World War One: The British hero who did not shoot Hitler
Henry Tandey became the most decorated private soldier in World War One. His bravery though, would be eclipsed in the run up to World War Two by allegations he had spared Adolf Hitler’s life, in 1918. But, is the story accurate?
The two events were separated by 20 years. On 28 September 1918, Pte Tandey earned the Victoria Cross “for most conspicuous bravery and initiative” at the fifth Battle of Ypres.
Twenty years later, Hitler himself is said to have planted the seeds of the legend during a visit to the Fuhrer by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, in his doomed attempt to secure “peace for our time”.
He apparently seized on the fact that along with many of his fellow soldiers, Pte Tandey had tempered justice with mercy, refusing to kill unarmed, injured men in cold blood. The leader of the Third Reich claimed he was one of those spared.
At his Bavarian retreat the Berghof, Chamberlain noticed a picture on the wall of Hitler’s study, depicting a scene from a battle at Menin crossroads in 1914. The soldier in the foreground was apparently Pte Tandey, carrying a fellow soldier to safety.
Hitler told Chamberlain the soldier had pointed a gun at him but spared him.
“That man came so near to killing me that I thought I should never see Germany again,” Hitler is alleged to have said.
“Providence saved me from such devilish accurate fire as those English boys were aiming at us.”
The museum of the Green Howards – Pte Tandey’s regiment, which commissioned the painting in 1923 from Italian war artist Fortunino Matania – confirmed a copy was hanging at Hitler’s retreat.
The museum has a letter from Hitler’s adjutant, Capt Fritz Weidemann, thanking them: “The Fuehrer is naturally very interested in things connected with his own war experiences. He was obviously moved when I showed him the picture.”
The painting’s route to Hitler’s wall was fairly convoluted, centring on one of his staff, a Dr Otto Schwend, who had received a postcard of the painting from a British soldier whom he had befriended in WW1.
Hitler had apparently claimed to recognise in it a soldier he met in 1918, but the painting depicts a battle that actually took place in 1914.
Dr David Johnson, Pte Tandey’s biographer, throws more doubt on the story.
He pointed out that even if the date were accurate it would have been unlikely for Pte Tandey to have been recognisable from the painting. He had been injured during the 1918 battle, and in contrast to the painting, would have been “extremely dishevelled and covered in mud and blood”.
Perhaps even more compellingly, Dr Johnson argues there was no way Pte Tandey and L/Cpl Hitler could have crossed paths.
On 17 September, Hitler’s unit had been moved about 50 miles (80km) north of Pte Tandey’s, which was in Marcoing, near Cambrai in northern France.
The meeting of the men was supposed to have happened on 28 September 1918, but papers at the Bavarian State Archive show Hitler had been on leave between 25 September and 27 September.
“This means that Hitler was either on leave or returning from leave at the time or with his regiment 50 miles north of Marcoing,” Dr Johnson said.
He also said it was not likely that Hitler had been simply confused.
“It’s likely he chose that date because he knew Tandey had become one of the most decorated soldiers in the war,” said Dr Johnson.
“If he was going to have his life spared by a British soldier, who better than a famous war hero who had won a Victoria Cross, Military Medal and a Distinguished Conduct Medal in a matter of weeks?
“With his god-like self-perception, the story added to his own myth – that he had been spared for something greater, that he was somehow “chosen”. His story embellished his reputation nicely.”
It was another detail that also set alarm bells ringing, Dr Johnson said.
On returning to Britain, Mr Chamberlain is alleged to have phoned Pte Tandey to pass on details of the exchange he had with Hitler.
He was out at the time, so a nephew apparently took the call.
Dr Johnson is highly sceptical the call was made, not least because Mr Chamberlain was a very busy man.
“I can’t see him spending time tracking down and telephoning a Private,” he said.
“He also sent long and detailed letters to his sisters and kept diaries. Nowhere in his papers was the Tandey affair mentioned.”
British Telecom archives add more doubt – Pte Tandey did not have a telephone.
But the story has persisted, having probably first come to light at a regimental event in 1938 where, Dr Johnson said, Pte Tandey was told by an officer who had heard it from Mr Chamberlain.
