18 April 2019, The Tablet

Colditz to the Commons

Colditz to the Commons

Airey Neave, right, inspects a model of Gatwick Airport in 1957
Photo: PA/S&G Barratts/EMPICS


The Man Who Was Saturday: The Extraordinary Life of Airey Neave, Soldier, Escaper, Spymaster, Politician
(William Collins, 320 PP, £20)
Tablet bookshop price £18 • Tel 020 7799 4064

Three things distinguish Airey Neave from a run-of-the-mill Conservative MP – his audacious escape during the Second World War from Colditz Castle; his direction of the campaign to replace Edward Heath with Margaret Thatcher as leader of the Conservative Party; and his murder by the Irish National Liberation Army in 1979.  

Neave was born into a class that felt it was born to rule. Like his father and grandfather, he went to Eton and Oxford. In 1933, he lodged with a family in Berlin to improve his German, returning with a horror of Nazism and “convinced that war with Germany was inevitable”. After graduating from Merton College with a third-class degree, he worked in a firm of solicitors, and joined the Territorial Army – this “at a time when uniforms were at their most unfashionable”. At the outbreak of war, he joined the Royal Artillery and as part of the British Expeditionary Force commanded a Searchlight unit in Calais. Calais fell to the Germans. Neave was wounded and taken prisoner. After an unsuccessful attempt at escape from Stalag XXa, he joined other high-risk prisoners of war in Colditz Castle.

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