Irish port, a neutral port, a non-belligerent port. Then, with two or three unfit-for-war German prisoners of war—we have a few on this side—we might take that ship across. Two or three would be quite enough for such a Leviathan as a 20-foot trawler.

I have yet another suggestion, and perhaps it is the best of all. It is more difficult to set aside. The Bailiff of Jersey, who is the administrative chief; recently asked by cable for a supply of medical comforts, and these were sent. He asked for insulin because it was necessary for the life of some of his people, for some of the sufferers in the island. I ask the Government to sanction and give me official help to send a cable to that Bailiff, asking him to obtain German authority to allow a small ship or plane—a plane will do perfectly well, and perhaps be more effective, as it will be certainly quicker—carrying things necessary for life, with a German unfit-for-war prisoner-of-war crew, to enter an island harbour, or a beach, or an aerodrome. There is no lack of those in the island now. This may be the quickest way, and we must be quick if we are going to save the children of those islands.

The islands still retain their own administrative powers; they are admirable in their simplicity and in their efficiency. There are in Jersey, which is a very small island, as your Lordships know, some forty-five square miles all told. I have been in an enclosed park in New England of exactly the same size—a park kept for wild animals of North America. In that little island there are twelve parishes, and at the head of each parish there is a Chief Constable, one Centenier—one who looks after each hundred—and a Vingtenier for each division of that one hundred, certain officers of the Constable, and twenty plain-clothes policemen. All these are unpaid, every one of them, all elected by their parishioners, all serving for love of King and country, working together like a good team. These gentlemen have, as I say, administrative control. They would see to it that any food landed was fairly and properly allotted, and they would not annoy the Germans.

There is an idea that sending food would annoy the Germans. We have bombed the Germans in the island—I do not know whether we did that to please them. Who can doubt that the Germans would gladly allow this food to be landed from plane or ship, and indeed give all facilities? If they did "pinch"—which is, I believe, the new word used—any of the food, and I do not believe they would—not for a moment—they would know that future supplies in larger quantities would be cut off. Many dislike the Germans. I am not sure that I love them myself, but no one questions that the German is a brave man—no one certainly who saw him in the last war. By "brave" I mean all that that implies, and he is an honourable man according to his standards. A man whose works we have all read has told us that "the crimes of Clapham are chaste at Martaban," so you have a wide range of interpretation in the word "honourable." Most assuredly the German is not a fool. It would be a good thing, perhaps, for us if he were. When I say he would not "pinch" the food, I recall a paragraph, written by a special correspondent of a great newspaper who is at the front, which I came across a few days ago. He wrote that the matron, two nurses, and the cook of a hospital for children in Prussia had been sentenced to be hanged because they had stolen the food belonging to these children. That enforces what I say that the Germans would not "pinch" the food.

The few islanders who are left in the islands are starving. All young islanders, as your Lordships know—and there are thousands of them—are serving His Majesty on this side of the water, while their parents, their families, and their children are starving. It is for these children more especially that I plead. I have looked at the Oxford Dictionary for the interpretation of the word "starvation" so that I should not put a gloze on my reading of it. The Oxford Dictionary says that "starvation" means "a deprivation or insufficient supply of something necessary to life," or, alternatively, of "something necessary to health," which is perhaps more important. Your Lordships will remember reading stories of the old days of men with scurvy. There you had young, strong, healthy men sent to sea or elsewhere with enough food, but lacking the proportions of necessary food, and in consequence they died like flies because they had not the proper quantities of food necessary for health—what we now call vitamins. It is so in this island. The good island milk and butter are sent—every drop of it—to Germany, and the wretched Frenchman on the coast is forced at the pistol point to send some of his very inferior stuff—taken mostly from the cow with the iron tail—to Jersey.

We could feed all these children from the crumbs that fall from our tables—every one of them. The children need fats, sugar, cocoa, jam, flour, and oils. In Jersey, as your Lordships know, there is no meat, no fat cattle, no game, no sheep. All these were imported even before the war. Fishing is practically impossible, and if by extraordinary good fortune any fish is taken, the fish is commandeered. The Prime Minister, in his very stirring address from the White House, said, "Let us resolve that by our sacrifice and our daring the children shall not be robbed of their inheritance and so denied the right to live." Brave words "Our sacrifice and our daring." I am not attacking the Prime Minister, your Lordships will understand. He is, of all men, in my estimation, the most necessary at the moment, but these were his words and these were his wishes. They were repeated again very shortly after in Bermuda, but notwithstanding these words these children are starving. Recently we set aside a day for prayer and supplication for ourselves. We prayed to Him to Whom all hearts are open, from Whom no secrets are hid. At that moment hundreds of little children, our own blood, deserted by us, and deserted no longer in the panic which ensued two years ago after the betrayal, but ever since and even now, were praying for help in their undeserved misery and despair, caused and continued by us, the greatest nation in the world. They were praying, and praying with clean hearts and clean hands. Those little ones must perish, or worse, they must linger out their miserable lives stunted in mind and body—cretins, degenerates—unless we help them. They cry in their despair for help. For them existence means slow torture, starvation or lifelong wretchedness, and it will be our work, my Lords, unless we help them. The blood of those children will be on our heads. Will any man accept that charge? I am sure there is no one who would do so. And we have it in His own words: "He who shall offend against one of these little ones which believe in Me …" Do we realize what is being done in our name. These little mites pray. Do you think their voices will be unheard and unheeded? No; believe it not. I am a very old man, and the task of this pleading is almost too much for me, is almost beyond me, but I only plead, as was pleaded before, that "I love much."

