Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Hess Affair

In one of the oddest pieces of World War II history, Rudolf Hess, Deputy Furher and Reich Minister without portfolio, and second in line to succeed Hitler, parachuted from the plane he was piloting and landed at Floors Farm south of Glasgow, Scotland. He was initially captured by a local ploughman.

Wreckage of Rudolf Hess' Messerschmitt BF 110; photograph courtesy of

Hess' destination was Dungavel House. It was a 19th century hunting lodge and summer retreat of the dukes of Hamilton. It became their permanent home when Hamilton Palace was demolished because it was sinking due to mining actives in the very mines owned by the Hamilton family. The duke sold Dungavel House to the coal board in 1947. The board later sold it to the government, who turned it into an open prison. It is currently a holding center for asylum seekers.

Dungavel House, seat of the Duke of Hamilton after 1919; photograph courtesy
of Strathaven Past and Present

Douglas Douglas-Hamilton was the 14th Duke of Hamilton and 11th Duke of Brandon at the time of Hess' ill-fated flight. The duke had attended the 1936 Olympics in Berlin but claimed not have met Rudolf Hess during his stay in Germany.

Rudolf Hess stated he had journeyed to Scotland in a bold attempt to meet with the duke and plot a secret peace treaty that would ensure Germany's supremacy in Europe. When Hitler heard the news on 11 May 1941, he was horrified. He ordered the German press to label Hess a madman, who flew to Scotland solely on his own authority. Hess was stripped of all party and state offices and was to be shot on sight if he ever returned to Germany.

Hess was imprisoned in England until the end of the war in Europe. He was tried as a war criminal during the Nuremberg Trials and imprisoned at Spandau. He committed suicide on 17 August 1987 at the prison. He was the last Nazi prisoner of war at Spandau, which was demolished later that same year.

So how is the Hess Affair connected with my family? My grandmother's paternal ancestors were coal miners who worked in mines owned by the Duke of Hamilton and lived in what was then Lanarkshire. What they must have thought of the Hess hoo-ha!

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