The man who didn’t shoot Hitler

It would have been easy for Private Tandey to shoot; after all he had been killing Germans all day. However, as the enemy solider limped from the smoke into his gun sights, the British infantry man held his fire. The German was clearly wounded and though Tandey took aim, he was unable to shoot. The wounded man nodded his thanks and disappeared back into the gloom.

The incident was over in a flash and though the German would never forget the kindness, Henry Tandey would not recall the events for another twenty years.

The fighting of the 28 September 1918, around the French village of Marcoing, had been exceptionally heavy. Henry Tandey had single-handedly destroyed a German machine gun nest, braved enemy gunfire to bridge a huge hole that was halting British attacks and led a bayonet charge against a far larger force. He was by all accounts a hero.

Tandey was later awarded the VC for his exploits and immortalised in a painting by the Italian artist Fortunio Matania. He left the army in 1926 and lived out a quite life in Leamington, England.

Henry Tandey

In 1938 war was brewing in Europe. In a last ditch effort to avoid conflict, the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, visited Adolf Hitler in Germany. During the talks Hitler invited Chamberlain to his retreat in Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. The hideout was lavishly decorated with many German works of art. However, one painting stood out, a copy of Fortunio Matania’s depiction of Private Tandey.

When Chamberlain questioned Hitler over the painting of the British soldiers, the dictator pointed at the picture and 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 then asked Chamberlain to pass on his thanks to Private Tandey.

On returning to England, Chamberlain contacted Tandey and recounted his conversation with Hitler. At the time Tandey was nonchalant about his wartime restraint. However, as the Second World War sparked into life across the globe his feeling changed. He twice narrowly escaped death during German bombing raids in Coventry and London, and would later tell a journalist:

‘If only I had known what he would turn out to be. When I saw all the people and woman and children he had killed and wounded I was sorry to God I let him go.’

It appears that our hero was haunted for the remainder of his life by his failure to kill Hitler. At the age of 49 he unsuccessfully tried to rejoin this old regiment, telling everyone that Hitler wouldn’t escape a second time.

Private Henry Tandey outlived Hitler, dieing in 1977. His ashes were scattered at Marcoing with his fallen comrades.

However, the story doesn’t end there. A debate still exists as to the validity of Hitler’s claim.

Destruction of military records makes it impossible to clarify the exact location of Hitler on 28 September 1918, though Hitler’s regiment was in the region of Marcoing at the time. However, there is no doubt that Hitler owned the painting. British records clearly show that in 1937, the German Leader personally requested a copy of the painting from Tandey’s Old regiment (the Green Howards).

However, one mystery remains. The painting by Fortunio Matania does depict Henry Tandey, but not at Marcoing in 1918. Instead, it shows our hero at the earlier battle of Ypres in 1914.
So was Hitler mistaken?

After the war, Henry Tandey told journalists that he made a habit of not shooting wounded soldiers, though this is not collaborated elsewhere. Yet, we know for certain that Hitler fought in the battle of Ypres in 1914 and was wounded. This leaves the chance that Hitler simply mixed up the dates.

However, personally I feel there may be a simpler explanation. At the time the painting was the only one in existence showing Private Tandey. During his meeting with Chamberlain, Hitler had pointed at the reproduction and said ‘that’s the man who nearly shot me.’ It may be that Hitler was aware that the picture was of 1914, but wished to have a remainder of the man who had not killed him.

32 Responses to “The man who didn’t shoot Hitler”

  1. Gavin Robinson Says:

    That’s a fantastic story (in every sense of the word!). I’m just wondering how Hitler could have known the identity of the soldier who didn’t shoot him. Maybe if it did happen at Marcoing Tandey would have stood out and it would have been easier to match up the two sides of the story. But if Tandey made a habit of not shooting wounded men that would increase the chances of it just being a coincidence, like clairvoyants who are deliberately vague.

    • Eileen Says:

      Hi
      I am sorry but I can not give you the exact place to read this but I will share anyway what I have read in several places. I have read Hitler was given the painting before the second world war by a British official and that is how he knew the identity. I also read that Hitler took this as a mystical sign and reinforced what he thought he was supposed to do.
      All The Best To You.

  2. breathinghistory Says:

    Gavin,

    Apparently Hitler used to carry a cutting from a newspaper about the awarding of the VC to Tandey. It wasn’t until he came to power that he obtained the painting. It is not clear how he made the link between the VC winner and the man who didn’t shoot him. I suspect that a certain amount of German ‘spin’ has taken place. However, Henry Tandey certainly believed it was true and it wrecked his life. He carried the weight of his actions to the grave.