I believe that no prayers are unheeded or unheard, but I think those prayers would be heard before ours. I say that no prayers sent with a clean heart are unheeded or unheard, but that in the ful-ness of time, and in His own way, those prayers are answered and will come back. Are we prepared for those answers? We are not Pharisees. Do we remember, can we forget, the acceptance of the wrath to come? "On us and on our children!" We have all read it, and many of us believe it. Those were the words: "on us and on our children." Render unto God the things that arc His and unto Caesar (a Christian Caesar remember) or even a good Samaritan, the earthly things which are entrusted to him. I would call, in the language used by a great Christian people—they were great in those days—in the language which is" still heard in this House when Acts receive His Majesty's sanction, words from the wonderful provision of the law of our common ancestors, the most powerful injunction made to restrain and prevent all manner of exactions, cruelties, villainies, words which have never failed to straighten out justice, to help the poor and the friendless: Haro! Haro! A l'aide mon Prince on me fait tort. I beg to move.


My Lords, you will no doubt remember that my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire gave a very full reply to the noble Lord's Motions on January 27 which covered substantially the same ground as his present Motion. I am afraid, therefore, that I have very little to add to what was said on that occasion. I need hardly say that the Government are as anxious as ever they were to do anything that can be done to help our fellow countrymen in the Channel Islands, but in regard to the particular proposal to send a food ship to them, they do not think that it would be right to hold out any hope that the proposal would be practicable in present circumstances. I am sure that we all share the noble Lord's deep sympathy for those who have remained in the Channel Islands in the hardships which they are enduring, but no purpose would be served by exaggerating the extent of such hardships, and I am bound to say that the conditions described in the noble Lord's Motion do not correspond with the information available to His Majesty's Government. The Government are confident that their fellow-countrymen in the islands realize that the Government, although they have been unable to address them, have not forgotten them.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for his answer. I should like to ask him one or two questions on what he has said. He speaks of his information from the islands. I also have information from the islands for I have many relatives there, and I prefer my own authority and the date of my authority until I hear the authority of the noble Lord. As to Government words and Government authority I have spoken of General Gordon. He was at Khartoum, as your Lordships know, and the then Prime Minister in this country said that he was not surrounded; his information was that he was not surrounded, he was only hemmed in. But it came to the same thing in the end; he was killed and his garrison followed him.

I do not say that the island grown-ups, the middle-aged and the old, are in a sense hungry—there is always rabbit food for them—but the children are starving. It is the children I am pleading for. It is my information—and as an islander and having represented the supreme port of the kingdom for twenty-five years I have some friends at sea still—that these children are starving. Yet the only answer we can get from the Government is that there is no hope of their getting food. That is terrible and we are given no reason for it. I have been given, now and again, a dozen excuses, but an excuse, unless it is a very good excuse, only annoys, only embitters. I have as yet heard no reason why the Government should not allow me to take a small boat across the Channel with a few necessaries of life for the children of these islands. We know that Germans have allowed medical comforts to reach the islands when they were asked for. I must be very stupid indeed, but I do not see how the two things agree in any way.

We are told that the Government are anxious and that my noble friend is afraid. I am sure he is not afraid, whatever the Government may be—it would not become him to be afraid. We here can get tmee meals a day, not so plentiful as they were, and with not so much variety, but still there is no man or woman or child who cannot get food. Yet the noble Lord said there is no hope of the necessaries of life being sent to these children of our own blood whom we have deserted and betrayed. I do not want to use harsh words but we have deserted them without rhyme or reason. I have been told here that Guernsey could not be defended because it was right under the coast of France. Guernsey is thirty miles away from the coast of France. It has wonderful aerodromes and wonderful harbours, now full of German ships, and if we had held out—and local military opinion said we could hold out—we should still be holding the Channel and the "Scharnhorst" and her friends could not have slunk up the Channel inside Guernsey without our knowing it. What that act has cost us, will only be known years after this war has ended, but it remains, and will remain. The people of these islands will be witnesses if we permit this state of affairs to go on without saying anything to force the Government to assist them and to save these little children from their awful fate; but evidently it is no use appealing to the Government. They say there is no hope, not even hope of food being sent. We can only send bombs. We can bomb the islands, although that, I suppose, does not please the Germans, but we cannot ask that these little children be allowed to receive some of the necessities of infantile life.

I can say no more but only this in justification for myself, if your Lordships will allow me. This is the third time I have brought the matter before your Lordships. Let no one say that an officer in His Majesty's Service is seeking to push himself forward if he sets out in a 20-foot trawler with two German naval prisoners of war. My only reason for volunteering is that I am an islander and proud of that fact and that every islander would recognize me. There would be no question of bona fides on landing; there would be no question of identity. Every islander would know me and, as an officer who would be in His Majesty's uniform—for I have the honour and the right to wear that uniform—my presence and my word would be accepted by the Germans. If I thought there was the remotest chance I would ask for a Division but, having had many years' experience in another place, I know that if the Government arc set nothing can be done. I might not even find a Teller. If I could find a Teller I would divide now. Will any noble Lord tell with me against the Government? There is no reply. Oh your heads be it! I beg leave to withdraw.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.