During World War I, Henry Tandey’s actions during the Battle of Marcoing changed the course of history. Tandey, a Private in the British Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, won the Victoria Cross for his bravery on the French battlefield. He not only captured a machine-gun nest but also led a bitter hand-to-hand combat battle between Allied and German forces.
The event that changed history occurred in October after the battle. According to Tandey, as the Germans were retreating, a wounded German man limped into his line of fire. He stated, “I took aim, but couldn’t shoot a wounded man, so I let him go.” The wounded German soldier ended up being Austrian corporal Adolf Hitler.
Upon learning the wounded man’s identity years later, Tandey remarked, “If only I had known what he would turn out to be. When I saw all the people, women and children, he had killed and wounded I was sorry to God I let him go.”
It was reported that Hitler highly regarded Tandey and his decision to spare his life. So much so that Hitler acquired a large photograph of a painting of Tandey, by that time a war hero, carrying a wounded soldier. He hung it up at Berghof, his mountaintop residence located in Berchtesgaden.
Of course, like most fascinating stories, there are still some who doubt this event either entirely or with certain details. Some have speculated that this event happened earlier at the Battle of Ypres in October 1914 and not at the Battle of Marcoing in September 1918. The painting of Tandey by Fortunio Matania is based on his bravery during Ypres. The main argument is that since Hitler also fought at Ypres, the event occurred there. One thing not in doubt is that Hitler did indeed request and receive a photograph of the painting of Tandey and he did, in fact, hang it at Berghof. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain visited Hitler’s Berghof residence in 1938. He asked about the painting and Hitler reportedly said, “That man came so near to killing me that I thought I should never see Germany again. . . .”