  3. Investigations of a Dog » Military History Carnival #1 Says:

    […] Smailes at Victoria’s Cross? tells the story of the British soldier who could have killed Adolf Hitler in 1918 but held his […]

  4. OscaR Says:

    he’s my hero!!!:):)

  5. Eileen Says:

    Hello
    Henry Tandey is my great uncle. I never met him as my grandfather Harry Tandy was brought to Canada when he was a teenager and his family was split up.
    My grandfather and his brother did keep in contact for some time and I herd my grandfather tell me this tale of his brother and Hitler. Grand dad said his brother said if he had any idea who this man was going to be he would have killed him.
    This is a very interesting event to have in ones family tree. I did not know Henry Tandey but I can tell you that my grand dad was a strong and honorable man. From the sounds of things this may have been in his genes.
    I do not do much research on things I can only share with you what my grand dad and mother shared with me.
    All The Best.
    Eileen

    • Rebecca Says:

      Hello Eileen,

      I am conducting some research for a television documentary about Hitler. I would be really interested to hear about your versions of events. Please email me rebecca dot wise at parthenonentertainment dot com

      Look forward to hearing from you.

    • Mrs Diane Reynolds Says:

      Hello
      Henry Tandy is my great uncle also my father William Whateley spent alot of time with him when he was a young man, it was my dad who took the telephone from Chamberlain, if you get this can you please reply as we could be related.

      • Eileen Says:

        Greetings Diane
        Please drop me a line.
        eileen_kcgon@yahoo.com
        All The Best
        Eileen

      • Joe Tandey Says:

        There can be no actual relation here, only by marriage. Does anyone in the Whateley family have any telephone records etc? I ask as BT says only one phone was available in the street where Henry lived and it was not his. This little facet of info throws doubt on the whole story so I would like to clear it up. For info if people wonder why I am interested Henry was my great uncle. My dads generation are the nearest living relatives (by blood not marriage) of Henry. Any help would be appreciated.

  6. develop psychic Says:

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  7. Joseph Tandey Says:

    This post is for Eileen. My name is Joseph Tandey, I am Henry Tandey’s great, great nephew. I am looking to find out more with regards to the family and what happened to the Canada branch, do you have a family tree or anything? Please get in touch, rexbulldog at hotmail.com, many thanks, Joe.

    • ingrid hawley Says:

      Eileen, I am Ingrid Hawley from St. John’s NL. Canadaand my grandfather was William Tandy who came over to Canada with his sister when he was 13 yrs old and stowed away on a ship. His sister was 10 yrs old. My mother also talked about an Uncle Harry in Nova Scotia. She had said how he lived in Cheticamp,and also served in the war and that he was a prisoner of war. Would that be your grandfather by any chance. This is the first real solid information i have heard. My mother’s name was Iris Tandy. She passed away in 1989. Only about a month ago my mom’s brother was trying to find more information about the Tandy’s as he is stricken with cancer and doesn’t have much time to live. He wants to have this information to pass to his family. He was adopted by my grandparents when my mother was about 18 yrs old. My mother had a sister named Geraldine who passed away with bowel cancer about 45 yrs ago. She was about 38 yrs old. She also had abrother named Patrick who lived in Nova Scotia all his life . He just passed away about 4 yrs ago at age 80. I hope i have shed any light on this information. I would love to hear from you to see if we have any familiar ground we can uncover.

      • Eileen Says:

        Hi
        I my grandfather lived in Halifax Nova Scotia however there was a realitive in Cheticamp. I have heard the name Iris mentioned by my mother. I am sorry but I was so young then and do not know all the details. Ingrid you can e-mail me at eileen_kcgon@yahoo.com
        All The Best
        Eileen

      • Eileen Says:

        Hello again this post is for Ingrid. Please contact me as I may have information for you.
        Eileen

  8. Ingrid Hawley Says:

    THE MAN WHO DIDN”T SHOOT HITLER The way I heard the story was that Henry Tandey came face to face with hitler on the battleground of Ypres in 1914. When he realized that he was wounded he became a compassionate soldier . Apparently the face of Henry Tandey had haunted Hitler for years. He then decided to go to a famous artist by the name of Fortunio Matania and described in great detail what Henry Tandey looked like and the famous artist painted the picture. Hitler took the picture with him and for a number of years tried to find him. When Henry Tandey had heard that it was Hitler he had come face to face with Henry Tandey was beside himself. He lived with such overwhelming grief as he blame himself for everything that had happened to the Jewish people and thinking that there might not have been a World War ll . From that day on he became a recluse and died a very grief stricken man. Some many years ago , we got information that we were told that we were related to Henry Tandey. I’m just assuming but I think that the “E” in Tandey might have been dropped when the relatives camed to Canada and that is why we had a hard time getting information of the “tandey’s” from England

  9. Henry Tandey’s History Changing Decision - Interesting Facts - 20th Century European History World War I - History By Zim Says:

    […] Steve Crawford, Strange but True Military Facts, New York: Metro Books, 2010, 46-47. Henry Tandey’s photo found here; Painting of Tandey by Fortunio Mantania found here. […]

  10. Alan Griffin Says:

    If anyone out in cyberspace has any photos of Henry Tandy perhaps they would get in touch with me. I live in Henry’s birthplace Leamington Spa and am putting together a book about eminent Leamington people which will include a piece about Henry. I am vice chairman of the Leamington History Group and happy to respond to any enquiries about Henry Tandy – I have a copy of his birth certificate which shows his birth was registered as Tandy, no ‘e’. Also this Spring we are unveiling a blue plaque in Leamington close to where he was born.Thanks and best wishes’ Alan Griffin

  11. Mike Warwick Says:

    My name is Michael Warwick and I seem to recall that my father, Edward Warwick, told me that Henry (or Harry) Tandey was his uncle. For this to be correct I assume that Henry (or Harry) could have been married to my Grandfather’s sister. My Grandfather’s name was Joseph Benjamin Warwick who lived in Coventry.
    If there is there anyone out there who can confirm this contection I would be very gratefull to hear from them.

