There is a very famous scatological verse, sung to the melody of the ‘Colonel Bogey March’ which refers to the testicular deficiencies of various leaders of Nazi Germany in World War Two. Hitler, or so the song informs us, only had one of the required pair, Goering’s were of inadequate dimensions, which was also the case with Himmler, and poor old Goebbels was entirely lacking in male reproductive organs of any kind. Obviously, the song itself is far less ponderous than my synopsis.
Missing, however, from this lineup, was the man who entered WW2 as Hitler’s deputy Führer, Rudolf Hess. His absence has nothing to with the fact that, as his surname is monosyllabic, it doesn’t scan very well in an obscene song. It has more to do with a bizarre flight he undertook on 10 May 1941. That was when he decided he’d like nothing better than a day trip to Scotland. We can all understand his yearning I’m sure. Scotland, is, after all a beautiful country, inhabited by some of the most sensible and enlightened people on the planet. But the date of his proposed trip made it extremely unwise. There was a war on, he was German, and he was flying a military plane into enemy territory.
So what was he up to? The answer, in general terms, was that he wanted to take Britain out of the war. Now he wasn’t crazy enough to believe that he would achieve this with a courageous kamikaze attack on some bewildered grouse on an estate in the northern highlands. He was on a diplomatic mission.
Hess, who had been more or less elbowed out of any real position of authority in the Nazi hierarchy, was nonetheless aware of the impending German invasion of Russia. Fearing a war on two fronts he came up with the brilliant idea of removing one of the fronts by dropping in on his old buddy, the Scottish laird Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, Duke of Hamilton. Doug was a Caledonian aristocrat who clearly scorned variety when it came to names. Hess seemed to have got it into his head that all he had to do was sit down with Dougie over half a dram and a haggis and plucky Britain would roll over and sign a peace deal with Germany.
His destination was the ancestral home of the Dukes of Hamilton, Dungavel House. Today it’s an immigration removal centre, which is quite appropriate really as Hess has always been one of the most celebrated illegal immigrants in British history. It’s run by one of those American private prison outfits, which is equally appropriate as he spent more than four decades in an institution also partly run by Americans, Spandau Prison in Berlin.
You can probably guess what happened. He parachuted onto the scented Scottish heather, was picked up immediately and tossed in prison for the remainder of the war. In 1945 he was tried at Nuremberg and, unlike many of his even viler associates got a life sentence and ended up in Spandau with six more of the nicer Nazis.
As to whether he had the imprimatur of Führer Adolf for his madcap flight, well what do you think? Hitler might have been insane, but he wasn’t stupid. At the Nazi cabinet meeting on 11 May, he must have sensed something was odd and inquired, ‘where’s Rudy?’
Spandau prison might today have its own Visitor’s Centre, Starbuck’s franchise, and a darling little gift shop. Instead, it was demolished in 1987 after Hess’s suicide at the age of 93. This was to avoid it becoming a Nazi shrine. Wasn’t that a clairvoyant move now?
If I can make a massive digression for just a moment. You might be familiar with the music of the British 80s rock group Spandau Ballet and wonder where they got their name. And yes, it is derived from the prison. However, the classical dance in question is a reference to the frequent hangings that took place in the jail before it became downmarket accommodation for misbehaving Fascists. If there is a better example of, quite literally, gallows humour I would love to hear about it.
But, to come back to the question of Rudolf Hess’s solo flight to Scotland. Was it made with the knowledge and approval of Adolf Hitler, as some people claim? No, it was all his own really bad idea. So, it’s fake history.