Airey Neave DSO OBE MC MP (1916-1976)
I can remember hearing the news on the 30th March 1976 and feeling so shocked that a Member of Parliament had been killed by a car bomb as he was driving out of the House of Commons car park. At the time, I only knew that Airey Neave was the Conservative Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary and the Member of Parliament for Abingdon. Apparently, he had been assassinated by the Irish National Liberation Party, probably because of his policy on Northern Ireland and the IRA. He was also a close adviser of Margaret Thatcher, the then Conservative Party leader.
His murderers have never been brought to justice and there are rumours that a 'sympathiser', even an 'insider' had helped the INLP. [See The Day I met Airey Neave's Killers an article by Paul Routledge of the Mail on Sunday, originally published in 2002.]
Airey Neave was a distinguished Barrister as well as a politician. But did you know that he was also a War Hero? At the start of the Second World War, he joined the Army as a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery and was sent to France. Wounded at Calais in May 1940, he was captured by the Germans and sent to a prisoner of war camp, Oflag IX near Spangenberg. In February 1941, he was moved to Stalag XXA Thorn in Poland. Shortly afterward, he escaped with Flight Lieut. Norman Forbes RAF, but they were both soon recaptured and were sent to the maximum security prison at Colditz Castle.
In January 1942, Airey Neave became the first British Officer to escape from Colditz (his second attempt). He escaped with a Dutch officer and they reached Switzerland having travelled on foot and by train through Leipzig, Ulm and Singen. He then evaded through France, Spain and Gibraltar using the escape and evasion route which later became known as the Pat O'Leary Line. On his return to England, Airey Neave helped to train aircrews in the means of escape in occupied territory. He was also recruited as an intelligence agent for MI9, a branch of MI6 responsible for the support of the French Resistance. As a result of his war service, the French awarded him the Croix de Guerre.
In 1946, Airey Neave was also a member of the Nuremberg war crimes team. He wrote several books about his war experiences.