It was September 28, 1918 and the fighting had been exceptionally heavy that day. Private Tandey had been killing Germans throughout the day, as some wounded enemy limped into his gun sights he held his fire. The German was clearly wounded and though Tandey took aim he could not bring himself to shoot the wounded man. The wounded soldier nodded in gratitude and disappeared into the fog. The incident at the French village of Marcoing was over quickly but one that the German soldier would never forget and that Henry Tandey wouldn’t recall for some 20 years. During the fighting on that day the English private would single-handedly destroy a German machine gun nest, and led a bayonet charge of best a far larger force. Private Henry Tandey was by anyone’s account a true hero.
Henry Tandey was born in Leamington, Warwickshire, on August 30, 1891, son of former soldier James Tandey. After a difficult childhood, part of which was spent in an orphanage, he became a boiler attendant at a hotel in Leamington before enlisting in the British Army, joining the Green Howards Regiment in August 1910 and embarking on an adventurous military life. Private Tandey served with the 2nd Battalion in South Africa and Guernsey before the outbreak of war in 1914, he fought in the 1st Battle of Ypres in October 1914, two years later he was wounded in the leg during the Battle of the Somme and when discharged from a military hospital in England transferred to the 9th Battalion in Flanders and wounded at Passchendaele in November 1917.
Once out of hospital he joined the 12th Battalion in France in 1918, his unit was disbanded in July 1918 and he was attached to the 5th Duke of Wellington Regiment from 26th July to 4th October 1918. It was at this time Private Tandey was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for determined bravery at Vaulx Vraucourt on August 28, the Military Medal for heroism at Havrincourt on September 12th and Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery at Marcoing on 28th September 1918.
After the Great War he was posted to the 2nd Duke of Wellington Regiment in Gibraltar, Turkey and Egypt on 4th February 1921. He was discharged from the army on 5th January 1926 at the rank of Sergeant. Leaving the highest decorated private soldier in the British Army during the Great War, had he been a member of the officer class there is little doubt a knighthood would also have been one of his rewards. Tandey was mentioned five times in dispatches and certainly earned his Victory Cross 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. On September 28, 1918 Tandey was engaged in some heavy fighting around the French village of Marcoing. As the battle drew to a close, a young German soldier stepped directly into his sights. The soldier, wounded, didn’t bother to raise his rifle but simply raised his head to face his killer. For whatever reason, he later claimed because the German was wounded, Tandey didn’t pull the trigger. The soldier nodded and scurried away as if both had acknowledged the kindness and humanity.
It wasn’t until twenty years later when Neville Chamberlain was meeting with Hitler that the story came out. Chamberlain noticed Hitler had in his possession a painting by an Italian, Fortunino Matania, which depicted the famous Tandey in the foreground, carrying a wounded soldier. Hitler then explained that he recognized Tandey as the soldier who, twenty years before, could have killed him, but for whatever reason, allowed him to live. Apparently Hitler had first seen Tandey’s picture in the paper when his Victoria Cross had been announced. Chamberlain informed Tandey upon his return to England, much to the old soldier’s shock. Hitler believed the event pointed to the favor Providence had shown upon him in guiding his messianic path, and sent Tandey his warmest regards. Tandey, pushing 50, attempted to enlist again, vowing that Hitler wouldn’t “escape a second time”. Family and friends would attest that the man was crushed. He was a hero, but he was tormented, cursed with the knowledge that he could have prevented World War Two. For nearly the next thirty years Henry Tandey would be haunted by the fact that he was in some way responsible for Hitler coming to power. That made him carry the baggage of World War II and the Holocaust and twelve million deaths and all the destruction.
Henry Tandey was indeed a tortured man. “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,” he said before his death in 1977 at age 86. On the morning of December 20, 1977 Henry Tandey was given a very special visit by an elderly gentleman whose name was Howard Guela. He was a small slightly built old man that seemed to be about the same age as Henry Tandey. Mr. Guela climbed the staircase in the household carrying a small black attaché in his right hand that seemed to weigh heavily on the elderly man. His movements were slow and deliberate as he carefully managed each step along the staircase. Finally having reached his destination he stood at the door of the bedroom where a dying Henry Tandey lay. When he met with Henry Tandey, Mr. Guela introduced himself simply as a traveler who had come from a long way to give him a gift. As Howard spoke he pulled a round crystal globe from his attaché. The globe was about the size of a soccer ball and of the same approximate shape as well. The sickly dying Tandey could only nod in agreement to Howard Guela. As Guela continued he indicated that he was going to give the gift to Henry Tandey of knowing what would have happened had he killed corporal Hitler instead of letting him live. With that Tandey seemed to become more alert at this tremendous prospect of redemption for the horror that he had helped foster. So Howard began to tell Henry the story of what happened in Germany after World War I and certainly after he had killed Corporal Adolph Hitler. As Howard spoke he did so as a narrator of an untold story, as he began Tandey was listening intently as Howard held the crystal globe before the dying man. So Howard began his narration:
Kurt von Schleicher was born April 7, 1882 in Brandenburg Germany. He entered the German Army in 1900 as a Lieutenat after graduating from a cadet training school. In his early years, Schleicher made two friendships which later were to play an important role in his life. As a cadet, Schleicher befriended Franz von Papen, and later on as an officer in the Third Guards Regiment, he befriended Oskar von Hindenburg. During World War I, he served on the staff of Wilhelm Groener, who became Schleicher′s patron. During the 1920s, he moved up steadily in the German army, becoming the primary liaison between the Army and civilian government officials. He generally preferred to operate behind the scenes, planting stories in friendly newspapers and relying on a casual network of informers to find out what other government departments were planning.
