This is really the most fantastic story. It’s not new but I heard it for the first time today, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’ll like it, or maybe I am.
Once upon a time there was a man called Henry Tandey. He died in 1977 aged 86 years. He was a quite unremarkable man, much like any other of his generation, except that he wasn’t, he was a true hero.
He had an awkward habit of always being in the wrong place at the wrong time during World War One. Born and brought up in Warwickshire he enlisted into the Green Howards and was shipped off to fight in the Trenches of France, being wounded at least three times, being brought back to England, patched up and sent back again. During the course of all of this he started to collect a few ‘gongs’.
Tandey was mentioned five times in dispatches
In August 1918 at the Battle of Cabrai, Henry won the DCM for storming an enemy post with two comrades, killing several Germans and capturing 20 more.
A fortnight later he earned the Military Medal rescuing wounded men under fire and leading a bombing party into German trenches.
And he won the VC on September 28, 1918 at the Battle of Marcoing. When his platoon was halted by heavy machine-gun fire Henry crawled forward to locate the gun post and led comrades to destroy it. He then rebuilt a plank bridge crossing the canal, again under a hail of bullets.
Later that evening he and eight comrades were surrounded by Germans and apparently doomed. But Henry, though badly wounded, led a bayonet charge so fierce that 37 of the enemy were driven into the hands of his company.
As the ferocious battle wound down, and enemy troops surrendered, or retreated, a wounded German soldier limped out of the chaos and into Private Tandey’s line of fire, the battle-weary man never raised his rifle and just stared at Tandey resigned to the inevitable. “I took aim but couldn’t shoot a wounded man,” said Tandey, “so I let him go.” The two young soldiers merely nodded to each other and went their separate ways.
That German soldier was Adolf Hitler.
An Italian war artist had captured soldiers of the Green Howards evacuating the wounded at the Battle of Ypres in 1914 – with Henry Tandey in the foreground carrying a comrade on his back.
Incredibly, Hitler later saw this painting and recognised him as the man who had spared his life.
He told Neville Chamberlain (in 1938) : “That man came so near to killing me I thought I should never see Germany again. Providence saved me from such devilishly accurate fire as those English boys were aiming at us”.
Hitler asked Chamberlain to convey his best wishes and gratitude to Henry. Whether he did or not is unknown.
How differently things might have turned out.