“We don’t know whether Tandey was taken to one side and told privately – or whether it was a jocular part of an after-dinner speech, or something like that,” he said.
Pte Tandey himself was noncommittal about it. He acknowledged he had spared soldiers on 28 September, and was initially prepared to entertain the idea – but always made a point of saying he needed more information to confirm it.
He was quoted in an August 1939 edition of the Coventry Herald as saying: “According to them, I’ve met Adolf Hitler.
“Maybe they’re right but I can’t remember him.”
But a year later, he appeared to be more certain, when a journalist approached him outside his bombed Coventry home, asking him about his alleged encounter with Hitler.
“If only I had known what he would turn out to be,” Pte Tandey is quoted as saying.
“When I saw all the people and women and children he had killed and wounded I was sorry to God I let him go.”
The newspapers seemed to say it all:
“Nothing Henry did that night could ease his sickening sense of guilt.”
“It was a stigma that Tandey lived with until his death”
“He could have stopped this. He could have changed the course of history”
However, there is no evidence, not even anecdotal, he was either hounded or avoided after the claims.
“It must be remembered that this was a low point for the country and for Coventry, and Henry can be excused for feeling a little sorry for himself and emotional after the sights he had witnessed,” Dr Johnson said.
“We must not forget that in 1918, no-one knew who Hitler was. Why would Henry remember and regret that specific encounter, especially when Hitler would also have been extremely dishevelled and covered in mud and blood, not looking like he did 20 years later.
“It might be equally true that the journalist concerned took Henry’s comments out of context, which might go some way to explaining his distrust of the press.”
- Wartime mysteries – was the Chil
Private Henry Tandey VC, DCM, MM
|Birth name||Henry Tandy|
|Born||30 August 1891
|Died||20 December 1977 (aged 86)
Coventry, West Midlands
|Years of service||1910–1926|
|Unit||The Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) (1910–18)
West Riding Regiment (Duke of Wellington’s Regiment) (1918–26)
|Battles/wars||World War I|
Distinguished Conduct Medal
Mentioned in Despatches (5)
Henry Tandey VC, DCM, MM (born Tandy, 30 August 1891 – 20 December 1977) was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was the most highly decorated British private of the First World War and is most commonly remembered as the soldier who spared Adolf Hitler’s life during the war. Born with the family name of Tandy, he later changed his surname to Tandey after problems with his father,[vague]therefore some military records have a different spelling of his name.
Henry Tandey was born in Leamington, Warwickshire, the son of a former soldier whose wife had died early in their child’s life. He spent part of his childhood in an orphanage before becoming a boiler attendant at a hotel.
Tandey enlisted into the Green Howards Regiment on 12 August 1910. After basic training he was posted to their 2nd Battalion on 23 January 1911, serving with them in Guernsey and South Africa prior to the outbreak of World War I. He took part in the Battle of Ypres in October 1914, and was wounded on 24 October 1916, at the Battle of the Somme. On discharge from hospital he was posted to the 3rd Battalion on 5 May 1917, before moving to the 9th Battalion on 11 June 1917. He was wounded a second time on 27 November 1917, during the Battle of Passchendaele. After his 2nd period of hospital treatment he returned to the 3rd Battalion, on 23 January 1918, before being posted to the 12th Battalion on 15 March 1918, where he remained until 26 July 1918. On 26 July 1918 Tandey transferred from the Green Howards to The Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment). He was posted to their 5th Battalion on 27 July 1918.
Distinguished Conduct Medal
On 28 August 1918, during the 2nd Battle of Cambrai, the 5th Battalion was in action to the west of the Canal du Nord. Tandey was in charge of one of several bombing parties on the German trenches. As the forward parties were being held up Tandey took two men and dashed across open ground (No man’s land) under fire and bombed a trench. He returned with twenty prisoners. This action led to the capture of the German positions and Tandey was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) on 5 December 1918, the citation read:
34506 Pte. H. Tandey, 5th Bn., W. Rid. R.
(T.F.) (Leamington). He was in charge of a reserve bombing party in action, and finding the advance temporarily held up, he called on two other men of his party, and working across the open in rear of the enemy, he rushed a post, returning with twenty prisoners, having killed several of the enemy. He was an example of daring courage throughout the whole of the operations.