The appointment of Groener as Defense Minister in January 1928 did much to advance Schleicher′s career. Groener, who regarded Schleicher as his “adopted son”, openly favored Schleicher and created the Office of the Ministerial Affairs in 1928 just for him. The new office concerned all matters relating to joint concerns of the Army and Navy, and was tasked with the liaison between the military and other departments and between the military and politicians. He seemed the born diplomat and negotiator is he began to interact with various federal officials. Schleicher justified Groener′s confidence by getting the naval budget for 1929 passed despite the opposition of the anti-militarist Social Democrats, who formed the largest party in the Reichstag at the time. Schleicher prepared Groener′s statements to the Cabinet and attended Cabinet meetings on a regular basis. He was becoming increasingly indispensable part of the government. Above all, Schleicher won the right to brief President Hindenburg on both political and military matters. In late 1926-early 1927, Schleicher told Hindenburg that if it was impossible to form a government headed by the German National People’s Party alone, then Hindenburg should “appoint a government in which he had confidence, without consulting the parties or paying attention to their wishes” and with “the order for dissolution ready to hand, give the government every constitutional opportunity to a majority in Parliament”.This was the origin of the “Presidential Governments”. Together with Major Oskar von Hindenburg, Otto Meiner, and General Wilhelm Groener, Schleicher was a leading member of the inner circle that surrounded President von Hindenburg. It was Schleicher who came up with the idea of a Presidential Government. Under a “Presidential Government” the head of government in this case, the chancellor, is responsible to the head of state, and not to a legislative body. Hindenburg found that Schleicher was an extremely capable and trustworthy public servant.
It was Schleicher′s dream to create that Military State in which the military would reorganize German society as part of the preparations for the total war that Germany wished to wage. At the same time in Germany the Nazi Party who had been led by various men over the past few years were searching for their Fuhrer. They had men like Ernst Roehm and Joseph Goebels at the helm but both men were more comfortable ultimately in a different senior role but not der Furher. Though the Nazi Party had grown to become one of Germany’s largest parties it had only been in existence for five or six years. Schleicher became a major figure behind the scenes in the presidential cabinet government of Heinrich Brüning between 1930 and 1932, serving as an aide to General Groener, the Minister of Defense. Eventually, Schleicher, who established a close relationship with Reich President Paul von Hindenburg, came into conflict with Brüning and Groener and his intrigues were largely responsible for their fall in May 1932. By coincidence, his name translated from German is the Sneaker or Creeper.
On May 8, 1932, Schleicher held a secret meeting with the Nazis and offered a proposal. Roehm, Goebels and Himmler were all in agreement that they had found their man in Schleicher. The ban on the SA and SS would be lifted, the Reichstag dissolved and new elections called, and Chancellor Bruening would be dumped, if the Nazis would support him in a Facist nationalist government and they agreed. Schleicher’s skillful treachery behind the scenes in Berlin first resulted in the humiliation and ousting of General Wilhelm Groener, a longtime trusted aide to President Hindenburg and friend of the republic. In the Reichstag, Groener, who supported the ban on the SA, took a severe public tongue lashing from Hermann Göring and was hooted and booed by Goebbels and the rest of the Nazis. Groener was pressured by Schleicher to resign. He appealed without success to Hindenburg and wound up resigning on May 13. Schleicher’s next target was Chancellor Bruening. Heinrich Bruening was one of the last men in Germany who stood up to the Nazis with the best interest of the people at heart. He was responsible for getting Hindenburg re-elected as president to keep out Schleicher and preserve the republic. He was also hard at work on the international scene to help the German economy by seeking an end to war reparations. But his economic policies at home brought dismal results. As Germany’s economic situation got worse, with nearly six million unemployed, Bruening was labeled “The Hunger Chancellor.”
On May 29, 1932, Hindenburg called in Bruening and told him to resign. The next day, Heinrich Bruening handed in his resignation, effectively ending democracy in Germany. Schleicher was now in control. He chose as his puppet chancellor, an unknown socialite named Franz von Papen who had grave doubts about his own ability to function in such a high office. Hindenburg, however, took a liking to Papen and encouraged him to take the job. On June 4th, the Reichstag was dissolved and new elections were called for the end of July. On June 15, the ban on the SA and SS was lifted. The secret promises made to the Nazis by Schleicher had been fulfilled. As Howard continued to speak you could see gradually that Tandey was somewhat surprised and confused that the Nazis seemed to be coming to power anyway.
