11:09am Wednesday 5th September 2001
After the disaster of Dunkirk and the relentless Blitz, Britain stood alone against the forces of Nazism massed just 26 miles across the English Channel. But was a secret meeting in Barnet viewed as Britain's best chance of keeping her power and her empire intact? LEIGH COLLINS reports
Whetstone was the unlikely venue for a secret meeting between Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess during the Second World War, it was suggested this week.
The Times Group has unearthed a letter in Barnet Council's planning archives which states that Hess was brought to Tower House, 17 Oakleigh Park North, for interrogation after he made his infamous trip to Scotland in 1941.
Professor Richard Aldrich, a Cold War intelligence expert from Nottingham University, said that if this were true, Hess may have been taken to the suburban address to meet Churchill.
"It's pretty clear that quite a lot of people, even those around Churchill, were thinking about doing a deal with Hitler at that time," said Professor Aldrich.
"It's conceivable, although pretty unlikely, and it has always been denied, that Churchill and Hess actually did meet.
"Knowing Churchill's temperament, he might have been fascinated and intrigued to meet Hess.
“For that you might have needed a location close to London and out of the public eye for them to meet."
At that time in 1941, Britain and its Empire was on its knees with German forces controlling Continental Europe and hopes of American military intervention still a distant dream. If such a meeting did take place, the idea that a British prime minister would have contemplated a deal with the most infamous regime of the 20th Century would have been something that British Intelligence would have gone to great lengths to keep secret after the war even now when most secret documents relating to the period have been declassified.
"There are occasional incidents where things are so embarrassing that there's just every determination to eradicate every scrap of evidence," said Professor Aldridge.
"It's a scenario, a hypothesis. It bears further investigation."
The letter mentioning Hess dates from January 23, 1987, and was written by the owner of Tower House, a Mr W Jones, to inform his neighbours of his plans to demolish the building and erect luxury apartments on the site. Mr Jones was the managing director of WH Jones and Co, an export, finance and banking company run from the four-storey building, and later went on to stand as a Liberal Democrat for the Chipping Barnet seat.
It reads: "We purchased 'Tower House' in 1953 and have operated from here ever since. It was built many years ago as a private house. In 1939 it was a boys' boarding school. During the war it was at different times a blood transfusion centre, a fire service station (hence the corrugated iron sheds) and a prisoner of war cage (Hess was brought here for interrogation after he flew to Scotland). After that it was unoccupied and derelict until we took it over."
Kenneth Satchell, now 94, and living in Vincent Close, New Barnet, was a fireman based at Tower House during the war.
"It amazes me to hear that," he said. "It was quite busy. A lot of people would have been up through the night."
He said that during the war construction workers worked through the night to make alterations to the house, building living quarters, kitchens, showers and toilets.
"After the fire service made those alterations, anything like that would have been ideal [for keeping prisoners]," he said.
Mr Satchell added that he knew Mr Jones. He stood for Parliament for the Liberal Party in Chipping Barnet, and was a well-respected man the sort of man who knew what he was talking about and would not make up stories.
Local historian, John Heathfield, said there were far more suitable venues for such a meeting in the London area, such as the MI5 safe house in Kensington.
"Most of the big houses at Totteridge were requisitioned by the forces during the war. I'd have chosen a house with a long drive. You would wonder why they'd choose a fire station."
But he did add that it was not impossible: "The point about secret places is that they were secret to everybody."
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