Friday, 13 May 2011

Don't believe all you read in the news

Here's another article which was originally uploaded on Wednesday 11th May.

The recent anniversary of the landing of Rudolph Hess in Scotland has prompted quite a few pieces of news coverage. We even posted our own article about it here.

The BBC published two accounts from Scotsmen with their stories of the night's events. One was a witness to the events, and one was passing on a piece of family history.

The problem is there are holes in both stories. The eye witness claims it happened on a sunny day, however it quite clearly all happened at night. There are so many official documents about the event there is no doubt in anyone's mind when Hess landed. The witness was a ten year old boy when it happened and it is now talking about it 70 years later. I'm sure no one can doubt he lived in Busby in May 1941, and he may have seen some of the events, but it was definitely not during the daytime.

The second account concerned the events on the crash site. The man's father supposedly helped Hess out of the plane. The obvious problem with this story is that Hess didn't crash land in his plane. He parachuted out of it first. He was not helped out of his plane by anyone. Again I'm not casting doubt on his father being there, I'm just pointing out that there is a problem with the story.

Here's the point of this post then. Can you ever trust memories of events that took place decades before, and can you trust old family stories handed down the generations as gospel? I really don't think you can.

The late historian Richard Holmes, who sadly passed away last week, would not rely on testimonies unless they were written either during a war, or very shortly afterwards. The two stories repeated by the BBC about the Hess landing clearly illustrates why he did it. Looking back at events from 1941 from 2011 people unintentionally weave fact and fiction together so you don't know where one ends and the other begins.

1 comment:

  1. This is what's fascinating about oral history - just whose history are you getting?

    I'm currently working on the sinking of the Carpathia in 1918. The story seems clear enough, swift evacuation, no lives lost after initial explosion, but I've also got a detailed eyewitness account that differs a bit from that. This is from a gunner on board, passed the story to his son in the 1930s (and no doubt frequently afterwards). The son, now over 80, tells it well.

    Of course the newspaper reports may have been inaccurate or censored, the gunner might have had a shifting memory, and the son might do to. So tricky but totally fascinating.