Airey Middleton Sheffield Neave, DSO. OBE. MC was born on the 23rd January 1916. He was the son of Sheffield Airey Neave a well known entomologist, and Dorothy daughter of Arthur Thomson Middleton.
After prep he studied at Eton, while there in 1933 he wrote a prize winning essay in which he examined the likely consequences of Adolph Hitler’s rise to power and he predicted that another widespread war would break out in Europe in the near future.
After Eton he went up to Merton College Oxford where he read Jurisprudence (Philosophy of Law). While there he also purchased and read the entire works of prescient writer Carl Von Clausewitz, when asked why he replied that “Since war is coming it is only sensible to learn as much as possible about the art of waging it”.
Neave had joined the Territorial Army, and became an officer in the Royal Artillery regular army at the beginning of the war in 1939. He was sent to France in February 1940 as part of a searchlight regiment – part of the British Expeditionary Force.
He was wounded and captured by the Germans at Calais on the 23rd May 1940; for the next year he was in and out of German P.O.W camps, escaping almost before his captors had closed the front gates. After a brief spell in the hands of the Gestapo he and another regular escapee Norman Forbes were sent to Oflag IV-C otherwise known as Colditz Castle.
He made his first escape attempt on the 9th August 1941 disguised as a German N.C.O, but his hastily constructed uniform made from a Polish tunic and cap painted with scenery paint; shone bright green under the camp searchlights.
He tried again on the 5th January 1942, this time the disguise worked and together with the Dutch Officer Anthony Luteyn left during a performance by the other prisoners via a trap door in the stage. Travelling by foot and by train they made it to Danzig (now Gdansk) in Poland from where Neave to a boat to neutral Sweden.
Once home he was recruited to MI9. He also served at the Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. As a well known war hero as well as a qualified lawyer who spoke fluent German, it fell to him to read out the indictments to the Nazi leaders on trial.
After the war Neave stood for election on behalf of the Conservative party in 1950 and again in 1951, finally winning a seat in the 1953 Abingdon bi-election. However his career faltered in 1959 due to a heart attack.
Towards the end of 1975 and the beginning of 1975 he acted as campaign manager for Margaret Thatcher’s attempt to become party leader. When she was elected leader in 1975 she rewarded him with the post of Head of her Private Office. He was then appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland the post he still held when he was murdered by the INLA who placed a bomb under his car which detonated as he was driving out of the car park at the Palace of Westminster, it blew off both his legs, he died later in hospital of his injuries.
Years after his death varies politicians returned to his death to promote their own ideas, Enoch Powell claimed that he had in fact been murdered by the C.I.A along with Lord Mountbatten and Robert Bradford MP. Another prominent politician claimed that it was in fact MI6 that had killed him because he was about to uncover corruption within the organisation.
Whatever the truth Airey Neaves’ biographer met with a member of the INLA who had been involved in the bombing and he claimed that it had to be done
Because a couple of weeks later when the Conservatives won the 1979 General Election he would have been made Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and according to one of the men that claim to have killed him “He would have been too successful in that job, he would have brought the armed struggle to it knees”.