In 1918, British soldiers were pinned down by a German machine gun nest.
They were dying one-by-one, stuck in shell holes in the mud.
Private Henry Tandy decided he wasn’t going to wait to die.
He told the men who operated the Lewis gun to follow him.
And he slogged up out of the shell hole and through the mud.
He ran, and fired, as best as he could and they followed.
He got them into a position where they could use their gun.
And the Lewis gun took out the German machine gun.
But there was another problem for the British troops.
They needed to get across a bridge, but the bridge was damaged.
So Henry Tandy got up and ran through the mud to the bridge.
He started repairing the bridge with planks.
He was shot while he did it, he was wounded, but he didn’t stop.
He repaired the bridge and the British troops got across.
But they were now surrounded by heavy numbers of Germans.
Henry Tandy told everyone to fix bayonets.
Then slogging through the mud he led the charge against the enemy.
He was shot again, wounded again, but he didn’t stop.
The Germans turned and ran, straight into the rest of the British troops.
Tandy was responsible for capturing 37 prisoners that day.
But he’d had enough of killing.
He saw a single German dragging himself away through the mud.
Tandy raised his rifle.
The German soldier looked at Tandy.
Tandy didn’t have the heart to kill a single sad, beaten man.
So he lowered his rifle and let him go.
Henry Tandy won the Victoria Cross for his actions that day.
It was in all the newspapers along with his photograph.
In Germany, the soldier whose life he’d spared read the story, recognised Tandy’s face, and kept the clipping.
Many years later that story, and the clipping, would become famous.
The German soldier was Adolf Hitler.
In 1938, Hitler told the story himself to the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, and asked Chamberlain to thank Henry Tandy for sparing him.
Henry Tandy of course didn’t feel the same way.
Tandy said “If only I had known what he would turn out to be. When I saw all the people and women and children he had killed and wounded I was sorry to God I let him go”.
It haunted Henry Tandy that he could have stopped Hitler.
But at that time he couldn’t have known what that bedraggled soldier would turn into.
At the time it just seemed cruel to shoot some poor wretch who was dragging himself away from the fighting.
As Kierkegaard said “Life can only be understood backwards. But unfortunately it must be lived forwards”.