Rudolph Hess in Wales

Tuesday 17 August 2010, 10:56

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice

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Most people know the name Rudolph Hess. Many know the story of his dramatic midnight flight to Scotland in 1941, supposedly in an attempt to broker peace between Britain and Nazi Germany.

Yet how many realise that from 1942 until 1945, when he was flown to Nuremberg to stand trial for crimes against humanity, Hess spent virtually all of his time in captivity in Wales?

Abergavenny - Neville Street phot by Gordon Hall.jpg

Hess was driven around Abergavenny and the surrounding countryside by his guards. Photo: Gordon Hall

Rudolph Hess was Adolf Hitler's deputy in the Nazi Party and, despite his clear mental fragility, he was a significant figure in the German state.

The reasons for his flight to Britain have never really been made clear. Was it a genuine attempt to find a peaceful solution to the conflict? Did he seek just to recover ground and influence with Hitler, ground he had lost to people like Himmler and Goring? And then, there are those who say it wasn't Hess at all, just a duplicate or stand-in.

Whatever his reasons, Hess flew to Scotland on the night of May 10, 1941 in an ME 110 fighter bomber, bailed out over Eaglesham and injured his leg in the process.

Arrested by members of the Home Guard - an indignity that irked him greatly, both at the time and in the coming months - he spent several weeks in places like the Tower of London (the last man ever to be imprisoned there) and at Camp Z in Aldershot, obviously undergoing interrogation and debriefing.

Following a supposed Polish plot to assassinate him, on 26 June 1942 Hess was brought to Maindiff Court Military Hospital and POW Reception Centre outside Abergavenny.

Before the war Maindiff Court had been an admission unit for a mental hospital in the town and there were many who thought that Hess - who had already attempted suicide by throwing himself off a balcony in his prison in Aldershot - was well placed.

At Maindiff Court Hess had his own room and there were invariably a pair of guards on duty outside his door at all times. He did, however, have a fair degree of freedom, often being driven about the local countryside, in some style, by his gaolers.

He was allowed to take walks around the grounds, his guards maintaining a close watch from a discreet distance. On several occasions he visited places like White Castle and there are even rumours that he once went to dinner with Lord Tredegar in Newport's Tredegar House.

The British government never tried to hide the fact that Hess was being detained in Abergavenny. Indeed, when he first arrived, the staff of the hospital/centre actually lined up in a formal reception to meet him. And the news did feature in many of the national papers of the time.

There was certainly no attempt to play down, or keep low profile, his presence in the quiet Welsh border town. All of this has added fuel to the belief that this was not the real Rudolph Hess, just a double or lookalike, and the publicity was simply adding fuel to the fire.

Always supposing that the prisoner in Abergavenny was actually Hitler's deputy, this was not the first connection between the Hess family and Wales.

It is possible that Carl Hess, Rudolph's father, actually lived in Cardiff for a short while. Certainly Carl's first wife, not Rudolph's mother, was buried in the parish churchyard at Michaelstone-y-Fedw so there may be a degree of truth in the story.

Hess' sojourn in Wales came to an end in October 1945 when he was taken to Nuremberg where, alongside people such as Goring and von Ribbentrop, he was accused of war crimes.

Unlike many of his co-defendants, Hess did not face the rope but was sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in creating and administering the infamous Nazi regime.

Rudolph Hess lived out the remainder of his long life at Spandau Prison in Berlin, being the sole occupant of the jail once Albert Speer and Von Schirach were released in 1966. Rumours of him being a double persisted right until his death, which came on 17 August 1987.

There are still many people who remember seeing Hess in Abergavenny or at places like White Castle. And despite the rumours most of these are clear - the man kept at Maindiff Court was no double, this really was Rudolph Hess.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Dear Phil,

    You say: "Always supposing that the prisoner in Abergavenny was actually Hitler's deputy, this was not the first connection between the Hess family and Wales.

    It is possible that Carl Hess, Rudolph's father, actually lived in Cardiff for a short while. Certainly Carl's first wife, not Rudolph's mother, was buried in the parish churchyard at Michaelstone-y-Fedw so there may be a degree of truth in the story."

    I'm afraid the idea that Rudolf's father was named Carl Hess and married Elizabeth Mackie is a local myth based on nothing more than the presence in the churchyard at Michaelstone-y-Fedw of a gravestone and the publicity seeking assumptions of Elizabeth Mackie's 77 year-old brother, Edward Mackie in 1941.

    Rudolf Hess was actually born in Alexandria in 1894, the son of a wealthy Lutheran merchant named Johann Friedrich (Fritz) H. Hess and his wife Klara Munch.

    I have carried out a little research on Carl Hess, prompted by seeing the memorial in the church and although the connection with Rudolf Hess is non-existent, there is a very interesting coincidence or two with the Hess Affair itself.

    If you are interested in hearing about it please contact me on [Personal details removed by Moderator]

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Interesting comments - history, it seems, can belong to the one who shouts loudest or the one with the biggest axe to grind. I wonder how many so called "facts", things that we take for granted are, when examoned in detail, proved to be incorrect?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Thanks Phil. In this case I can imagine a number of originations for the story. I always wondered why a high profile prisoner like Rudolf Hess was permitted to visit the surrounding countryside (albeit under armed guard early on). It appears well-known at the time that he was held captive at Abergavenny yet it was supposed to be top secret.

    Moving away from potential conspiracy theory there is of course simple "jumping to conclusions". Hess being an almost unknown surname in Wales, perhaps the Mackie family can be forgiven for surmising a link. In fact Hess is a common surname in Germany.

    Remarkably when I examined the Carl Hess story, some very strange coincidences turned up, connecting Carl to Rudolf Hess' landing site in Scotland and his sojourn in Wales.

    I have heard that Rudolf Hess was entertained (dinned apparently) at Tredegar House, do you know whether there is any truth in that, if there is the coincidence is even greater.

    Finally, if you look at the Mackie family's website you will see it contains several utterly implausible personal profiles. Somebody in that family - possibly Edward Mackie himself (the one from back in 1941) - was something of a hoaxer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Like you, Ralph, I have heard stories about Hess at Tredegar House. I do know that Hess and Lord Tredegar knew each other and had met in Germany in the early 1930s, before the Nazi Party came to power. I have just recorded a radio programme about that meeting - due to go out in the New Year on Radio Wales. Have a listen, it might be of interest to you. If Hess and Evan Morgan (Lord Tredegar) knew each other well it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility that they came together at Tredegar House during those war years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Ok, I didn't know Hess and Evan Morgan knew each other but here's the coincidences I mentioned:

    1) Elizabeth Mackie (Carl Hess's wife) was the daughter one of Lord Tredegar's foresters. Her family from the mid-nineteenth century lived on the Tredegar Estate. So Rudolf Hess knew the employer of Carl Hess's first father-in-law.

    Strange enough?

    2) Now we move to Scotland, about 15 miles from where Rudolf Hess landed on his secret mission in 1941 lived for 46 years a man named Wilhelm Hess, Carl Hess's brother! Carl was a witness at Wilhelm's wedding. Wilhelm died in March 1933 (the very month Hitler seized total power in Germany).

    Stranger - what are the chances of two German brothers, one having lived near the place where Rudolf Hess landed in a remote part of Scotland and the other married into a family employed by Lord Tredegar. Millions to one I suspect, yet it happened.

    I found all this out after seeing Elizabeth Mackie Hess' gravestone at Michaelston-y-Fedw and doing a little family history research just out of interest.

    More grist to the conspiracy theorists' mills possibly but I just think its one of those amazing coincidences that history throws up every now and again to tantalise the discoverer.



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