The History Place - Strange but True

I spared Hitler's Life

The First World War was in its last hours, millions of soldiers on both sides were dead and those who fought on knew the end was near, as did English Private Henry Tandey who served with the Duke of Wellington's Regiment.

In September of 1918, on the French battlefield of Marcoing, he won the Victoria Cross for bravery, one of many medals the 27 year old would win during the 'war to end all wars.' As the battle of Marcoing raged, Allied and German forces engaged in bitter hand to hand combat. The defining moment for Private Tandey and world history came when a wounded German limped directly into his line of fire.

"I took aim but couldn't shoot a wounded man," said Tandey, "so I let him go." Years later he discovered he had spared an Austrian Corporal named Adolf Hitler.

Hitler himself never forgot that pivotal moment or the man who had spared him. On becoming German Chancellor in 1933, he ordered his staff to track down Tandey's service records. They also managed to obtain a print of an Italian painting showing Tandey carrying a wounded Allied soldier on his back, which Hitler hung with pride on the wall at his mountain top retreat at Berchtesgaden. He showed the print to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain during his historic visit in 1938 and explained its special significance.

The Führer seized that occasion to have his personal gratitude relayed to Tandey, which Chamberlain conveyed via telephone on his return to London from that most fateful trip.

Henry Tandey left military service before the start of World War II and worked as a security guard in Coventry. His "good deed" haunted him for the rest of his life, especially as Nazi bombers destroyed Coventry in 1940 and London burned day and night during the Blitz.

"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.

The Red Barron's Heart of Gold

Baron Manfred Von Richthofen is confirmed as having shot down 80 Allied aircraft during the First World War, a record unsurpassed during the Great War. In a war which unleashed unspeakable horror, the Red Baron and his distinctive red Fokker triplane provided chivalry to a world desperately seeking honor amid the bloody conflict.

On March 30, 1917, near Fouquieres, France, Lt. Pat Garnett of the Royal Flying Corps engaged attacking German aircraft without waiting for reinforcements, not knowing his adversaries were none other than the Red Baron's Squadron. The ensuing dogfight was brief and bloody, the 22 year old British aviator and his Nieuport Scout biplane went down fighting, shot out of the sky by German Lt. Kurt Wolff, as the Red Baron watched from a higher altitude. Young Garnett's bravery against such odds greatly impressed the Teutonic Baron.

Lt. Garnett survived the crash and was captured by the Germans. He lived just long enough to tell them he had only recently been married. His last thoughts and words were for his beloved young wife, greatly moving his German captors.

Baron Von Richthofen was informed of Garnett's capture and the events surrounding his death. The Red Baron came into possession of Garnett's personal effects which included his favorite gold cufflinks and a piece of his wife's wedding dress which he had kept pinned inside his coat for luck.

The Red Baron was greatly moved by Garnett's death and wrote to his widow, Mary, a letter of sympathy expressing his sincere regrets, accepting overall responsibility for his death.

However, Mary Garnett was horrified, erroneously interpreting the letter as boasting of her husband's death and promptly burned it.

Every dog has their day and the Allies had theirs. Lt. Wolff was himself killed in action in September of 1917 after having notched 33 kills. The Red Baron was killed in action while engaging six Allied aircraft in April of 1918. It has since been proven the bullet ending his life came from enemy ground fire, probably from the same Australian ground forces that eventually recovered his body and gave the Red Baron a funeral with full military honors.

Apollo 13's Nuclear Threat

The drama surrounding the ill fated Apollo 13 mission was an ideal subject for a series of books and movies. But the most disturbing aspect of the near disaster has mostly been neglected. Apollo 13 was a nuclear catastrophe waiting to happen, as aboard the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) was a plutonium power cell.

Called 'Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power' (SNAP-27) it contained 3.8 kilograms of plutonium, which is so toxic that less than a millionth of a gram can cause cancer. Designed to be left behind on the moon, the crippled Apollo 13 was forced to carry it back to Earth. Not only were the three astronauts in danger but millions on the ground unwittingly lived under threat from the toxic space junk.

When the paralyzed Apollo 13 re-entered Earth's orbit, the astronauts transferred back to the command module, and the LEM with its nuclear payload was jettisoned. It re-entered the atmosphere somewhere over New Zealand and although the LEM burned up, SNAP-27 survived re-entry and plunged intact into the Pacific Ocean off Tonga, where according to NASA it is "isolated from man's environment." SNAP-27's radioactivity will last 2000+ years and its watery grave comprises some of the world's prime fishing grounds.

NASA successfully concealed the crisis from the world at the time, and continues to power some spacecraft with plutonium, recently launching the Cassini probe with a 33 kilo plutonium cell.

Britain's Ugliest Politician

British Conservative Member of Parliament, Sir George Gardiner, had the dubious honor of being Britain's ugliest politician. Described as resembling a bloodhound with a bad hangover, he took the unprecedented step of writing to his constituency in Surrey to plead with them not to vote against him because he was ugly. It worked and he won handsomely.


The word which symbolizes abstinence of alcohol came about through the stammer of English artist Dick Turner of Lancashire. During an anti-alcohol speech, he tried to say "total abstinence" but had a problem saying the word total, stammering instead "tee-e-e-total." Consequent crowds found his mispronunciation amusing and it eventually came to symbolize his group.

Right or Left?

Most travelers are daunted by the prospect of driving in countries which drive on opposite sides of the road from their own. The Romans set the original standard by driving and riding on the left, which was adopted throughout their vast Empire until the 1800s when Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte decreed it should be done on the right. French colonial influence in North America resulted in its introduction there and that's why Americans and Canadians now drive on the right.

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