New memories have surfaced of one of the most remarkable incidents in Britain during the Second World War - the flight to Scotland of Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, in May 1941.

An article written for the Glasgow Herald in 1974 by Sydney H. Benson MBE, father of the internationally renowned photojournalist, Harry Benson, recalled the night that Hess landed on moors near Eaglesham.

Mr Benson served for four years with the 3rd Renfrewshire Home Guard battalion that detained Hess. He held the rank of corporal, and was a senior drill and bayonet-fighting instructor and, though he was not on duty that night, owing to the “toss of a coin”, he took a keen and lasting interest in the drama.

The Herald: May 1941: Soldiers and policemen in Eaglesham inspect the wreckage of the Messerschmitt ME-110 in which Hess made his solo flight to ScotlandMay 1941: Soldiers and policemen in Eaglesham inspect the wreckage of the Messerschmitt ME-110 in which Hess made his solo flight to Scotland (Image: Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Hess had left Germany in a stolen plane on May 10, bound for Britain, in a bizarre one-man peace mission. When his plane began to run out of fuel he bailed out and parachuted to safety in farmland north-west of Eaglesham, breaking his ankle in the process. According to contemporary news reports, a ploughman, David McLean, whose cottage was yards from where Hess landed, was the first to speak to him.

"He was a thorough gentleman", McLean told reporters. "I could tell that by his bearing and by the way he spoke. He sat down in an easy chair by the fireside. My mother got up out of bed, dressed, and came through to the kitchen to see our unusual visitor. There was some excitement in the kitchen when the military people came to take him away, but he was the coolest man of the whole lot".

The mystery of Rudolf Hess's arrival in 1941

Hess was taken to a hospital in Glasgow, where he initially gave a false name, but later admitted to his real identity. The Glasgow Herald reported that the plane crash “was heard over a wide area. People rushed to the spot, but were kept at a safe distance by members of the Home Guard, who little suspected the distinguished nature of their first parachutist haul”.

Hess's unexpected arrival made global headlines. John Colville, private secretary to the war-time Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, said of it: "There has never been such a fantastic occurrence".

The Herald: Rudolf Hess, circa 1940Rudolf Hess, circa 1940 (Image: Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Historian Andrew Roberts, in his book The Storm of War, writes of Hess: “An ideological Nazi from the earliest days, he did not believe that Britain and Germany should be at war and so, unbeknown to Hitler, he conceived a daring – if unhinged – plan to make peace between the Anglo-Saxon races.

“The five-hour flight itself, in a Messerschmitt ME-10 with a detachable extra fuel tank, was a remarkable feat of flying and navigation”, Roberts continues, but Hess’s plan began to unravel once he had crash-landed near Eaglesham.

Hess flight to Scotland a Nazi surprise to MI5

 “His first problem was to find someone in authority with whom to conduct peace negotiations, and his choice of Scotland was actuated by the quaint if utterly misguided notion that the Duke of Hamilton – who he wrongly believed he had met at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 – held significant political power in Britain, owing to his title [Lord Steward of the household]”.


On May 10 the Duke of Hamilton rang Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden's Second Private Secretary to say that Hess had crash-landed on his estate in search of “friendly elements” with whom to discuss an armistice. Colville was informed and rang Churchill at his war-time retreat at Ditchley, in Oxfordshire.

Andrew Roberts, in his book Churchill: Walking with Destiny, writes that Churchill was watching a Marx Brothers film at time and initially told Colville: "Tell that to the Marx Brothers!" When Colville insisted that Hess really had landed in Scotland, the prime minister ordered the Duke to be brought to Ditchley - though Colville was told to ensure that it really was the Duke "and not a lunatic".

The Herald: Sydney H. Benson, pictured with his wife, Mary Cunningham Benson, and daughter Joan, when he received his MBESydney H. Benson, pictured with his wife, Mary Cunningham Benson, and daughter Joan, when he received his MBE (Image: Photograph courtesy of Harry and Gigi Benson)In December 1974, Sydney Benson, who in 1947 had been the founder and director- secretary of Calderpark Zoo (later Glasgow Zoo), contributed an article to the Glasgow Herald, prompted by an Imperial War Museum exhibition, The Real Dad's Army, about the war-time Home Guard.

