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.
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...