Captain Moonlight's Notebook: No Marx for Hess

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The Independent Online
LEAVING one set of Etonians, I meet another at the Athenaeum Club, where Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, a minister at the Scottish Office and younger son of the Duke of Hamilton, is holding a party to launch his book The Truth About Rudolf Hess. Most of the guests are survivors from that drama in May 1943 or descendants of the main participants. The only absentees are the Hess family, but I don't suppose they were invited.

On the eve of Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, the pilot of a lone Messerschmitt parachuted out and crashed his aircraft on Bonnyton Moor, 10 miles from the centre of Glasgow. He asked to be taken to the Duke of Hamilton, commander of Turnhouse aerodrome, whose castle, Dungavel House, was not far away. The pilot revealed that he was Hitler's former deputy, Rudolf Hess, whereupon Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, the top German expert in the Foreign Office, was sent to Scotland to check him out.

Hess believed, mistakenly, that he had met the Duke of Hamilton in Berlin during the 1936 Olympic Games, and also that the duke was a man of political influence. He came offering peace terms: Britain could keep its empire and in return would give Germany a free hand in Europe.

Sir Ivone's son, Peter, arrives at the Athenaeum with a plastic toy image of Hess, one of a set of Nazi leaders his father bought in Berlin before the war. He says his father believed Hess was 'very stupid'.

Next comes Winston Churchill, grandson of the Prime Minister. When told of Hess's visit, Winston Snr had said, Hess or no Hess, he was going to watch the Marx brothers. His grandson makes an unmemorable speech before going to another party to attack Alan Clark for his revisionist view of Winston Snr, which holds the old man passed up the chance of an early end to the war.

Floating around the edges is that old socialist Tam Dalyell, whose father was on duty at Turnhouse when news came in of an unidentified plane over Scotland. They are all Etonians.