War Hero honoured 91 years after death

I came across the following article in my local free paper.

War Hero honoured 91 years after death

It got me thinking.

Why did it take 91 years to put the name of the soldier on the memorial?

I imagine the answer involves a failure of army procedure. However, without a trip to the regiment’s archive in Chester it will remain a mystery.

However, there is a more important question:

Why now?

I suspect the connection to Iraq and the Cheshire regiment (now defunct) is critical.

The British public’s attitude to the current war in Iraq is complex and politically charged. It is the sensitive nature of the debate that has made it difficult for society to memorialise the sacrifice of the modern soldiers. For many the link between opposition to the war and the ability support the solders, irrespective of political standing, is indistinct. This result is an absence of a suitable system of public memorialisation. The lack of major conflict since the Second World War has left our society unused to publicly recognising the sacrifice of its soldiers. Though we openly commemorate Armistice Day, this has become a very general event; dedicated to ALL the soldiers who have been killed whilst fighting abroad. Yet in a way this is an escapist approach. It allows us to avoid addressing our deeper lack of unquestionable support for our soldiers, irrespective of personal political feelings.

I wonder if we are in fact suffering from a feeling of collective guilt, which makes open recognition of the deaths of solders in Iraq and Afghanistan difficult. Politically many people oppose these wars; an opposition I feel is often based on flimsy evidence and understanding. Therefore, when faced with the real consequences of these conflicts, we have no viable outlet for our collective grief.

I suspect that the addition of David Hunt’s name to the town’s memorial has much to be with a transposed reaction to the current conflict in Iraq.

Two questions remain.

Firstly, does the memorial in Ellesmere Port recognise any modern deaths?
Secondly, does the memorial for the Cheshire regiment in Chester cathedral include David Hunt’s name?

I will check and report back.

Victoria Cross Articles

I am currently working on a post about Thomas Barrett. This is based on my own research and will be original material. I am hoping to get it posted by the weekend. In the meantime here are three Victoria Cross articles to keep you busy:

Charles Lucas – the first VC by Brian Best
This is a sample article from the Victoria Cross Society website.

Canada and the Victoria Cross
This is a set of 18 articles from the Legion Magazine

Victoria Cross soldier reveals cost of bravery

This article appeared in Scotland on Sunday and tells the story of Johnson Beharry

Squidoo

I have set up a lens at Squidoo, which focuses on Military History on the web. Click here to check it out.

The first Military History Carnival

The first Military History Carnival will be held at Investigations of a Dog on Thursday 12th April. It will then take place around the middle of every month – exact date to be decided by the host. Submit posts for the first one by e-mailing the permalink to mhc1@4-lom.com or using the submission form at Blog Carnival. Posts should be more recent than 1st March 2007 to be considered. They can be on any aspect of military history in any part of the world in any period from ancient history up to the end of the 20th century.

Gavin has worked hard on this project and deserves our support. So if you have come across a good military blog, then please let Gavin know.

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.

Captain Scobell

Captain Scobell plays a small, yet important, cameo role in the development of the Victoria Cross. He is credited by many historians as being the first person to officially voice the idea for a new medal.

In the winter of 1854, Britain was dominated by talk of the Crimean War. The lethality, brutality and shear novelty of the conflict had caught the imagination of the population. Effective journalism and reporting had brought the conflict into the homes of most literate Britons. The publication of letters from common soldiers in the popular newspapers altered the public image of the infantryman. Changing it from Wellington’ ‘scum’ into a living and breathing human being. The public’s reaction to the sacrifice of its soldiers was the demand for recognition of both the fighting force as a whole and the individual soldier.

The awards system in 1854 was at best ‘ad hoc’. It had been developed to promote and reward officers and acted as an accompaniment to the Purchase System. In essence, the reward system revolved around officer centred wards such as the Order of the Bath, fiscal rewards and on the spot promotions. No reward was in place to recognise the gallantry of the common soldiers.

In comparison, the French army possessed the Legion of Honour. This medal had no rank barriers and was used to reward gallant behaviour throughout the army. In fact, it could even be awarded to men outside the French army. Therefore, the public demand for the recognition of its heroes was strengthened by the French insistence of rewarding many of these British men with the Legion of Honour.

On 19 December 1854, Captain George Treweeke Scobell, Member of Parliament for Bath, addressed the House of Commons requesting the institution of:

‘an ‘Order of Merit’, to be bestowed upon persons serving in the army or navy for distinguished and prominent personal gallantry during the present war [Crimean], and to which every grade and individual, from the highest to the lowest, in the united services might be admissible.’

Scobell had fought in the British Navy during the Napoleonic war. He was later a politician of varied success, holding the seat at Bath in 1841 but failing to be re-elected until 1851. He was staunchly liberal, considering himself both a reformer and defender of the common man. Though no evidence exists of Scobell’s long-term desire for the establishment of a gallantry award system, he openly declared a special interest in reforming the administration of the army and navy.

This is the last we hear of the Captain, who was happy to leave the matter in the hands of the government. Though he is unquestionably the first person to officially voice a need for a new reward, discussions in a less public forum were on going. Historical records show us that the Duke of Newcastle (Secretary of State for War and the Colonies) had been in correspondence with Prince Albert regarding a new ‘Order of Merit’ for many months.

Thus the Victoria Cross is not the brainchild of Queen Victoria, as modern mythology would have us believe. Instead, it is a slow and painful reaction to an inadequate military system of rewards and a blossoming public need to be seen to reward the sacrifice of its fighting men.

Now all I need to do is find a publisher.

It’s strange. I have been writing children’s history books for a couple years, but very few of these have been about a subject that really excites me.

My passion is identity or more precisely, British identity. In today’s multi-ethnic society I believe that understanding what it means to be British is essential. My approach is to give children a balanced picture of their history.

To me the Victoria Cross represents the changing cult of the Warrior Hero like no other subject. The way in which the medal has been presented over the years, is a mirror to society’s view of its fighting men. In a way it is also a mirror to the way society sees its history.

So, at the start of the year I set out to write the book I wanted. It will be no surprise to my regular readers that it is about the Victoria Cross.
The book looks at the Victorian period, but its just one of three chronological books. I have looked at a number of men to be awarded the VC and presented their actions against a contextual historical background. I have also tried to introduce some of the controversies of the award, including Rorke’s Drift and Frederick Roberts.

Now all I need to do is find a publisher. …