The Man Who Could Have Killed Hitler

Henry Tandey regretted not pulling the trigger during World War I

On Sept. 28, 1918 on a battlefield in France, a wounded German soldier shuffled right into the line of fire of a British soldier named Henry Tandey.

Tandey raised his rifle. But when he understood the German was hurt and could not fight back, Tandey lowered his weapon.

The German soldier realized he was in the crosshairs. He nodded thanks to his potential slayer—then scurried away.

The German soldier was Adolf Hitler, then 29 years old.

In 1938, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain visited Hitler in Germany to sign the Munich Agreement, conceding parts of Czechoslovakia to Germany—the first appeasement on the path to global war.

During the meeting, Chamberlain noticed a reproduction of the painting Menin Crossroads by Italian artist Fortunio Matania, depicted here. The painting shows a British soldier carrying a wounded man across his back.

The soldier is Tandey.

Tandey’s unit, the Green Howards, had given the painting to the German Führer. Hitler told Chamberlain the man in the painting had spared his life. “That man came so close to killing me in 1918 that I thought I should never see Germany again,” Hitler said.

The Führer asked Chamberlain to thank Tandey on his behalf. Chamberlain placed a call to London and ended up speaking to Tandey’s nephew.

Filled with regret, in 1940 Tandey told the Sunday Graphic he wished he could go back in time. “If only I had known what he would turn out to be,” Tandey said of Hitler. “When I saw all the people, women and children he had killed and wounded, I was sorry to God I let him go.”

“I’d give 10 years now to have five minutes of clairvoyance then,” Tandey added. One of the Commonwealth’s most highly-decorated soldiers, he tried to re-enlist at the age 49. But his failing health barred him from further military service.

“Britain’s most decorated private soldier sparing the life of Adolf Hitler makes a great story,” David Johnson wrote in his book The Man Who Didn’t Shoot Hitler. “But for Henry Tandey to be known more for his alleged compassion towards Hitler than for his undoubted bravery seemed to me to do him a disservice.”

Tandey died in 1977.

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