On 12 September the 5th Battalion was involved in an attack at Havrincourt, where Tandey again distinguished himself. Having rescued several wounded men under fire the previous day, Tandey again led a bombing party into the German trenches, returning with more prisoners. For this action Tandey was awarded the Military Medal (MM) on 13 March 1919.
On 28 September 1918, during a counter-attack at the canal, following the capture of Marcoing, France, his platoon was stopped by machine-gun fire. Tandey crawled forward, located the gun position and with a Lewis gun team, silenced it. Reaching the canal crossing, he restored the plank bridge under heavy fire. In the evening, he and eight comrades were surrounded by an overwhelming number of the enemy. Tandey led a bayonet charge, fighting so fiercely that 37 of the enemy were driven into the hands of the remainder of his company. Although twice wounded, Tandey refused to leave until the fight was won, eventually going into hospital for the third time on 4 October 1918.
An eyewitness, Private H Lister, recounted the episode:
On 28th September 1918 during the taking of the crossing over the Canal de St. Quentin at Marcoing, I was No.1 of the Lewis gun team of my platoon. I witnessed the whole of the gallantry of Private Tandey throughout the day. Under intensely heavy fire he crawled forward in the village when we were held up by the enemy MG and found where it was, and then led myself and comrades with the gun into a house from where we were able to bring Lewis gun fire on the MG and knock it out of action. Later when we got to the canal crossings and the bridge was down, Pte Tandey, under the fiercest of aimed MG fire went forward and replaced planks over the bad part of the bridge to enable us all to cross without delay, which would otherwise have ensued. On the same evening when we made another attack we were completely surrounded by Germans, and we thought the position might be lost. Pte Tandey, without hesitation, though he was twice wounded very nastily, took the leading part in our bayonet charge on the enemy, to get clear. Though absolutely faint he refused to leave us until we had completely finished our job, collected our prisoners and restored the line.
His VC was gazetted on 14 December 1918, the citation read:
No. 34506 Pte. Henry Tandey, D.C.M., M.M., 5th Bn., W. Rid. R. (T.F.) (Leamington).
For most conspicuous bravery and initiative during the capture of the village and the crossings at Marcoing, and the subsequent counter-attack on September 28th, 1918. When, during the advance on Marcoing, his platoon was held up by machine-gun fire, he at once crawled forward, located the machine gun, and, with a Lewis gun team, knocked it out. On arrival at the crossings he restored the plank bridge under a hail of bullets, thus enabling the first crossing to be made at this vital spot.
Later in the evening, during an attack, he, with eight comrades, was surrounded by an overwhelming number of Germans, and though the position was apparently hopeless, he led a bayonet charge through them, fighting so fiercely that 37 of the enemy were driven into the hands of the remainder of his company.
Although twice wounded, he refused to leave till the fight was won.
Although disputed, Adolf Hitler and Tandey allegedly encountered each other at the French village of Marcoing. The story is set on 28 September 1918, while Tandey was serving with the 5th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, and relates that a weary German soldier wandered into Tandey’s line of fire. The enemy soldier was wounded and did not even attempt to raise his own rifle. Tandey chose not to shoot. The German soldier saw him lower his rifle and nodded his thanks before wandering off. That soldier is purported to have been Adolf Hitler. The author David Johnson, who wrote a book on Henry Tandey, believes this story was an urban legend.
Hitler apparently saw a newspaper report about Tandey being awarded the VC (in October 1918, whilst serving with the 5th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment), recognized him, and clipped the article.
In 1937, Hitler was made aware of a particular Fortunino Matania painting by Dr Otto Schwend, a member of his staff. Schwend had been a medical officer during the First Battle of Ypres in 1914. He had been sent a copy of the painting by a Lieutenant Colonel Earle in 1936. Earle had been treated by Schwend in a medical post at the Menin Crossroads and they remained in touch after the war.
The painting was commissioned by the Green Howards Regiment from the Italian artist in 1923, showing a soldier purported to be Tandey carrying a wounded man at the Kruiseke Crossroads in 1918, northwest of Menin. The painting was made from a sketch, provided to Matania, by the regiment, based on an actual event at that crossroads. A building shown behind Tandey in the painting belonged to the Van Den Broucke family, who were presented with a copy of the painting by the Green Howard’s Regiment.
