Rudolf Walter Richard Hess was born on April 26th, 1894, in Alexandria, Egypt, son of Johan Fritz Hess and Clara Münch. His father was managing director of the importfirm Hess & Co. Rudolf had a junior brother Alfred, born in 1897 and a sister, Margarete, born in 1908. Being the son of wealthy parents, he had a carefree childhood. He received a evangelic and nationalistic education. The German community in Egypt was very strong and patriotic and also very close. Rudolf went to the small schools that had been set up by members of the German community. From the age of 12 onwards, Rudolf was taught by private teachers. The family lived in a villa in Ibrahimieh, a suburb of Alexandria. The family spent summer holidays on an estate in Reicholdsgrün in the Fichtel mountains in northern Bavaria, Germany. Rudolf had a laborious relationship with his stern and authoritarian father. He allowed no arguments and in his upbringing, discipline and obedience stood in the center. The relationshp with his gentle mother was a lot better. He inherited his fascination for the supernatural, astronmy and astrology from her.
In 1908, Hess was sent to a boarding school in Bad Godesberg near Bonn to take up an education at the evangelical Otto Kühnschule (secondary grammar school). He did not return to Egypt. According to most sources, Rudolf showed an above-average intellect and he did well in subjects like natural sciences and mathematics. After graduation Hess really wanted to study engineering but his father disapproved. He insisted Rudolf should take a course at the École Supérieure du Commerce (higher trade school) at Neuchâtel, Switzerland. After graduation, he became a trainee with a trading firm in Hamburg. Hess seemed to have enjoyed himself very much in Hamburg. He played tennis and visited a theatre often. He also read much and in particular books on the nautical history of Germany.
The First World War
When the First World War broke out in August 1914, Hess reported as volunteer in the 7 Königliches Bayerisches Feldartillerie Regiment (Royal Bavarian Fieldartillery regiment), despite disapproval of his father. After basic training, Hess had to perform garrison duties for some time, albeit very reluctantly as he wanted to fight for the Fatherland. This wish of his was fullfilled when he was transfered to the western front. He received his baptism of fire on the Somme, he also took part as infantryman of the artilleryregiment in the first battle of Ypre, which was launched on October 21st, 1914.
On November 9th, 1914, Hess was transfered to 1 Bayerisches Infanterie-Regiment (Bavarian Infantryregiment), at that moment stationed in the vicinity of Arras. With this unit he fought on the western front and in Belgium. He considered fighting and risking one’s life for the Fatherland highly honourable. He wrote enthousiastic letters to his parents with phrases like: "Burning villages of exceptional beauty. War!" His comrades described Hess as very courageous, someone who was always at the head of the fighting and who frequently reported as volunteeer to lead a reconnaissance patrol. On April 15th, 1915, Hess was promoted to Gefreiter (Corporal). On April 27th, 1915 he was awarded the Eisernes Kreuz 2 (EK 2, Iron Cross). In August 1915 he went to Münster for advanced military training and in October the same year he was promoted to Vizefeldwebel (Staff Sergeant) and posted back to his regiment in the vicinity of Neuville-Saint-Vaast in Artois. He served here as commander of a shock troop and was injured in his left hand and upper arm during the fighting for Fort Douaumont near Verdun on June 12th, 1916.
After recuperation, he was transferred to 18 Bayerisches Reserve Infanterie-Regiment (Bavarian Infantryregiment reserve), stationed in Romenia. On July 23rd, 1917, Hess was wounded by a shell fragment in his left arm. On August 8th the same year, he was hit in the chest by a sniper. The bullet penetrated his chest and lung. Consequently, Hess remained in various military hospitals in Hungary and Germany between October 10th and December 1917. October 8th, 1917 saw him promoted to Leutnant (Lieutenant). On his return he was given command over a reservecompany in the Königliches Bayerisches 16 Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment (Royal Bavarian 16 reserve infantry regiment), nicknamed the List regiment after its first commander. This regiment was known for comprising so many intellectuals and students and also for its extremely high losses. One of the regimental couriers was Gefreiter Adolf Hitler (Bio Hitler) although Hess and Hitler have never met during the war.
Rudolf Hess enrolled in the German air force in 1918. He commenced flight training in March on Fliegerhorst (air base) Lechfeld near Augsburg. Hess received his wings only a few weeks prior to the armistice of November 11th, 1918. During the last days of the war he served in the Bayerische Jagdstaffel (Bavarian Fightersquadron) 35. He took part in a number of dogfights over Valenciennes in a Fokker D.VII but did not manage anymore to distinguish himself in this short period. After the armistice, Hess left the army in December of the same year, a disillusioned man.
Hess was shocked by the defeat. In his opinion, the German armed forces were still capable enough to fight. He put the blame for the defeat on the Jews and socialists. They would have stabbed the German army in the back by unleashing revolts in the Fatherland and proclaiming the republic, forcing the military at the front to cease fighting. In his own words, he became a dedicated anti-Semite because of these events in 1919