Aaron Schachter: I'm Aaron Schachter, this is The World.
On Veterans Day, we pause to thank those who've served in our military forces, but few of us remember that the actual holiday began as a way to mark the end of World War I, on November 11th, 1918. That's why November 11th is also a holiday in other countries, like Britain and Germany. World War I was called the war to end all wars, but of course, it didn't. Today, for the world that was, we're going to talk about two men who served on opposite sides in World War I.
Chris Woolf is here. Chris, who is on your mind?
Chris Woolf: The first man we're going to talk about is a young British infantry soldier by the name of Henry Tandey, from Warwickshire in central England.
Schachter: Henry Tandey, what's so special about him?
Woolf: Well, he survived four years on the Western Front. He was wounded twice and returned to duty each time, and was decorated with Britain's highest award. It's like the Medal of Honor, the Victoria Cross. But something extraordinary happened to him twenty years after the war. He got a phone call that might have sounded something like this.
[Audio clip] "You will now hear a statement by the Prime Minister." "I am speaking to you from the Cabinet Room of 10 Downing Street."
Woolf: Now that's British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain addressing the nation, not Lance Corporal Tandey, but he did call Tandey in 1938. Just gotten back from meeting Adolf Hitler at Berchtesgaden, Hitler's mountain retreat near Munich, and Hitler had asked him to pass on his thanks to Tandey for sparing his life during the battle in World War I.
Schachter: How did that come about?
Woolf: Well, the story according to Hitler was that, he was wounded and a British soldier had him in his sights, and saw that he was wounded. They were close enough to make eye contact. The British soldier lowered his gun, Hitler nodded in thanks and crawled away. And that was the story that Hitler told Chamberlain, and somehow he had managed to identify Tandey as the soldier who had saved his life.
Schachter: Yeah, how is it possible that he figured out it was Lance Corporal Tandey who did that?
Woolf: I know, it's impossible to believe that you could pin it on one particular person, but Tandey's picture had gotten in the paper after he got the Victoria Cross. Hitler decided when he saw it that that was the guy, so he kept the cutting for twenty years, and a few years later he arranged to have a copy made of a painting about World War I, featuring Tandey. And it was hanging in his office when Chamberlain came to visit, and that's how the subject came up.
Schachter: Chris, is there any chance it really could have been Lance Corporal Tandey?
Woolf: Probably not. Tandey did have a code of honor of his own, in his life as a combat soldier, where if an enemy soldier was wounded and disarmed and out of the fight, he wouldn't kill him. But I was very skeptical when I stumbled across this story and did some digging. There's some circumstantial evidence, their units were kind of in the same area twice during the war in 1914 and 1918, facing each other. But the actual dates of Hitler's and Tandey's service don't quite match up, so it's almost impossible that it was actually this guy. But Hitler certainly believed it happened. Hitler did have this experience that he recalls so clearly being spared by a British soldier, and Chamberlain certainly made that call.
Schachter: And Tandey gets a phone call from the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. How does he respond to that?
Woolf: Well, apparently he took it all as all very matter of fact and didn't think much about it. You know, World War II hadn't started so he didn't really care who Hitler was. But then once the war came and the bombing of British cities started, Tandey was mortified by that. In fact, there's a quote from him, "If only I'd 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 that I let him go."
Schachter: Well, it's quite a legacy, isn't it. The World's Chris Woolf, thank you, as always.
Woolf: You're welcome.