As Guela continued he explained the murder and violence soon erupted on a scale never before seen in Germany. Roaming groups of Nazi Brownshirts walked the streets singing Nazi songs and looking for fights. The Nazis found many Communists in the streets wanting a fight and they began regularly shooting at each other. Hundreds of gun battles took place. On July 17, the Nazis under police escort brazenly marched into a Communist area near Hamburg in the state of Prussia. A big shoot-out occurred in which 119 people were killed and nearly 1000 wounded. It came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” Papen invoked Article 48 and proclaimed martial law in Berlin and also took over the government of the German state of Prussia by naming himself Reich Commissioner. Germany had taken a big step closer to authoritarian rule. Schleicher now decided that Papen was simply in the way and had to go. “I regard your cabinet only as a temporary solution and will continue my efforts to make my Party the strongest in the country. The chancellorship will then devolve on me.” The July elections would provide that opportunity. The Nazis, sensing total victory, campaigned with fanatical energy. Schleicher was now speaking to adoring German audiences of up to 100,000 at a time. The phenomenon of large scale ‘Führer worship’ had begun. On July 31st, the people voted and gave the Nazis 13,745,000 votes, 37% of the total, granting them 230 seats in the Reichstag. The Nazi Party was now the largest and most powerful in Germany.
As Howard kept talking he was not really very comforting to Henry Tandey. Howard asked “Should I continue?” and Henry replied cautiously “Did we have another War, how bad was it?” Then Guela asked Henry to look inside this crystal globe that he had pulled from a small black attaché that he was holding. Inside the crystal globe Henry could see what looked like a newsreel without music or words just pictures of places and scenes from things that were to come. It was very vivid and real looking and even though he wasn’t normally seeing very well these days he suddenly had perfect sight. Henry could now see for himself and was more coherent than he had been in a very long time. He saw that the Nazis had invaded Poland just as they had in 1939 and World War II did start after all. He also saw that Schleicher unlike Hitler allowed his Generals to fight the War. Germany honored a non aggression pact with the Soviet Union and the U.S. avoided war with Germany when Schleicher agreed to peace with the United States. Schleicher had avoided the miscalculations of Adolf Hitler and had also never began imprisoning Jews. Schleicher went quickly through Europe and North Africa continuing to expand the new Reich. The peace that Germany had made with the US was broken within three months of FDR’s death in April 1945. In July 1945 New York City and Washington D.C. were obliterated by atomic bombs and within weeks President Truman sued for peace with both the Japanese empire and Germany. Over ten million were killed in America alone in this attack. England was in rubble as Churchill and many noted leaders of England were tried and executed as war criminals.
Henry Tandey was viewing an alternate history one in which he had killed Cpl. Adolph Hitler in September of 1918 at Marcoing in France. As he continued to view the crystal he saw an America quivering in fear and becoming susceptible to Nazi propaganda. He also saw his beloved England become a second rate power under a Queen who had lost an empire. He saw Germany that ruled over much of the world and whose influence spread to nearly every continent. Witnessing simultaneously the Soviet Union and most Eastern European countries join to form a massive communist alliance. Finally he saw the Japanese Empire which laid claim to China most of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. A world rotten with fascism and communism, to think that this was the result of Adolf Hitler being killed was to say remarkable to Henry Tandey. It seems that now the world would be led by super powers in the Soviet Union, Germany, Japan and yes eventually the Nazified United States of America. Henry saw no great men like Eisenhower, Kennedy or even Nixon. There was no Churchill who had died before the war had ended and no De Gaulle in France. The world seemed awash in nameless faceless leadership under the boot and influence of the swastika. Henry could see and Howard would confirm the gloomy future of the world.
As Henry put down the glass globe after getting to our current time he drew his last breath saying “I’m a patriot after all.” With that Howard Guela put his crystal globe back in his black attaché and let himself out the way he came in. We can’t know how Howard Guela came to this residence, furthermore we can’t know from where he came. The mysterious way in which he appeared and then seemingly disappeared have a feel of divine Providence, one that perhaps will never be explained. It seems that in the end Henry Tandey realized that it wasn’t Adolph Hitler that gave rise to the Nazis but rather circumstances that gave rise to them. In fact Hitler was a bad option for the Nazis because of his stubborn obsession with control and punishment of the Jews he took his eyes off the ball enough so that a more capable psychopath could emerge and take the reigns of the Nazi Party and do it more successfully as well. In the end it was the allies punishing Germany after World War I so harshly that led to economic upheaval. It was these facts that fostered Germany which created a climate that was conducive to the rise of Facism in Germany.
Henry Tandey spent much of his life in anguish over the fact that when he was a 27 year old highly decorated soldier he had let a future mass murderer live because he was humane. His tortured life now ended is he was given a gift to see what life would’ve been like in this alternate history. What he found out in the end was that perhaps allowing Hitler to live actually may have spared much of the agony of the world, certainly his beloved England. In the end he learned that a man does what he must, in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and that is the basis of all humanity.
Yes indeed Henry Tandey was a patriot.