14th June 1939
French fishermen occupy Minquiers
The arrival of a troupe of French fishermen on Maitresse Ile, the largest of the Minquiers Islands, was hardly a surprise. Quite apart from the fact that the Minquiers had been a point of friction between Britain and France for centuries, The Times’ own correspondent in Paris had reported on the fishermen’s plans to “occupy and annex” the rock five days earlier. Like many such disagreements, this one centred on fishing rights.
The group was initially said to have been led by Marin Marie, a painter and yachting enthusiast, but he denied any involvement shortly after the invaders set up camp, before changing his mind and admitting that he had helped them construct their shelter on the island.
An international no-man’s land
The Times explained in its issue of 15 June that the Minquiers are within an international fishing zone defined by the 1839 convention between France and Great Britain, making them neither French nor British.
The invasion was raised in the British parliament. Hansard notes that on 6 July, “Lord Portsea had given Notice that he would ask if His Majesty’s Government could give any information as to the position as regards the Minquiers Reef (in Jersey waters), and as to the building of a house thereon by a French subject; and move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in view of information which has been sent me, and also a request, I shall, with your Lordships’ permission, postpone this Question to another day, no date mentioned.”
No further mention was made of Minquiers in either the Lords or Commons for the remainder of the year – perhaps because, with Europe heading for war, the government had more pressing matters to consider.
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