I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Private Henry Tandey was a highly decorated soldier. He had joined the Green Howards Regiment in 1910 and fought in the mud of Flanders throughout the four-year conflict.
He was an exemplary infantryman, being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for determined bravery on August 28, 1918, the Military Medal for heroism about two weeks later, and the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for valour, a fortnight after that.
He was awarded the last medal for crawling up to a German heavy machine-gun post and taking it out. In addition, he was mentioned in dispatches five times.
As noted by firstworldwar.com he retired from the forces in 1926 as “the highest decorated private soldier in the British Army during the Great War, had he been a member of the officer class there is little doubt a knighthood would also have been one of his rewards.”
(The British class system claimed another victim).
He lived quietly until his death at age 86 in 1977 and had his ashes interred at the British Cemetery in Marcoing, northern France.
But, despite his gallant exploits, Henry Tandey is remembered today for something he didn’t do.
Act of Chivalry Spares a Monster
In late September 1918, Private Tandey was involved in a furious action near the village of Marcoing when an obviously wounded German soldier limped into his line of fire.
History.com says the British soldier later talked about the brief event: “‘I took aim but couldn’t shoot a wounded man,’Tandey remembered, ‘so I let him go.’ The German soldier nodded in thanks, and disappeared.”
There is no independent confirmation that the man Tandey spared was Adolf Hitler, but the German Chancellor believed it to be so.
A photograph had appeared in British newspapers in 1914 of Private Tandey carrying a wounded comrade. The image was later reproduced in a painting by the Italian artist Fortunino Matania who had been commissioned by the Green Howards to depict the action at Marcoing.
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Then, in 1938, when Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was in Germany to try to negotiate peace with Hitler, he noticed a reproduction of Matania’s canvas on the Fuhrer’s wall.
According to a December 1940 report in the Sunday Graphic Hitler told Chamberlain, “That man came so near to killing me that I thought I should never see Germany again, providence saved me from such devilishly accurate fire as those English boys were aiming at us.”
Henry Tandey Receives Hitler’s Thanks
Chamberlain, anxious to curry favour, told Hitler he would track down Tandey and give him the German leader’s regards. According to Bing TV, Chamberlain “made a call to the family of Henry Tandey to pass on Hitler’s message. Tandey received the news with some shock but confirmed that he did indeed remember the incident.” Until contacted by the British Prime Minister, Tandey did not know that the man he had spared was Hitler.
Not everybody is convinced the event actually happened. There are discrepancies in the accounts and some suggest the meeting of Tandey and Hitler might have taken place four years earlier at the First Battle of Ypres.
However, as firstworldwar.com points out, the story has “an unmistakable ring of truth to it. No one in their right mind would make up a story about having spared the life of a tyrant who at that time had just firebombed Coventry, was blitzing London, and mass murdering people on the continent.”
Henry Tandey was in Coventry and London during the aerial bombardment of those cities, and he told The Sunday Graphic newspaper in 1940, “If only I had known what he would turn out to be. When I saw all the people, women and children, he had killed and wounded I was sorry to God I let him go.”
- On March 13, 1930, Hitler was riding in his Mercedes when it collided with a heavy truck. In his 1999 book Guns, Germs and Steel Jared Diamond wrote, “Because of the degree to which Hitler’s psychopathology determined Nazi policy and success, the form of an eventual World War II would probably have been quite different if the truck driver had braked one second later.”
- On November 8, 1939, George Elser, a communist sympathizer, secreted a bomb in a beer cellar in Munich. The bomb was set to explode at the time Hitler was scheduled to speak to his followers. But the Fuhrer left the meeting earlier than expected. Half an hour later the bomb exploded killing eight people but not the intended target.
- On July 20, 1944, Hitler was getting a briefing at his eastern headquarters at Kętrzyn in Poland. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg entered the room and placed a briefcase containing a bomb underneath a table at which Hitler was standing. One of Hitler’s generals noticed the briefcase and moved it so that it was behind one of the table’s stout legs. The bomb exploded, but the table took most of the blast and Hitler escaped with just minor cuts and bruises.
- During the Second World War, several Allied plans were made to assassinate Hitler. One was to poison the water on his train; another was to blow his train up with him in it. There was even a cockamamie plan to spike carrots he ate with female hormones to make him less aggressive. Later, the Allies decided that, given Hitler’s erratic behaviour and poor strategic thinking, it was better to keep him alive as the war would be over more quickly. In the end, Hitler killed himself by gunshot; the place where he did this is now a children's playground.
- “British Soldier Allegedly Spares the Life of an Injured Adolf Hitler.” History.com, undated.
- “A Slow Fuse – Hitler’s World War One Experience.” Simon Rees, firstworldwar.com, August 22, 2009.
- “The Man who Didn’t Shoot Hitler.” Jane Warren, Express, January 18, 2014.
© 2016 Rupert Taylor
Stacie L on December 17, 2016:
Poor Henry Tandy- he must have suffered knowing he missed his opportumity of a lifetime. How would he have known back then? Anyway I have read and viewed many history programs on WWII and it's becoming more widely believed that Hitler actually escaped to Spain and then lived out his golden years in South America. If he did, he must have had the toughest guardian angel of them all! A good read!