Caithness Field Club

Caithnessians v Hess
Geoff Leet

Hitler's deputy Rudolph Hess looked like a thug but he edited Mein Kamph and was the nearest the Nazi party had to an intellectual. Hess knew that Russia was to be invaded in July 1941 and realised the risk to Germany of fighting war on two fronts, so he attempted to restore his popularity with Hitler by a personal peace appeal to influential Britons who, pre-war, had expressed sympathy with Hitler's Germany. Among these authoritative people was the future Duke of Hamilton who, in the early 1930's, was known to Peggy Pollock, later to teach physics in Thurso High School. Peggy's grandfather, labour MP James Brown, was Lord High Commissioner at Hollyrood and his aide was the future Duke. Peggy, aged 14, also stayed there to assist her infirm grandmother. Peggy was surprised at some of the aristocrats who had a high opinion of Hitler and freely expressed the view that England should ally with Germany rather than France. 

In 1941 Hess, a WWI fighter ace, had a Messerchmitt 110 twin engined fighter equipped with long range fuel tanks and attempted a lone one-way night flight to Scotland, swinging far north to avoid anti-aircraft fire. Bad weather foiled his first attempt but on the second he reached the coast near Helmsdale and the type of aircraft, far beyond its normal range, was recognised by the Observer Corps.

 Elaine Smith takes up the story: At Fighter Command Headquarters an unidentified aircraft over the north of Scotland was being tracked on the table and its identity was the subject of considerable speculation. "You are a Scottish girl?" questioned Churchill who was in control at the Headquarters that night. "Then leave the plotting and find out what is going on in Caithness. Is it a Messerschmitt or are they seeing a seagull"? (Messchersmit aircraft were known at that time to have insufficient fuel tank capacity to make the flight from Germany) With Churchill over-listening, the Observer Corps member, at Lybster, was asked "Repeat what you are sighting." "A Messchersmit 110 aircraft". "Are you certain it is not another object?" "Yes - but you sound like a Scottish lassie, what are you doing down there in the Blitz - come home!" "No! I can't - we are very busy with the war!" During this ad lib conversation, monitored by Churchill, the unidentified aircraft on the table was smartly changed to an enemy aircraft. This signalled the RAF to order a section of fighter 'planes (from Drem, East Lothian, airfield) to "scramble" and intercept. Hess altered course south and east towards the Duke of Hamilton's estate and the Spitfire aircraft, heading due north, did not intercept him. Hess located the Duke of Hamilton's estate in the Lothians and parachuted out, allowing his aircraft to crash. He injured a leg on landing and was soon captured and taken to Edinburgh Castle. 

Back to Geoff Leet: The late Lord Thurso, Robin, on leave from his training squadron, was visiting his father, Sir Archibald Sinclair, the Minister for Air, when the news came of Hess's capture. Sir Archibald and Robin were driven fast through the blacked-out countryside to a country house full of excitement and speculation. In due course the Duke of Hamilton arrived in his flying suit. He had flown down from his squadron in his Hurricane aircraft but his cockpit cover had not sealed so he was still temporally deaf from the engine noise and drama descended into farce as attempts were made to question the Duke!

Hess finished his life in 1987 as the sole inmate of Spandow Prison, a pawn in the cold war and the subject of conspiracy theories.