DID a war hero from Leamington miss the opportunity to change the course of history for the better?
It has long been speculated that Henry Tandey came within moments of shooting dead Adolf Hitler during the First World War.
Pte Tandey – awarded the three highest honours for bravery during the Great War, including the Victoria Cross during the Great War – is believed by many to have come face-to-face with the future Fuhrer while fighting in Northern France.
In 1914, near Cambrai, Tandey is said to have spared the life of a helpless, wounded soldier now thought to have been Hitler.
If true, Tandey was obviously not to know the later consequences of lowering his rifle and sparing the life of the then 25 year-old Hitler.
Military historian Chris Baker from Leamington is not convinced the truth will ever be known.
He told The Observer: “It is one of those stories people would like to believe is true – and most will wish he had pulled the trigger – but we will never really know.
“It was Hitler himself, in a meeting with British Prime Minister Chamberlain in 1938, who pointed out a British soldier in a famous painting of the First Battle of Ypres and claimed he was the man who saved his life by not firing upon him when he had the chance.”
The man in the painting was thought to be Tandey himself.
Mr Baker explained: “No one could have guessed that a Corporal in a Bavarian regiment would go on to become Germany’s dictator, and we could not really expect there to be documented evidence of such a fleeting incident in the battle.”
There have been several investigations into the claims and none were able to prove it one way or another, although it cannot be completely discounted.
Mr Baker added: “The two men’s battalions were fairly close together at one point in the Ypres battles. Henry Tandey never claimed that he had saved Hitler’s life but did say in an interview that he had tended to spare wounded or disarmed men.
“It’s a great tale but remains unproven.”
Who was Henry Tandey
Henry Tandey was born in Leamington in 1891. The son of a former soldier, he spent part of his childhood in an orphanage, before becoming a boiler attendant at a local hotel.
Tandey enlisted into the Green Howards Regiment in August 1910. After basic training he was posted to their 2nd Battalion in January of the following year, serving with them in Guernsey and South Africa prior to the outbreak of the First World War.
Tandey took part in the first Battle of Ypres in October 1914 and was shot in the arm at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He was wounded again during the Battle of Passchendale in November 1917 while serving with the 5th Battalion the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.
The war on the Western Front swung increasingly in favour of the Allies in late Summer 1918, and in an almost unparallelled burst of heroics by a single soldier, Tandey won the three highest awards for bravery in only six weeks. He was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal, then a Military Medal and bar, and finally, a Victoria Cross for ‘desperate bravery and great initiative’ in one of the final battles of the war. Although twice wounded, he refused to leave until the fight was won.
He was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V at an investiture in Buckingham Palace in the week before Christmas 1918.
The following year he was made a Freeman of the Borough of Royal Leamington Spa and was presented with an illuminated scroll and an engraved silver-gilt casket.
On Armistice Day in 1920, he took part in the service for the burial of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, where he was one of a hundred holders of the VC who were selected to line the nave of the Abbey as the guard of honour.
Henry Tandey – did he have the chance to change the course of history? (s)
The painting, now in the Green Howards Museum, from which Hitler claims he recognised Pte Tandy (carrying a fellow injured soldier) as the man who spared his life two decades before. (s)
A young Adolf Hitler served as a corporal in the First World War. (s)