The Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper who became personal jailer to top Nazi

  • Video report by Paul Crone

A historian has paid tribute to the bravery of a former Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper who served in both world wars.

James Crabtree led his platoon in the trenches with great bravery in World War One, and in World War Two became the personal jailer to Rudolf Hess, deputy leader of the Nazi Party.

Crabtree at 19-years-old was taken on by Blackburn Rovers as a goalkeeper, and played more than a dozen games for the Lancashire club before being called up in 1914. He served on the front line with the Royal North Lancashire Regiment.

For his contribution to the war, Crabtree was awarded the highly prestigious Military Cross - plus the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, collectively nicknamed Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.

Steve Williams, author and historian, said: "In 1917 at the third battle of Ypres, what people know as Passchendaele, when his fellow officers in his company were all killed, he took over the platoon and acted very bravely, sorting everything out and actually saved quite a number of his men's lives.

"He was wounded again after winning his Military Cross at Cambrai at the end of 1917 seriously, so much so he could not use his right arm and this was a goalkeeper."

When World War Two started in 1939, James volunteered and was given the role of personal jailer of Rudolf Hess.

British Pathe Credit: In 1946, Rudolf Hess stood trial for major war crimes in Nuremberg, Germany.

Steve said: "We find he's only the personal jailer of the Nazi leader Rudolf Hess, who of course landed in Scotland and was pitched into the Tower of London. It would appear that Hess was then sent to Aldershot and James Crabtree became his jailer. Hess found him very amiable and in fact he was complimented on his jailing."

In 1946, Hess stood trial for major war crimes in Nuremberg, Germany and was sentenced to life imprisonment in Spandau Prison in Berlin.

Steve believes we should always remember the sacrifice that those who volunteered made.

He said: "These men and women volunteered, served their king and country, why should we not remember them? Some of them have paid the ultimate sacrifice. We still, should and are remembering them."

Crabtree saw the end of the Second World War but lost his son, who served as a navigator in the RAF's Pathfinder Squadron.

James Crabtree died in 1965.