British Empire Books


Heligoland


TypeNon-Fiction
AuthorGeorge Drower
PublisherSutton
Published2002




This is a book that tells the story of this tiny little island in the North Sea. Originally, it was a Danish possession before being hoovered up by the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars in 1807. The island was just too strategically well placed to give up at the end of the war and so it became a colony for most of the rest of the nineteenth century.

This book is mainly interested in the politicking between Britain and Germany for control of the island. It does not really go into that much detail about the lives of the Heligolanders except as part of the political struggle to stop themselves being transferred to the Germans as part of an enormous trade for land in East Africa in 1890. The British had assumed that they had come off with the better part of the deal, despite Queen Victoria's reservations. Yet, when the First World War broke out in 1914, it was clear that this miniscule island would have been very valuable indeed to the Royal Navy.

The Second World War would also demonstrate the strategic location and value of this island as it was converted into a submarine base. It was only when a 1,000 bomber raid flattened the island, that it was put out of commission to the Germans. Ironically, a few months later the island was back in British control for the first time since 1890 as Britain took the Northern occupation zone of Germany in the division of the country after the war. Unfortunately, the islanders were not to benefit from a return of their imperial owners as the British sought to empty the island and use it as an enormous test range for the next seven years.

The book does a comendable job at telling a fairly obscure story. It is a fairly jingoistic account and certainly seems to see British involvement in somewhat rose tinted fashion. It is good at explaining the political manouverings of Salisbury to get the deal in East Africa. It could do with being a little more informational on the Heligolanders themselves rather than the British and German dignataries and civil servants on which he comfortably comments upon. This is a great starting point for this unusual colonial acquisition.


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