Henry Tandey – The Man Who Could Have Killed Hitler (1891-1977)

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Who was Henry Tandey?

Henry Tandey was an outstanding soldier in the British Army. He served during the First World War and took part in the notorious battles of Ypres, The Somme and Passchendaele. He was wounded several times and returned to fight again. For his gallantry at the Battle of Marcoing, he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour in Britain and the Commonwealth. But, that’s not what makes him remarkable.

Henry-Tandey-1There’s a story that goes like this. After the Battle of Marcoing, a German soldier came within range of Tandey’s rifle. You would have expected Tandey to have shot and killed the German soldier. After all, that’s what he’d been sent to do. But, the German appeared wounded, so Tandey lowered his rifle and didn’t shoot. The German nodded in respect and appreciation, and disappeared back into cover. That day would leave a lasting impression on both of those men. For the German, he owed the British soldier his life. For Tandey, it would be more than two decades before he knew the impact of what happened.

This is just a story, but it’s one that might be true. The story goes that the German soldier was Lance Corporal Adolf Hitler who was serving in the 16th Bavarian Infantry Regiment.

What’s my connection with this story? Both Tandey and I grew up in the same town, but I only found that out quite recently. It’s not something people talk about, for obvious reasons. You won’t find any mention of this on the town’s tourist websites, and I respect that. I won’t name the town in England, but you can find that out for yourself quite easily.

Be careful of the things you wish for as they may come true

It seems most of us wish to be famous. Hitler certainly yearned for fame, but Henry Tandey lived to regret his.

At the end of World War One, Tandey was a war hero. What more could a young man wish for? He was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1918, and was all over the newspapers. Hitler spotted his picture and believed he recognised the man who had spared his life. It must have meant a lot to Hitler, and he kept a clipping with him for many years.

maxresdefaultTandey had been the subject of a painting by the artist Fortunino Matania. It depicted Tandey carrying a wounded soldier in the aftermath of the Battle of Ypres. In 1937, Hitler obtained a copy of the painting, and he kept this with him too. Neville Chamberlain (the British Prime Minister) visited Hitler in 1938 in his successful attempt to ‘appease’ Germany and postpone war. He spotted the picture of Fortunino Matania’s painting and quizzed the Fuhrer on it. Hitler told him it was the man who came close to killing him, and asked Chamberlain to pass on his gratitude to Tandey. He did, and Tandey’s life would never be the same again.

Tandey outlived Hitler by 32 years, and for about half his life was known as the man who could have killed Hitler, before any harm was done, and didn’t. He was the man who might have changed history. It’s been said that Tandey actually believed the story, maybe he did. I can’t imagine how it felt to carry the immense weight of it on his shoulders.

One debate:

There’s a heated debate about whether or not the encounter between Tandey and Hitler ever took place. Most of it seems to revolve around dates and circumstances, and nothing is conclusive. It’s possible that the story is true, but that Hitler confused some of the facts. Personally, I’m inclined to believe that Hitler chanced upon an image of a much-publicised event, and built the whole thing up in his deluded imagination. But, I also believe there was an event where a British soldier showed the grace of God to Hitler, I just don’t know if it was Tandey.

Another debate:

There’s another debate about what might have happened in a world without Hitler, but I’ll leave that to the historians. I do agree, however, that the causes of World War Two were structural, and not the result of one man’s (Hitler’s) ambitions. The war would probably have happened without him, and the evil that he personified would still have been a part of it. Also, Hitler made big mistakes, and they contributed to his regime’s downfall. We can only wish it had been more rapid. Had someone else been in charge, perhaps things might have been even worse.

Should Henry Tandey be forgiven?

We’ll probably never know if it was really Henry Tandey who had the chance to kill Hitler in World War One. We’ll certainly never know what would have happened if he (or someone else) had.

A final word:

Try as I might, I can’t find it in my heart to profit from this story, knowing that around fifty million lives were ended in the war that Hitler started. Numbers like that, when related to human souls, are unimaginable. For that reason, 100% of this article’s earnings will go to the this site Charity Fund. It’s a very little thing, but if it helps any of those souls to rest, not least that of Henry Tandey, it’ll be worth it.

Terry Shaw

Terry is a board member for the Economic Policy Institute and works as freelance journalist. He currently lives in Redford Charter Township with his family.

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