Freelance writer from Cornwall
Joachim von Ribbentrop, Nazi Foreign Minister and Kernowphile.
Joachim von Ribbentrop. Nazi Foreign Minister, Hitler’s personal envoy, social blunderer, temperamental egomaniac, political embarrassment and lover of Cornwall. Although the people of Cornwall were far less in love with him. Hanged at Nuremberg after conviction for crimes against humanity (many might say deservedly so), he was one of the most senior of Hitler’s henchmen.
Von Ribbentrop first visited Cornwall in 1937, largely because his superiors considered his blundering lack of diplomatic etiquette and fiery temper made him a political embarrassment. Their opinion of his tragi-comic attempts at diplomacy (rather like watching Mr. Bean attempt to defuse an atomic weapon while wearing a blindfold) was amply confirmed when he was presented to the King at an important diplomatic engagement. Normally, people meeting Britain’s monarchs are expected to conform to very strictly-defined protocol and etiquette. Von Ribbentrop managed to comprehensively ignore these conventions when, on being introduced to the King. His first action was to raise his right arm in a Nazi salute, loudly declaiming ‘Heil Hitler!’ After this slight faux pas, his superiors not surprisingly preferred to leave the diplomacy to people with some sense thereof. Baron von Blunder would be allowed and quietly encouraged to spend almost as much time as he liked sight-seeing around the English countryside. The further he was kept from London, the better his superiors liked it.
While on his travels he visited Cornwall and fell in love with the place. He was particularly fond of the area around St. Ives and originally planned to make Tregenna Castle his home and headquarters once the British had been crushed under the Nazi jackboot. Tregenna escaped his permanent presence when his beady, acquisitive eye alighted upon St. Michael’s Mount instead. This, von Ribbentrop decided, was truly a home fit for a Nazi grandee. The outbreak of war then halted his attempts to arrange an Anglo-German alliance against the Soviet Union. Now that hostilities had commenced von Ribbentrop decided, after a successful invasion, that Cornwall would become his personal fiefdom and St. Michael’s Mount his stately home and headquarters. Naturally, senior Nazis being senior Nazis, neither the possibility of Nazi defeat or whether the Cornish actually wanted him anywhere near Cornwall were entirely irrelevant. Once the Nazis were in charge it would be time to divide the spoils. Cornwall would become his personal playground.
St. Michael’s Mount, Ribbentrop’s intended home while making Cornwall his personal fiefdom.
He’d been less than discreet about his intentions even before the war. While visiting Cornwall he openly told local dignitaries that St. Michael’s Mount would make a perfect home and Cornwall a perfect fiefdom. Not surprisingly, this didn’t exactly endear him to locals but, Baron von Blunder being the crude, diplomatically-illiterate creature that he was, he almost certainly didn’t even stop to consider whether he’d be welcome. Despite having visited the area and stayed at the Mount with its owners, the Bolitho family, von Ribbentrop was oblivious of the general pitying contempt he inspired in almost everybody he met. Still, as a Nazi grandee he was no doubt well-used to people not voicing disapproval or anything else that wasn’t Nazi-approved. Woe betide anybody in Hitler’s Germany who dared to try.
With the war underway the good folk of Cornwall were spared further visits from this walking disaster area and he was even kind enough to spare the Cornish people from much in the way of air raids as well. At least until he finally became aware of the pitying contempt held for him by almost every Cornish person he’d actually encountered. In the manner typical of temperamental egomaniacs suddenly discovering that they’re regarded as merely a court jester rather than heir to the throne, von Ribbentrop’s thoughts turned to vengeance. Goering’s Luftwaffe would convey his fury to these insolent peasant pasty-munchers in traditional Nazi fashion.
Small practical considerations (like the range and payload of German bombers) fortunately precluded any Cornish town or city suffering the massed carpet-bombing routinely visited on places like Coventry, Plymouth, London and many others. Besides, other ideas not occurring to von Ribbentrop (like the Luftwaffe actually having better things to do than demolish places because he didn’t like their inhabitants) largely prevailed. Falmouth was hit hard more than once but, being the world’s third-largest natural harbour, this probably had more to do with military planning than Baron von Blunder’s bruised ego. Smaller raids hit Truro, Redruth and St. Ives, areas previously off-limits thanks to von Ribbentrop’s whim.
In the end though, Baron von Blunder never conquered his Cornish fiefdom. The Nazis were defeated and von Ribbentrop was captured. As a principal defendant in the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials his fate was assured. The International Military Tribunal, composed of British, American, French and Soviet officers, judges and lawyers, were in no mood to reprieve a would-be despot who’d never shown mercy to others. On October 16, 1946 von Ribbentrop was hanged at Nuremberg Prison. He was the first senior Nazi political figure to hang, Goering having swallowed a concealed cyanide capsule hours before execution.
October 16, 1946: Justice at Nuremberg.
It’s doubtful whether he was especially missed, or mourned, by the people of Cornwall or anywhere else.