Belfast Telegraph

Ulster aristocrat who welcomed Hitler's Nazi henchman to Co Down

By Ivan Little

The furious row over the footage of the Queen giving a Nazi salute more than 80 years ago has reopened the debate on the links between an aristocratic Ulster family and Adolf Hitler, whose hated henchman Joachim Von Ribbentrop visited their Mount Stewart estate on the shores of Strangford Lough in 1936.

Relatives of Lord Londonderry, a former Unionist minister at Stormont, have consistently denied he was a Nazi appeaser and said his reaching out to Hitler and his associates like von Ribbentrop was an attempt to stave off war.

Memories of that controversy have been revived in recent days after pictures from a black-and-white home movie emerged showing a then seven-year-old Princess Elizabeth laughing and giving a Nazi salute in 1933. It was filmed by the future King George VI, the Queen's father, at Balmoral and the Queen Mother is seen making the same gesture.

The Sun used pictures on its front page under the headline Their Royal Heilnesses and said the extent to which the British aristocracy - notably the Queen's uncle Edward - were sympathetic towards fascism in the 1930s was of historical significance.

Edward, who abdicated to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson, has repeatedly been at the centre of accusations he was a Nazi sympathiser and after his marriage the then Duke and Duchess of Windsor met Hitler in Munich in 1937.

The visit by von Ribbentrop to Mount Stewart was a year earlier.

Lord Londonderry, who lived on the estate, was a British air minister who tried to persuade Hitler and other Nazis to curtail their activities long before war began.

On one of five visits to Germany, Lord Londonderry - or to give his full name Charles Stewart Henry Van-Tempest-Stewart - met Hitler in Berlin and took his teenage daughter Lady Mairi Bury with him.

Before her death at the age of 88 six years ago, Lady Mairi described Hitler as a "nondescript person", adding "You would never have picked him out in a crowd."

She did however remember his "extraordinary blue eyes".

In May 1936, Lord Londonderry - who had quit as Minister of Education at Stormont long before - invited Von Ribbentrop whom he'd also met in Germany to Mount Stewart, which was often used to host VIP visitors.

Von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador to London who was to become Hitler's trusted foreign minister, stayed for four days and caused a massive storm.

One newspaper headline read "Swastikas over Ulster" - a reference to the German three-engined plane, one of the biggest seen at Newtownards airfield, which flew him and his wife from London.

Reporters who asked von Ribbentrop why he had come were told it was for a holiday in a "beautiful" country which he had heard so much about.

He added: "Lord Londonderry is a great friend of mine and of course that's the reason I have come to spend a few days here."

Reports said von Ribbentrop brought a "noisy gang of SS men" and the visit later became a national newspaper story with claims the ambassador's real aim was to discuss a peace accord between Germany and Britain.

Within years Germany had invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland.

Von Ribbentrop was convicted at the Nuremberg Trials for his role in starting World War II and enabling the Holocaust. He was hanged in October 1946.

As for Lord Londonderry, friends said he died a broken man. He was reported as having said that as far as his efforts to win Hitler around were concerned he "backed the wrong horse".

However, the last word on the extraordinary visit by a Nazi to Newtownards went to his daughter Lady Mairi Bury

She called von Ribbentrop "the most arrogant creature" and it was said she disliked him even more than Hitler.

Belfast Telegraph


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