What did you do in the War Dad?

Marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two – well not really. We are « celebrating » the end of the War in Europe. There are various « nostalgic » events all over the UK: parades, street parties, Church services and one slightly more unconventional event – two minutes of « national applause » – the whole nation will be clapping for two minutes in thanks. (I heard this last one on the BBC yesterday)

So, to the burning question. « What did you do in the War Dad? » Reminiscent of that WW1 recruiting poster, where a little girl, sitting on her father’s knee asks a rather sheepish and guilty looking dad « What did you do in the Great War Daddy? »


Every family has their War stories, so here are mine.

Dad, born in 1917 would have been 28 in May 1945; so, I guess that he would heave served right throughout. He never talked about his War experiences, simply because he didn’t have many. Dad had a heart condition, bad eyesight and a back problem. Obviously unfit for combat. Mum used to say that dad served in the Intelligence Corps. Dad was quite brainy, and my mum’s best friend Sylvia always reckoned tat dad worked on the Enigma project – I’m quite happy to believe that. I guess that I’ll have to go searching for his War record one day.

War hero of the family on my dad’s side was my Uncle Oliver, who served in the 8th Army. He was a « Desert Rat » and when he was demobbed he married a very ratty woman

So to our family War Hero – Grandpa George – (photo below circa late 50’s) who is shaving a bit of an anniversary today.

grandpa3 - copie

On May 10th 1941, Rudolf Hess crashed his plane into a field in Renfrewshire in Scotland. The story goes that Hess, Hitler’s deputy, had flown secretly to Britain to make peace. Personal initiative or an order from the Fuhrer? We will probably never know, and we won’t see any of the secret documents of the time for another few years yet, I believe they have were classified secret for 100 years – let’s just say that there might still be « repercussions » if the documents were released now. We might just find out how many members of the Royal Family and the government of the time actually maintained secret links with Nazi Germany.

When Hess crashed his plane, my Grandad was fire-watching on the roof of the Daily Mail building in Glasgow – it was during the Glasgow Blitz. Grandpa George was chief photographer at the Daily Mail in Scotland. When Hess crashed, he sought help from a local farmer, who, (as family legend goes) was one of my Grandpa’s « contacts ». The farmer phoned Grandpa George, who then rushed down to the farm in Renfrewshire and photographed Hess before the Authorities got there. Believe Grandpa George and he would have you believe that he was sitting there, chatting to Hess, sharing a whisky and taking photos of him jest as the local police arrived. Good old Grandpa George got the world exclusive, and his photos went all over the world. Of course, as an employee of the paper, he didn’t get a byline and he didn’t have any copyright on his photos. I’ve tried numerous archives to try and track the photos down – all to no avail. In his obituary, Grandpa George was referred to as « The Man Who Shot Hess. »

Daily Mail 02:01:1968 copie

Born in 1898, Grandpa should have served in the First World War, but in 1912, he went to work on the railways after leaving school and one day had his left foot sliced off in a rail accident. Crossing the points, his foot got stuck in the rails and when the signal man changed the points for an oncoming train – off came Grandad’s foot. His leg was amputated below the knee and so come 1914, he was unfit for combat.

And that was my family’s contribution to two World Wars.

Here is something I knocked up in 2006 for the 65th anniversary of the Hess Shooting. I made it on to the BBC and as interviewed by John Peel. (Not sure if the links are still good.)


On the 65th anniversary of the « Hess peace Mission » here is part of the bizarre story that history seems to have overlooked.

Most families have some dark secret, this is ours ; my grandfather shot Rudolf Hess. In 1933 he shot the Prince of Wales while he was playing golf at Gleneagles. He tried several times to shoot Queen Mary, but she was having none of it.

Read the story of George Alexander Simpson. The man who shot Hess. How the one-legged, former railway booking clerk, from a working class Bo’ness family, became Scotland’s first « paparazzo » and a pioneer of aerial photography in Scotland.

Read more on the BBC Scotland website « scottishroots /histories »


or on the BBC Radio 4 « Home Truths » website