Friends of the Museum may have already read this great article (it appeared in a recent newsletter). We thought it was so interesting that it deserved to be read by as many people as possible so here it is! Many thanks to Kerriann Godwin for providing this and letting us share it.
With a pitchfork as his only weapon, David McLean stood over the injured German soldier. ‘My name is Captain Alfred Horn and I must speak with the Duke of Hamilton.’
Seventy-five years ago, on the 10th May 1941, Hitler’s private secretary, Rudolf Hess, flew solo to Britain and parachuted from his Messerschmitt 110, injuring his leg as he exited the plane, and landed in McLean’s farm. Hess’s target, Dungavel Castle near Glasgow, was the home of the Duke of Hamilton. Hess was planning to meet with the Duke, who he wrongly believed was sympathetic to the Nazi cause, to discuss a possible peace treaty with Britain. The Nazi’s were planning their attack on Russia (Operation Barbarossa), and he hoped he could negotiate with Britain so that that the Germans would not have to fight a war on two fronts. Thus began one of the most intriguing incidents of World War Two.
Rather than calling the Duke who was unaware of Hess’s plan and out of the country at the time, McLean summoned the Home Guard. The Führer’s deputy was arrested and imprisoned. Prisoner ‘7’, as he was known, committed suicide at the age of 93 within the walls of Berlin’s Spandau prison. He had been its sole inmate since the 1960s.
Since his incarceration, conspiracy theorists have put forward many ideas relating to the reasons for his flight. Astrologers, occultists and fortune tellers feature strongly in these theories and there may be reason to believe some of them are not as far-fetched as was originally thought. It was known that astrologically advantageous dates were being used to plan successful attacks against the Allies and MI6 had a number of spies working to uncover members of the Nazi party who had an interest in the occult. One of the operatives working in this area was Ceil Williamson, founder of The Museum of Witchcraft in Cornwall. Others included Ian Fleming, Dennis Wheatley and possibly Aleister Crowley.
Above: Cecil Williamson in military uniform.
Williamson, the son of a career military man, had had an interest in the occult since a meeting with a village wise-woman in Devon as a child. He was well-connected and kept salubrious company including the Egyptologist Wallace Budge, anthropologist Margaret Murray, and author Montague Summers. In January, 1938, he was approached by Colonel Maltby of MI6 and asked if he would be interested in ‘helping with occult matters’ in Germany and Europe. It seems that the middle and upper classes, particularly in Germany, had been swept up in a wave of interest in the occult, especially astrology, fortune telling, and the works of Nostradamus.
The Witchcraft Research Centre was thus born and Williamson made many trips to Germany ‘collecting’ folklore tales and discovering the esoteric interests of the German upper classes. After a particularly fruitful trip, he returned with a list of 2000 names of Nazi military personnel who had an interest in the occult. It is possible that this was the information the British Intelligence had been waiting for. They could develop a plan to bring down party members, uncover secret military information, and thereby help to bring about an end to the war?
When he sold his museum to Graham King in 1996, Williamson was quite open with King about his part in WWII and discussed the plan to lure Hess to Britain. The plot, he said, involved a faked Nostradamus quatrain, a break-in at a French bookshop, and a Japanese astrologer. Before the war Cecil had worked in the film industry, even directing the movie ‘The Soho Conspiracy’, so one could imagine his story as an outlandish film script: but was it?
Above: Cecil in more witchy attire!
Hess and his wife Ilse were extremely interested in astrology and Nostradamus, as were many of his friends and associates. Albrecht Haushofer was a keen astrologer and is thought to have instigated the correspondence with The Duke of Hamilton who he and Hess had met at the 1938 Olympics. This correspondence was intercepted by MI5 so the Duke was never aware of the letters informing him of Hess’s anticipated arrival. Haushofer’s father, Karl, was once the German military attaché to Japan and is said to have become interested in eastern esotericism. He helped establish the Thule Society (a German occultist and folklore group focussed on the origins of the Aryan race).
Karl Krafft, sometimes referred to as Hitler’s astrologer, was also an associate of Hess. Krafft, whose birthday fell on May 10th, had warned the Reich that, according to his astrological findings, for victory to be certain, the war must end for Germany in 1943. On the night of Hess’s flight, May 10th, there was a rare conjunction of 6 planets in Hitler’s sun sign Taurus. Perhaps this seemingly auspicious date along with information purportedly coming directly from Nostradamus urged Hess to undertake his mission.
Williamson told King that master-forgers and paper-makers from the Bodleian Library in Oxford rewrote a page of Nostradamus’ predictions, Les Propheties, and sewed it into a book of prophecies to appear as a lost quatrain (prophetic poem). This book was planted in a bookshop in Paris and a Japanese astrologer who was working with Ilse Hess was informed of its whereabouts. The bookshop was subsequently broken into; the book was stolen and transferred to Germany where it was ‘fed to Hess by astrologers in the pay of the Allies’. Williamson went on to say that the prediction stated that ‘a man called Hess would fly to Scotland to end the war’ thus sowing a seed that Hess would act as an emissary to bring about Hitler’s supposed hope for a peaceful settlement with Britain.
Despite information to the contrary, Hitler claimed to have known nothing of Hess’s plans and ridiculed him as a madman. On June 9th 1941 he implemented Aktion Hess which involved arresting and imprisoning hundreds of astrologers, faith-healers and occultists who he blamed for Hess’s actions. Propaganda minister Goebbels, an avid studier of Nostradamus himself, wrote in his diary ‘…an order against occultism, clairvoyancy etc – the obscure rubbish will now be eliminated once and for all. The miracle men, Hess’s darlings, will now be put under lock and key.’ In a later entry he writes ‘Haushofer and his son have been forced out of public life. They are both responsible for peddling mystic rubbish and have the Hess affair on their consciences.’ Albrecht was shot by the Nazis in 1945 and Karl and his wife committed suicide in 196. Karl Krafft died from typhus on his way to Buchenwald prison camp in 1945.
After Williamson died, Graham King was tasked with sorting through his belongings and found several boxes tied with pink ribbons and marked ‘Top Secret’ in the loft of his house. He did not look inside but when he returned several days later they were gone. Four boxes did remain but they were all empty. One was marked ‘Trip to USA’, another ‘Tricked’, the third ‘Returned to UK’, and the last ‘Rudolf Hess Mission’. The boxes still exist, kept in the house of a local Boscastle author, but what of their contents? Who stole in to remove the top secret files and why did they leave these four empty boxes? If only King had stolen a look inside when he had the chance.
Above: from left to right Cecil, Graham and Robert Lenkiewicz.
Williamson said he felt sorry for Hess as he was treated very badly. The Russians insisted he remain in prison long after he would normally have been paroled. He made several suicide attempts in prison until his final attempt was successful in 1987.
Hess claimed that the indiscriminate bombing of thousands of women and children had motivated his flight. He was also worried about entering into a war on two fronts. Some say he was insane; he certainly pretended to be at his Nuremburg trial. Perhaps when the government files are made public in 1917 we may finally find the true answer to what made Hess believe he could broker a peace deal with Britain when he made his flight here 75 years ago.
Did astrologers and occultists really influence his decision? And did the founder of a little museum in Cornwall, The Museum of Witchcraft, really play an integral part in luring Hess to this ill-omened meeting in Scotland? We may soon find out.