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  • Herman Göring in Plymouth November 11, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    Herman Göring

    In Plymouth, in the Second World War, a strange idea evolved, among the bombed out population: Plymouth, as an important port, was all too frequently visited by the Luftwaffe. The population came to believe that Herman Göring, the head of his Luftwaffe, personally took part in the attacks on the city. Plymouth folk even claimed to be able to identify his plane as it travelled overhead: it had a distinctive engine noise! However, by far the most extraordinary claim was that Göring visited the city itself in 1942. Here is an ‘eyewitness’ account from French writer André Savignon. Savignon had a lifelong relationship with Plymouth and stayed in the city through much of the Blitz. One day in a discussion with an ‘old workman’, Savignon was shocked to hear of a recent encounter.

    Three weeks earlier, during a night raid, [the old workman] had gone to a shelter – which he pointed out to me – at the other end of the park. His electric torch showed one other occupant, a very fat man seated on a bench and who was struggling to unknot a bootlace. He crossed over and, without a by your leave, did the job for the stranger; noting meanwhile that these were knee-high boots such as airmen wear, and they looked to be of foreign make. The two men started to chat. My interlocutor, who admitted he was trembling,  for the raids frightened him, prophesied gloomily: ‘And they’ll soon come back.’ ‘No’, the other responded, ‘No, they will not come back, be-cause their work is done. I can give you the cer-tain-ty of that, my friend.’ The old workman stared at the stranger, who in addition to his foreign accent, had a singular air. He suddenly thought: ‘I’ve seen that face in the newspapers.’ Could it be… Yes! Herman Göring! Parachuted down to take stock of the damage wrought. ‘Then I got up and ran. And believe me, a devilish laugh rang out after me.’

    Beach doesn’t quite know what to do with this. We are clearly in the space of war (urban) legends: in fact, this account comes from James Hayward, Myths and Legends of the Second World War, 93 a book that has previously been celebrated on these pages. But why Herman Göring, why not Hitler or Hess? Well, there is the fact that Göring led the Luftwaffe and this provides, shall we say, an ‘intimate connection’ with Plymouth. However, there is surely more. Of all the masters of the master race, Herman Göring was the closest to a pantomime villain: this comes out in the account above. In fact, a careful novel of Third Reich would be well advised to leave Göring out: he is just too unbelievable. As to why popular belief conjured him into a bomb shelter: fundamentally, it did so for the same reason that English swains occasionally met the devil coming home at night. Britain, in this case, the ‘old workman’ was sweating out its fears. Note that there are similar rumours about Napoleon visiting Britain incognito before the planned invasion (another post another day).

    How, by the way, did Göring get home? drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    KMH writes, 17 Nov 2016: Try this one on for size: This was not Göring; it was a German who somewhat resembled Göring from a certain angle in the faint light of darkness. He may have claimed asylum as a Jew in England, but in reality could have been a Nazi sympathizer or even something of a spy. The distinctive engine noise can’t be true since it might single out the pilot for special attack. Göring during 1942 would have been about 49 years old, not the right age for flying military aircraft.

    [Beach replies ‘unlikely to be a German outside a camp, but a Dane, a Belgian…?]

    LTM, 17 Nov 2016: Beach, I’m surprised you didn’t pick up on the “His electric torch showed one other occupant, a very fat man seated on a bench and who was struggling to unknot a bootlace.” It was his sleigh made strange sound going through the sky. The old Frenchman wouldn’t be expected to know the sound of pilot reindeer Donner and Blitzen. But the “…knee-high boots” and foreign accent are a dead giveaway, that and foreknowledge of future bomb-free nights. It was Santa Claus, of course.