Feature Articles: How a Right Can Make a Wrong: The Fateful Encounter of Private Henry Tandey
The annals of history are full of fateful moments which scholars refer to as the great "what if's" of history, where if events had taken only a slight deviation the course of human affairs would have been dramatically different.
Such a moment occurred in the last moments of the Great War in the French village of Marcoing involving 27 year old Private Henry Tandey of Warwickshire, UK, and 29 year old Lance Corporal Adolf Hitler of Braunau, Austria.
Henry Tandey was born in Leamington, Warwickshire, on the 30th August 1891, son of former soldier James Tandey. After a difficult childhood, part of which was spent in an orphanage, he became a boiler attendant at a hotel in Leamington before enlisting in the British Army, joining the Green Howards Regiment in August 1910 and embarking on a 'Boys Own' adventurous life.
"Private Tandey served with the 2nd Battalion in South Africa and Guernsey before the outbreak of war in 1914, he fought in the 1st Battle of Ypres in October 1914, two years later he was wounded in the leg during the Battle of the Somme and when discharged from a military hospital in England transferred to the 9th Battalion in Flanders and wounded at Passchendaele in November 1917.
Once out of hospital he joined the 12th Battalion in France in 1918, his unit was disbanded in July 1918 and he was attached to the 5th Duke of Wellington Regiment from 26th July to 4th October 1918. It was at this time Private Tandey was awarded the DCM for determined bravery at Vaulx Vraucourt on August 28, the MM for heroism at Havrincourt on September 12th and Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery at Marcoing on 28th September 1918.
After the Great War he was posted to the 2nd Duke of Wellington Regiment in Gibraltar, Turkey and Egypt on 4th February 1921. He was discharged from the army on 5th January 1926 at the rank of Sergeant."  Leaving 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.
Tandey was mentioned five times in dispatches and certainly earned his VC during the capture of the French village and crossing at Marcoing, his regiment held down by heavy machine gun fire Tandey crawled forward, located the machine gun nest and took it out.
Arriving at the crossing he braved heavy fire to place wooden planks over a gaping hole enabling troops to roll across and take the battle to the Germans, the day still not over he successfully led a bayonet charge against outnumbering enemy troops which helped bring hostilities to an end.
As the ferocious battle wound down and enemy troops surrendered or retreated a wounded German soldier limped out of the maelstrom 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 young German soldier nodded in thanks and the two men took diverging paths, that day and in history. Hitler retreated with the remnants of German troops and ended up in Germany, where he languished in the humiliation of defeat at wars end.
Tandey put that encounter out of his mind and rejoined his regiment, discovering soon after he had won the Victoria Cross. It was announced in the London Gazette on 14th December 1918 and he was personally decorated by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 17th December 1919, in newspaper reports a picture of him carrying a wounded soldier after the Battle of Ypres was published, a dramatic image which symbolized a war which was supposed to have put an end to all wars and immortalized on canvas by Italian artist Fortunino Matania.
Leaving the army in 1926 at the rank of sergeant the 35 year old settled in Leamington where he married, settling back into civilian life he spent the next 38 years as Commissionaire, or plant security chief, at Triumph, then called the Standard Motor Company. He lived a quiet life and although regarded as a hero by all and sundry wasn't one to brag or boast, wouldn't mention the war unless asked about it.
In 1938 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940), Conservative PM from 1937-40, made his gloomy trip to Munich to meet Chancellor Hitler in a last ditched effort to avoid war which resulted in the ill-fated 'Munich Agreement'. During that fateful trip Hitler invited him to his newly completed retreat in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, a birthday present from Martin Bormann and the Nazi Party.
Perched 6017 feet up on Kehlstein Mountain it commanded spectacular views for 200 kilometers in all directions. While there the Prime Minister explored the hill top lair of the Fuehrer and found a reproduction of Matania's famous Marcoing painting depicting allied troops, puzzled by the choice of art Hitler explained, "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". 
Chamberlain' s thoughts aren't recorded, World War II irrupted soon after and he lost power to Winston Churchill, dying of stomach cancer within months of that event. Although I feel safe in assuming he wished Tandey had pulled the trigger, ridding the world of a venomous creature.
Hitler seized the moment to have his best wishes and gratitude conveyed to Tandey by the Prime Minister, who promised to phone him on his return to London. It wasn't until that time Tandey knew the man he had in his gun sight 20 years earlier was Adolf Hitler and it came as a great shock, given tensions at the time it wasn't something he felt proud about.
The story first broke in 1940 but no one gave it much thought at the time, however in recent years it has generated greater interest. Some historians are doubtful as it sounds too good to be true, however it 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 fire bombed Coventry, was Blitzing London and mass murdering people on the continent.
Hitler's regiment was in the Marcoing region at the time although his presence cannot be verified, a great deal of German records for the Great War were lost in WWII due to allied bombing of Berlin which resulted in the destruction of a significant amount of the State Archives. So documents showing Adolf Hitler's exact whereabouts on 28 September 1918 are not available, Hitler biographers have differing opinions.
However there is irrefutable evidence that Hitler possessed a copy of the famous Matania painting featuring Tandey as early as 1937, acquiring it from Tandey's old regiment. "Colonel Earle said that he had heard from one Dr. Schwend that Hitler had expressed a wish to have a large photograph of the Matania painting. Obviously one was sent because Captain Weidmann, Hitler's Adjutant, wrote the following to Earle:
"I beg to acknowledge your friendly gift which has been sent to Berlin through the good offices of Dr. Schwend. The Fuehrer is naturally very interested in things connected with his own war experiences, and he was obviously moved when I showed him the picture and explained the thought which you had in causing it to be sent to him. He has directed me to send you his best thanks for your friendly gift which is so rich in memories." 
The Tandey family were in no doubt of the story's authenticity, they were present when Prime Minister Chamberlain phoned, "Tandey's nephew, William Whateley, from Thomaby, calls to mind a mysterious phone call almost 60 years ago, when the storm clouds of war were brewing and Prime Minister Chamberlain was futilely appeasing Herr Hitler.
One evening the telephone rang and Henry went off to answer it, when he came back he commented matter-of-factly that it had been Mr Chamberlain. He had just returned from a meeting with Hitler and whilst at Berchtesgaden had noticed the painting by Matania of the 2nd Green Howards at the Menin Cross Roads in 1914. Chamberlain had asked what it was doing there and in reply Hitler had pointed out Tandy in the foreground and commented, "that's the man who nearly shot me"