The Mock Hess Monster

Or: Was Rudolf Hess detained at Inverlair Lodge?

You can’t move for Rudolf Hess conspiracy theories and generally duff interpretations of the history surrounding him. And for once, I don’t blame them. A senior Nazi flying deep into enemy territory at the height of the Second World War to seek peace with the aristocracy is such a whacky idea in itself, there just has to be something deeper going on. Or so the instinctive reaction goes. For decades the speculation ran wild – did rogue elements of authority in Britain want to negotiate peace? Did they seek to lure and then trap Hess? Was there a hit? A body double? And so on. Just try a few Google searches and feel your IQ points ebb away. And, with all the evidence classified, until recently virtually anything might have seemed plausible. Except that by now, the surviving papers are available, and they categorically refute the conspiracy theories. More so than this negative evidence, as it were, there was never any positive evidence to support any of them. But, like the press, conspiracy theorists never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Not least among these theories are claims made by various places in Scotland, including Inverlair, to have played host to Hess for a time following his bail out from a Bf110 fighter. This despite Hess’ stay in Scotland being both well-documented and short-lived (10th to the 15th of May 41). Hess’ movements after landfall went like this;

10th May – From Eaglesham to Maryhill Barracks near Glasgow for initial interview.

12th May – to Buchanan Castle hospital in Drymen for formal identification and medical treatment.

16th May – to the Tower of London for some serious debriefing. 

Hess never returned to Scotland. That’s it. Yes, they moved him from Glasgow, but only 20 miles away. Inverlair is at least 2 1/2 hours drive (in a modern car) and would only have complicated his inevitable removal to London (as would the lack of a telephone there at the time!). There simply wasn’t the time or motive to be ferrying the guy around the Scottish countryside. Inverlair was itself a most unlikely venue to stash Hess, given its actual classified remit (see below). Why draw attention to this when any secure military or government facility would have sufficed? It’s pretty obvious that the Hess story was created to explain the secrecy at Inverlair, and is redundant since the release of the official documents. So why, if no evidence exists to support the idea, and if it’s barely even plausible, is the Scotsman newspaper still claiming that Hess was held at Inverlair?

There are several reasons. The first is the persistence of local (Tulloch and area) claims to this effect, dating back to at least the late ’60s (and no doubt back into wartime itself). Wherever secrecy is maintained and counter intuitive things occur, you will get rumour and speculation. If the resulting meme takes hold and survives into the age of mass media, you might even get a full-blown conspiracy theory. It wasn’t just to stop actual secrets leaking out that the UK government put out those “Careless Talk Costs Lives” posters – it was to keep a lid on idle gossip that could damage public and military morale and even waste the time of the security forces. In this case, with Inverlair, you have a holding facility for those who had washed out of Special Operations Executive training. Obliged to live in (fairly luxurious) open prison style, they had picked up too much privileged information to be allowed back into circulation until war’s end. For obvious reasons this facility’s purpose had to remain secret, leaving local people to speculate at the time, and after the fact, at the reasons for this. The much-celebrated capture of Hess in Scotland was an obvious candidate for fireside gossip about the place, and so we have this and other claims (another here) of having witnessed or heard about Hess’ local detention. To say the least, it would have been an impossible effort to get Hess to these different locations. And to what end? His presence (and that of his aircraft wreckage and contents) was needed in London ASAP.

Well-intentioned local pride or misplaced weight lent to anecdote are one thing. Even myth-mongering in the local economy I can understand – tourism certainly can’t suffer from this kind of bogus association. Most topically, the lodge itself is up for sale, and sure enough, it’s being touted by the selling agents as Hess’ B&B.

No, it’s the press involvement in perpetuating this kind of nonsense that I reserve most contempt for. It’s irresponsible of The Scotsman (on multiple occasions), and even The Times, for goodness sake, to uncritically swallow the notion, just to fill column inches and sex things up for the readership. I’m not saying they need to totally ignore these myths, just be intellectually honest and sceptical about them. The insertion of Hess into an article ostensibly about recently declassified National Archives material is completely specious. The mention of inverlair is brief, and in relation to might even be forgivable if the material were actually new! In fact only the release of the National Archives book is new – the section of the book quoted (including the bloke too ugly to be a spy) refers not to newly declassified material, but to another book. In other words the press jumped on something easily “sexed up” (the print version ran with a full page picture of Austin Powers!) that they had already covered, rather than something genuinely new to the book that the article is supposed to be about. Recycled news. Easy news. Lazy news. And damn the facts.

NB on sources: Two reliable books on the subject are “Motive For A Mission” by James Douglas Hamilton (harder to find), and “Flight From Reality” ed. by David Stafford. See also the National Archives’ holdings from which these and other sources have been compiled. On the specifics of Hess vis Scotland, I recommend a trawl of these two forum threads (thanks to the forumites there for speeding up my research!);

Secret Scotland forums
Hidden Glasgow forums


One thought on “The Mock Hess Monster

  1. I’ve been noticing that Inverlair has been quoted as being officially named “No. 6 Special Workshop School”. But the wikipedia entry reads:

    “No 6 Special Workshop School – Inverlair, Inverness-shire. [According to the RCAHMS and Major Fyffe] but Fyffe writes that within three weeks this was changed to simply “Inverlair”. Also known colloquially as “The Cooler” and possibly ISRB Workshops.”

    Was it *really* called No6? Or is this some strange publicity angle, back-linking Inverlair with the Prisoner TV’s show’s character I wonder. I cannot find where this *name* has come from, or any suggestion that there was No1 – 5 Workshop (for example). Has somebody just made this up to garner further publicity ?

    Christopher Murphy’s book has a chapter with htis title, so it must be surely an almost cosmic coincidence? I’ll have to get the book to see the exact context of this I guess.

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