The Herald: Hess, second from left, front row, at a Nuremberg war trial, September 1946Hess, second from left, front row, at a Nuremberg war trial, September 1946 (Image: Keystone)

"The exhibition will no doubt be an excellent boost for the very entertaining television series, Dad’s Army", he wrote. "But while this caricature of Home Guard is enjoyable I often feel it is creating an historically inaccurate impression of what the Home Guard did.

"I like to claim that the 3rd Renfrewshire was something of a corps d’elite, mainly because of our active part in the reception of that celebrated, uninvited ‘guest', Rudolph Hess.

"I have met many who have claimed to have been involved in the Hess saga, but it was the good old 3rd, from Clarkston, Renfrewshire, who held Hess until the top military brass arrived and took him away".

Rudolf Hess and the Duke of Hamilton

Mr Benson added: "He was brought to our headquarters, the Girls' Club in Busby, from the farm area in which he had crashed his plane. Surely the greatest Home Guard scoop of the war? And yet, from what I can gather from the War Museum's hand-outs [press releases], reconstructed scenes from the Dad's Army series are regarded as being more important than the Hess saga".

The Herald: The cast of the much-loved BBC TV comedy, Dad's ArmyThe cast of the much-loved BBC TV comedy, Dad's Army (Image: BBC)He added: "My platoon was on guard at the Girls' Club the night Hess arrived. There, but for the toss of a coin, I might have been on duty that night. But I wasn't.

"When Hess flew around, two of my pals on sentry duty at the door of the hut watched and said, 'If that bloke does not hurry up he will be going home in the dark'. They thought it was one of our planes.

When Hess met Dad's Army

"When Hess was brought in the two I have mentioned, Jimmie Ronald and Jimmie Morrison, stood over him as he lay on the floor. He accepted a drink of water and he gave two cardboard cups (which he had for drinking water in the plane) to the two Jimmies".

Mr Benson reflected that had Hitler been "foolish enough" to invade Britain in 1940 "he would have lost many men at the hands of the Home Guard. But there would have been heavy Home Guard casualties". Of the battalion, he said: "Most of us were in our early forties and fighting fit".

He added: "It was assumed that if the German operation Sea Lion had started they would have landed strong detachments of paras of the many miles of moorland around this part of the world.

"Our battalion played a useful part in giving preliminary training to young chaps who joined the Services in due course".

Rudolf Hess’s peace plan came to naught, the British government having made it clear that it had little interest in listening to any peace terms. He was given a life sentence by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946, and died, aged 93, in Spandau Prison, west Berlin, in August 1987.

The Herald: A memorial to Hess on the spot where he landed in 1941A memorial to Hess on the spot where he landed in 1941 (Image: SMG Newspapers)

Sydney Benson himself retired from the zoo in March, 1967 and was awarded the MBE in the next New Year’s honours list. He died, aged 81, in October 1981.

It was at the zoo that his son, Harry, took his first photograph, of a roe deer. It was subsequently published in the Glasgow Evening Times, when he was 17.

Harry Benson CBE arrived in America with the Beatles in 1964. During a distinguished, awards-laden career he photographed every US president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama, and was feet away from Bobby Kennedy when he was assassinated in June 1968. He has had 40 solo exhibitions in galleries and his photographs have been collected in 14 books.

The Herald: Scottish Parliament photograph of Harry Benson CBE at his Seeing America exhibition in 2016Scottish Parliament photograph of Harry Benson CBE at his Seeing America exhibition in 2016 (Image: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA Wire)In his 2007 book Harry Benson’s Glasgow, he writes: “My father joined the Home Guard which was mostly made up of retired First World War soldiers [Benson senior had served with the Highland Light Infantry, or HLI]. My father was a drill instructor and he just loved it”.

On the subject of Hess’s flight, he observed: “For a while, all we knew was that some German had flown in to Scotland but my father said he was a big shot. My school pals and I went about a mile and a half up the road to a field on Floors Farm to see his plane. It was very dramatic and, afterwards, the field was always referred to as ‘Hess Field’.”