We make choices hoping they are the right ones, but sometimes even the grandest rights can turn into the most horrible wrongs. Helping a stranger then having your wallet stolen by him. Giving a hitch hiker a ride only to have him throw up in your car. I have suffered these good deeds that turned into regrets, but that is nothing compared to what happened to Henry Tandey.
Henry Tandey had him in his sights. His Lee-Enfield rifle had not let him down once during World War I and it was a clean shot. Henry had won the Victoria Cross (the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy awarded to a British soldier) and numerous other medals making him the most highly decorated British private of the First World War. Had Henry been an officer there is little doubt that knighthood would have followed. It was at the battle at Marcoing, France in October 1914 that a weary German soldier wandered into Henry’s line of fire. The enemy soldier was wounded and did not make an attempt to raise his rifle. He stared at Henry expecting the inevitable. The twenty-seven year old Tandey choose not to shoot. “I took aim, but couldn’t shoot a wounded man” said Tandey, “so I let him go”. The
German soldier saw him lower his rifle and nodded his thanks before wandering off. The twenty-nine year old German soldier was a Lance Corporal of the Bavarian Infantry Regiment. His name: Adolf Hitler.
Henry put the encounter out of his mind and rejoined his regiment, discovering soon after that he had won the Victoria Cross. In newspapers around England a picture of Henry carrying a wounded soldier after the Battle of Ypres was published. It was a dramatic image which symbolized a war which was supposed to be to end all wars, and was immortalized on canvas by Italian artist Fortunino Matania. Leaving the army in 1926 at the rank of sergeant, Henry settled in Leamington, England where he married, settled into civilian life, and spent the next 38 years as a plant security chief at Triumph Motors, then called Standard Motor Company. He lived a quiet life and although regarded as a hero he rarely mentioned his participation in ” The Great War.”
In 1938 England’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made his trip to Munich to meet Hitler in a last ditch effort to prevent World War 2 which resulted in the ill-fated “Munich Agreement” (“Peace in our Time”). During that ominous trip Hitler invited Chamberlain to his newly constructed retreat in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria which was a birthday present from the Nazi Party. While there, Chamberlain found a reproduction of the Matania painting depicting Tandey carrying his wounded comrade. Puzzled by his choice in 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.” Hitler seized the moment to have his best wishes and gratitude conveyed to Tandey by the Prime Minister, who promised to phone Henry upon his return to England which he did. Tandey’s nephew remembers his uncle getting up to answer the phone and matter-of-factly returned mentioning that the Prime Minister called and said that he just returned from seeing Hitler and he saw the painting and when Chamberlain asked why it was there Hitler commented ” that’s the man who nearly shot me.”
Things went sour for old Neville. His appeasement to Hitler was a major blunder, he lost power to Winston Churchill, and died of stomach cancer within 2 months. The Tandey / Hitler story broke in 1940, but no one gave it much thought at the time. In 1940 Henry told a
journalist ” if only I had known what turned out to be. When I saw all the people, women and children he had killed I was sorry to God that I let him go.”
Henry died in 1977 at age 86 and had his ashes spread along side his fallen comrades at the British Cemetery in Marcoing, France. He must have been haunted as time revealed what a monster Hitler was and his act of great decency to a very indecent man was a strong example how a right can be made wrong. So here is to our rights staying rights and I think that is a toast worth drinking to. Groove.