    • Alan Griffin Says:

      Hi Mike

      I subscribe to a genealogy website and have on-line access to all the births, marriage and death records since civil registration began in 1837. I will see what I can find based on the information you give about the Warwick family and will get back to you in a few days.
      Alan

    • Alan Griffin Says:

      Hello again Mike
      Your information is no doubt correct! I ran a check to find Henry (Harry) Tandey’s marriage and found that he married a lady named Edith Warwick in Coventry during the last quarter of 1926 after his demob. As you have guessed, Edith was probably your grandfather’s sister. I have made a note of the details should you want to order a copy of the marriage certificate. Let me know if I can be of any further help.

      Alan

      • Mike Warwick Says:

        Thanks for that Alan, I would appreciate it if you could point me in the right direction to dig out any info. Was she his only wife and if so was it Edith who sold his medals after his death?

        Mike

      • Alan Griffin Says:

        Hi MIke
        So far as I am aware, Edith was Henry Tandey’s only wife and no doubt the person who offered his medals for sale. I recently spoke to a chap called Norman Parker who is a former Mayor of Leamington – Norman went down to London to bid for the medals on behalf of the town but was outbid by the regimental museum. He does however have a set of miniatures of Henry’s medals which I think he paid for himself. If you want to email me directly on alangriffin@fastnet.co.uk I can probably help you find a bit more information.

        Alan

      • Joe Tandey Says:

        No it was Annie Whateley who sold the medals. Henry married her in 1963. This was not known to the Tandey’s and we were very disappointed to hear of it at the time.

  12. Henry tandey | Kiroset Says:

    […] The man who didn’t shoot Hitler « Victoria’s cross?Mar 12, 2007 … Henry Tandey had single-handedly destroyed a German machine gun nest, braved … Private Henry Tandey outlived Hitler, dieing in 1977. […]

  13. Abortion: thank God Justin Bieber fans won’t be listening to his mother | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett | Womens Health Says:

    […] leave the obvious and rather cruel joke unsaid, of course. Much like the man from Leamington Spa who nearly shot Hitler, Mallette has had a brush with an alternative universe: a future where things worked out […]

  14. Linda Janes Says:

    Hi Diane Reynolds I am not sure if my mothers family are in any way related to the Tandeys or the Whateleys but my mum does remember a William Whateley with siblings Harry Maisie and Millie. My mums father and mother were John and May Mouzer. I think the family link was with more with Henrys first wife Edith. Which I would assume from other posts would have been Warwick. Any info would be welcomed.

  15. stephen lambert Says:

    I can’t even imagine the grief and Guilt Henry Tandy went through blaming himself for the horrors unleashed by Hitler in WWII because he acted out of humanity and compassion in not shooting a wounded man, but who can foretell the future of any person, or what might have been? If the Verseilles treaty had treated Germany fairly, and had there not been an economic collapse, then Hitler would have remained a unknown. At that time Henry Tandy did a very honorable, and human thing in not taking the life of a wounded soldier, and in his place I may very well have done the same thing. I suppose someone might think, “if I could go back in time at that place I would have seen to it Hitler didn’t walk out of that,” but that would be playing God, so I hope time travel is a technology we never achieve.

  16. anonymous Says:

    This just goes to show that no good deed goes unpunished!!!

  17. Christopher R Gordon Says:

    I have the clock that was presented to my great uncle Henry Tandey by his regimental comrades from The Duke Of Wellington regiment April 1920 also the set of miniature medals that he wore, plus some photos etc.
    In 2011 the Union Jack club in London were given a copy of the Fortunino painting, which had inscribed on a supporting bar the names of many of the soldiers shown in the scene.I am told that many visitors to the club recognise their relatives names, and find this very interesting.The clock and medals were left to me by my late Father, Henry Gordon who agreed to the Union Jack club having the painting ,which my Father was given by Uncle Henry ,his uncle ,my great uncle.
    Chris Gordon

    • Alan G Griffin Says:

      Hello Chris
      I don’t know whether you are aware but we recently erected a Blue Plaque to Henry close to where he lived as a boy in Kenilworth Street in Leamington Spa. I wrote a piece about Henry in a book published last year Leamington Lives Remembered and I am planning to do a piece on him for the Leamington History Group website. I met David Johnson who wrote his book on Henry when he came to the unveiling of the Blue Plaque but have lost his contact details. I would be grateful if you would get in touch with me at alangriffin@fastnet.co.uk to help me with any information or photos that I could use on the website page. Many thanks. Alan Griffin, Chairman Leamington History Group.


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