Schwend obtained a large photo of the painting. Captain Weidemann, Hitler’s adjutant, wrote the following response:
“I beg to acknowledge your friendly gift which has been sent to Berlin through the good offices of Dr. Schwend. The Führer is naturally very interested in things connected with his own war experiences, and he was obviously moved when I showed him the photograph and explained the thought which you had in causing it to be sent to him. He was obviously moved when I showed him the picture. He has directed me to send you his best thanks for your friendly gift which is so rich in memories.”
Apparently Hitler identified the soldier carrying the wounded man as Tandey from the photo of him in the newspaper clipping he had obtained in 1918.
“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.”
According to the story, Hitler asked Chamberlain to convey his best wishes and gratitude to Tandey. Chamberlain promised to phone Tandey in person on his return, which apparently he did. The Cadbury Research Centre, which holds copies of Chamberlain’s papers and diaries, has no references relating to Tandey from the records of the 1938 meeting. The story further states that the phone was answered by a nine-year-old child called William Whateley.William was related to Tandey’s wife Edith. However, Tandey at that time lived at 22 Cope Street, Coventry, and worked for the Triumph Motor Company. According to the company records, they only had three phone lines, none of which was at Tandey’s address. British Telecommunications archive records also have no telephones registered to that address in 1938.
On 13 March 1919 a supplement to the London Gazette announced that Tandey had been awarded the Military Medal(MM). The following day he was discharged from service and only one day later he re-enlisted into the Duke of Wellington’s 3rd Battalion on a ‘Short Service Engagement’. Three days later (18 March 1919) he was promoted to acting lance corporal. He remained with the 3rd Battalion on ‘Home Service’ until 4 February 1921, when he transferred to the 2nd Battalion. Four days later on 8 February 1921 he requested to revert to the rank of private.
Tandey served with the 2nd Battalion in Gibraltar from 11 April 1922 to 18 February 1923, in Turkey from 19 February – 23 August 1923 and finally in Egypt from 24 August 1923 until 29 September 1925. He was finally discharged from the army on 5 January 1926.
Tandey returned to Leamington and married. In 1940, during the Coventry Blitz, his home was bombed by the Luftwaffe. A journalist approached him outside his bombed Coventry home, asking him about his alleged encounter with Hitler. “If only I had known what he would turn out to be,” Tandey is quoted as saying. “When I saw all the people and women and children he had killed and wounded I was sorry to God I let him go.” However, there is no evidence, not even anecdotal, he was either hounded or avoided after the claims.
Tandey became a Police sergeant at the Standard Triumph Works, Fletchamstead a position he held for 38 years. 
Tandey died in 1977, childless, at the age of 86. At his request, he was cremated and his ashes buried in the Masnieres British Cemetery at Marcoing, France, on 23 May 1978, by his undertaker Pargetter and Son. Due to French laws it was not permissible for his ashes to be scattered, or any form of ceremony or commemoration made to him.
Henry Tandey Court, on Union Road, in Leamington, is named after him. It was originally a workshop and builders yard of Mr. G.F.Smith, who built St. Marks Church and Vicarage.
Tandey donated his medals to the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment Museum in Halifax, West Yorkshire. On special occasions and parades he would sign them out to wear. During the last period that he had signed them out, he died. Unaware that the medals should have been returned to the museum, the medals were auctioned at Sotheby’s in London by his wife and a private collector subsequently purchased them. They were presented to the Green Howards Regimental Museum (the regiment in which he had earlier served), by Sir Ernest Harrison OBE, at a ceremony in the Tower of Londonon 11 November 1997, twenty years after Tandey died.
