Friday, January 5, 2007

Can a Right Make a Wrong: The Fateful Encounter of Private Henry Tandey with Adolf Hitler

As a Quaker, I've been turning this story over in my mind. Even if this story is exaggerated, it makes me wonder what I would do were I in Private Tandey's place, and had future tyrant and mass murderer, Adolf Hitler in my gunsights. I guess, as a Quaker, I would not be holding a gun at all or fighting in any kind of war. That's my answer. As a Jewish friend said, in response to this story: "We don't know God's plan. In fact, " he said, "I feel it is arrogant to think we know God's plan. " So, I'm finding myself struggling with this. Obviously, Tandey felt terrible when he realized what he could have possibly prevented. But Tandey didn't know God's plan. Hitler thought he knew God's plan, but he was insane. But what would have happened instead, had he killed Hitler? I obviously don't think killing solves anything or makes things better. I don't think there's ever been a "Great War" as the article refers to WW One or a "Good War", like WW Two. But this story is bugging me...........

Here's the long article, somewhat edited, the italics are mine:

The annals of history are full of fateful moments which scholars refer to as the great "what if's" of history, where if events had taken only a slight deviation the course of human affairs would have been dramatically different.
Such a moment occurred in the last moments of the Great War in the French village of Marcoing involving 27 year old Private Henry Tandey of Warwickshire, UK, and 29 year old Lance Corporal Adolf Hitler of Braunau, Austria.
...............Tandey was mentioned five times in dispatches and certainly earned his VC during the capture of the French village and crossing at Marcoing, his regiment held down by heavy machine gun fire Tandey crawled forward, located the machine gun nest and took it out.
Arriving at the crossing he braved heavy fire to place wooden planks over a gaping hole enabling troops to roll across and take the battle to the Germans, the day still not over he successfully led a bayonet charge against outnumbering enemy troops which helped bring hostilities to an end.
As the ferocious battle wound down and enemy troops surrendered or retreated a wounded German soldier limped out of the maelstrom and into Private Tandey's line of fire, the battle weary man never raised his rifle and just stared at Tandey resigned to the inevitable. "I took aim but couldn't shoot a wounded man," said Tandey, "so I let him go."

The young German soldier nodded in thanks and the two men took diverging paths, that day and in history. Hitler retreated with the remnants of German troops and ended up in Germany, where he languished in the humiliation of defeat at wars end.
Tandey put that encounter out of his mind and rejoined his regiment, discovering soon after he had won the Victoria Cross.....................In 1938 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940), Conservative PM from 1937-40, made his gloomy trip to Munich to meet Chancellor Hitler in a last ditch effort to avoid war which resulted in the ill-fated 'Munich Agreement'. During that fateful trip Hitler invited him to his newly completed retreat in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, a birthday present from Martin Bormann and the Nazi Party.
Perched 6017 feet up on Kehlstein Mountain it commanded spectacular views for 200 kilometers in all directions. While there the Prime Minister explored the hill top lair of the Fuehrer and found a reproduction of Matania's famous Marcoing painting depicting allied troops, puzzled by the choice of 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".
Chamberlain's thoughts aren't recorded, World War II irrupted soon after and he lost power to Winston Churchill, dying of stomach cancer within months of that event. Although I feel safe in assuming he wished Tandey had pulled the trigger, ridding the world of a venomous creature.
Hitler seized the moment to have his best wishes and gratitude conveyed to Tandey by the Prime Minister, who promised to phone him on his return to London. It wasn't until that time Tandey knew the man he had in his gun sight 20 years earlier was Adolf Hitler and it came as a great shock, given tensions at the time it wasn't something he felt proud about.

The story first broke in 1940 but no one gave it much thought at the time, however in recent years it has generated greater interest. ...........However there is irrefutable evidence that Hitler possessed a copy of the famous Matania painting featuring Tandey as early as 1937, acquiring it from Tandey's old regiment. ...........................The Tandey family were in no doubt of the story's authenticity, they were present when Prime Minister Chamberlain phoned, "Tandey's nephew, William Whateley, from Thomaby, calls to mind a mysterious phone call almost 60 years ago, when the storm clouds of war were brewing and Prime Minister Chamberlain was futilely appeasing Herr Hitler. One evening the telephone rang and Henry went off to answer it, when he came back he commented matter-of-factly that it had been Mr Chamberlain. He had just returned from a meeting with Hitler and whilst at Berchtesgaden had noticed the painting by Matania of the 2nd Green Howards at the Menin Cross Roads in 1914. Chamberlain had asked what it was doing there and in reply Hitler had pointed out Tandy in the foreground and commented, "that's the man who nearly shot me"
............................................Tandey told a journalist that during the Great War he had as a rule spared wounded and disarmed German soldiers, so Marcoing wasn't the first or last time he performed a humane deed in inhumane circumstances. ............He{Hitler} believed Private Tandey's benevolent action was part of the grand scheme of things, the god's were watching over their emissary, which was also his sentiment upon surviving assassination attempts later on. Hitler never forgot the moment he stared down the barrel of death, nor the face of the man who spared him, he stumbled across a newspaper featuring the famous image of Private Tandey which noted his being awarded the VC for bravery. Hitler kept it and on becoming Chancellor of Germany ordered government officials to obtain a copy of his service record and reproduction of the Matania painting, which he hung and pointed out to loyal disciples with pride.
.................................Tandey was haunted the remainder of his life by his good deed, the simple squeeze of a trigger would have spared the world a catastrophe which cost tens of millions of lives.(or would it?????) He was living in Coventry when the Luftwaffe destroyed the city in 1940, sheltered in a doorway as the building he was in crumbled and city burned like a scene from Dante's Inferno.
He was also in London during the Blitz and experienced that atrocity first hand. He told a journalist in 1940, "if only I had known what he would turn out to be. When I saw all the people, woman and children he had killed and wounded I was sorry to God I let him go."



Suzy said...

This is a perplexing story. Would Private Tandey have been haunted had he pulled the trigger and killed a wounded german soldier? Odds are, yes, he would have. Had Hitler died before becoming infamous, would some other despot have risen to power, albeit in a slightly different time and place? Hitler certainly didn't hold the patent on despotism, not even for the 20th century.

It seems to place an unfair burden on Private Tandey. He had no way of knowing who he had in his crosshairs or what he would become. What if he said, "Dammit, the next time I have a wounded soldier in my crosshairs, I'm gonna shoot no matter what!" Maybe the next person would be the French protestant minister who went on to save so many Jews in Le Chambon, or just some guy who lived to save a child from a burning building.

On the other hand, there was ample warning throughout the thirties that Hitler's Germany was building up for war, and much of the world stood by silently... whose actions were more deplorable, the world leaders' or Tandey's?

A few years ago, Gandhi's grandson came to speak at a teachers' convention in Madison. Someone in the audience challenged his assertion that nonviolence is always the better way, and of course asked, "Wasn't war necessary to stop Hitler?" His response was that there were many points along the way when Hitler could perhaps have been stopped using nonviolent means, but no one had the will to do it. Why? We do not necessarily know.

And I don't know exactly where I'm going with these thoughts. Stories like this can generate circular arguments. There are always "what ifs", and I don't know how productive it is to dwell too much on them. Sometimes I am very grateful that those choices are not ours to make.

poodledoc said...

Very well said.........thanks!