20 AUGUST 1988, Page 23

The real Hess

Sir: In 1941 I was private secretary to Sir Alexander Cadogan, the head of the Fo- reign Office. As such I was also in those days, I believe, the only direct link bet- ween the FO and the secret services MI5 and MI6, other than Cadogan himself. On Sunday 10 May, I had a day off but looked into the office in the afternoon. I found Cadogan in his room, having been apprised of the landing of Rudolf Hess in Scotland. He had at once sent off Ivone Kirkpatrick, a fluent German speaker ac- quainted with the top Nazi hierarchy, to interview Hess. Thereafter we were much engaged with the Hess affair for many weeks. For some time I had all his collection of medicines and other drugs in my safe. We had daily reports of his doings and after a short time full microphone recordings of his conversa- tions.

Hess was often cross-examined including by such eminent figures as Lord Simon the new Lord Chancellor, and Lord Beaver- brook who I think was still Minister of Aircraft Production. They got little out of him, nor did the experts.

The general conclusion was that for all the imperfections of his plan he was genuinely seeking an end to the war with Great Britain. He was a hopeless hypochondriac and clearly rather unba- lanced, but he stuck to his theme.

As regards Mr Zametica's theories (Books, 23 July) that it was all part of an infamous Nazi-British plot, I can only say that it corresponds little with what I remember was the universal mood in Bri- tain at the time. I had previously been a year in the War Cabinet Office and I was in close touch with leading politicians of all parties, and indeed had friends or ac- quaintances in what Mr Zametica called `British Society' including members of the so-called 'Cliveden Set'. I never at any time heard anyone in Government, the services or in private life ever mention the possibility of a negotiated peace.

Twenty-five years later my wife and I were staying at Marbella and were intro- duced to Professor Messerschmidt, the famous aircraft constructor. He told us that Hess had asked him very privately to convert an 110 Messerschmidt two-seater fighter for a long-distance flight. It was said to be in connection with his post as head of the Hitler Youth Air Unit. Messerschmidt agreed, though clearly under no illusions about the ostensible purpose. It took some weeks to carry out the work which was done in profound secrecy. When the story eventually broke, Messerschmidt told us, Hitler fell into a furious rage which he vented on the professor. His life was only spared because he was essential to the future of the aircraft industry. Was the professor, who knew the real Hess ex- tremely well, also taken in by a substitute?

Colyton Le Formentor, 27 Avenue Princess Grace, Monte Carlo, Monaco