A copy of Tandey’s Victoria Cross is now displayed at the Green Howards Regimental Museum in Richmond, North Yorkshire. Along with others, the original VC is kept in a local bank vault.
|Victoria Cross (VC)||14 December 1918|
|Distinguished Conduct Medal(DCM)||5 December 1918|
|Military Medal (MM)||13 March 1919|
|1914 Star||With Clasp “5th Aug – 22nd Nov 1914”|
|British War Medal|
|Victory Medal||With Mentioned in dispatches Oakleaf|
|Defence Medal||Awarded for his Service as an Air Raid Warden in Coventry during the Blitz.|
|King George VI Coronation Medal||1937 – Given to all living recipients of the Victoria Cross.|
|Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal||1953 – Given to all living recipients of the Victoria Cross and the George Cross.|
|Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal||1977 – Given to all living recipients of the Victoria Cross and the George Cross.|
- Johnson, David (2012). One Soldier And Hitler, 1918. Gloucestershire: the History Press. p. 20. ISBN 978 0 7524 6613 2.
- “No. 31052”. The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 December 1918. p. 14454.
- Brereton, JM; Savory, ACS (1993). “World War 1, 1918”. The History of the Duke of Wellingtons (West Riding) 1702–1992. Halifax : The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. p. 254. ISBN 0-9521552-0-6.
- “No. 31227”. The London Gazette. 11 March 1919. p. 3430.
- Brereton, JM; Savory, ACS (1993). “”34507 Pte Henry Tandey”, appendix IV”. The History of the Duke of Wellingtons (West Riding) 1702–1992. Halifax : The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. p. 396. ISBN 0-9521552-0-6.
- “No. 31067”. The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 December 1918. p. 14778.
- “World War I 1918 British soldier allegedly spares the life of an injured Adolf Hitler”. This Day in History. History.com. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
- Morpurgo, Michael (3 October 2015). “Michael Morpurgo on the soldier who could have stopped a world war with one shot”. The Times Newspaper. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
- Godl, John (22 August 2009). “How a Right Can Make a Wrong”. FirstWorldWar.com. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
- Johnson, David (1 October 2013). One Soldier and Hitler, 1918: The Story of Henry Tandey VC DCM MM. Spellmount Publishers Ltd. ISBN 978-0752466132.
- “Did British soldier spare Hitler’s life in WWI?”. BBC News. 2 March 2014. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
- Johnson, David (2012). One Soldier And Hitler, 1918. Gloucestershire: the History Press. p. 149. ISBN 978 0 7524 6613 2.
- Johnson, David (2012). One Soldier And Hitler, 1918. Gloucestershire: the History Press. pp. 149–150. ISBN 978 0 7524 6613 2.
- Johnson, David (2012). One Soldier And Hitler, 1918. Gloucestershire: the History Press. p. 150. ISBN 978 0 7524 6613 2.
- Johnson, David (2012). One Soldier And Hitler, 1918. Gloucestershire: the History Press. p. 146. ISBN 978 0 7524 6613 2.
- Johnson, David (2012). One Soldier And Hitler, 1918. Gloucestershire: the History Press. p. 144. ISBN 978 0 7524 6613 2.
- Johnson, David (2012). One Soldier And Hitler, 1918. Только правда ли всё это судите сами. Gloucestershire: the History Press. p. 145. ISBN 978 0 7524 6613 2.
- Triumph Works Archive
- Johnson, David (2012). One Soldier And Hitler, 1918. Gloucestershire: the History Press. p. 127. ISBN 978 0 7524 6613 2.
- Johnson, David (2012). One Soldier And Hitler, 1918. Gloucestershire: the History Press. p. 128. ISBN 978 0 7524 6613 2.
- St Marks Church – Early Leamington
- Lemington Courier, 2 Oct 2012 – Hero soldier permanently remembered in Leamington
- Courier, 28 Aug 2011 – Birthplace of Leamington hero to be given blue plaque
- “Henry Tandy”. firstworldwar.com. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
- Duke of Wellington’s Regiment Website, VC Recipients. List of medals awarded – Henry Tandy Archived 3 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
- Monuments to Courage (David Harvey, 1999)
- The Register of the Victoria Cross (This England, 1997)
- VCs of the First World War – The Final Days 1918 (Gerald Gliddon, 2000)
- Location of grave and VC medal (Warwickshire)
- How a Right Can Make A Wrong (First World War Article, an Urban Myth – see this article’s Talk Page)
- 28 Sep 1918: British soldier allegedly spares the life of an injured Adolf Hitler