571 Glasheen to Department of External Affairs

Memorandum 185 LONDON, 14 March 1947



[matter omitted]

At yesterday's meeting of the Polar Committee [1] an assessment of probable United States intentions was given similar to that cabled to you in our 104 of 12th March. The Foreign Office Legal Adviser was asked for his reaction to this assessment. He restated his views already reported to you on the necessity for 'effective occupation', but pointed out that this 'cut both ways'. Thus, although it might be claimed that the inchoate rights of New Zealand and Australia to their sectors had lapsed because of the absence of any 'effective occupation', by the same token any other Powers (e.g. the United States), could not claim that territory unless it had effectively occupied that territory by, for example, establishing permanent bases. Although Admiral Byrd's expedition appears to have left behind an occupation party in Little America, it is not thought here that any bases have been established in the Australian sectors. No doubt you have fuller information on this.

In answer to a question from the representative of the Air Ministry, Mr. Beckett indicated that regular aerial surveys over parts of the Antarctic might help in establishing evidence of occupation.

The chairman then asked whether the R.A.F. could help an Australian or a New Zealand expedition in the summer of 1947/48.

The Air Ministry representative replied that the R.A.F. had already been approached to help in connection with the proposed Anglo-Norwegian expedition. They had promised such assistance 'without prejudice' and in particular had offered the services of 5 trained flying-boat air crew. The reservation was evidently made in the event that a formal request for assistance, either from the Australian or New Zealand Governments in connection with their expeditions, or from the Falkland Island Dependencies Survey, might compel them to allocate their limited resources on a priority basis. The Committee was informed that it was probable that the Norwegian Government would shortly ask the United Kingdom Government for a Flying Boat.

The question of the desirability of taking steps to assert sovereignty to the Prince Edward Islands and Heard Island was discussed (Document P(47)13). Preliminary alternative suggestions were that the Islands might be attached to the Falkland Islands or that the Prince Edward Islands might be annexed by the Union of South Africa and Heard Island by Australia. The question was also raised whether any overt action at all at the present time was politic.

The Admiralty representative stated that the Admiralty, after examining the question, had come to the conclusion that both the Prince Edward Islands and Heard Island appeared to have no strategical value whatever, nor did the Admiralty have a negative interest in denying them to a potential enemy. The Colonial Office representative then indicated that the Colonial Office were not interested in attaching them to the Falkland Islands Dependencies both because of the distance, and because F.I.D.S. had their hands full at the present time. [2]

It was pointed out that meteorological stations on the Prince Edward Islands and Heard Island might be of considerable value and that these islands might be useful as staging posts on any future air route between South Africa and Australia across the South Indian Ocean. The Prince Edward Islands can evidently accommodate an air strip. This is not practicable on Heard Island. There appear to be no suitable flying-boat anchorages at either place.

Much useful information concerning Heard Island is given on pages 128-131 of the Foreign Office Research Volume on 'Territorial Claims in the Antarctic' (AS 3748/453/G).

It was agreed that the South African and Australian representatives on the Committee should explore semi-officially the possible reaction of their Governments to the suggestion of annexation and report back to the next meeting of the Committee.

It could then be decided whether action was desirable on a higher level and if so what form this action should take.

It would be appreciated if your informal views could be received in time for the next meeting of the Polar Committee which will probably take place within about three weeks.

1 An inter-departmental committee meeting monthly and comprising representatives of the Admiralty, Air Ministry, Foreign Office, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Dominions Office, Colonial Office and Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Representatives of the Royal Geographical Society and of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa also attended.

2 The Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey was responsible for a chain of stations undertaking geological, meteorological and other research.

[AA : A1068, A46/26/1A]