How my great-uncle came close to killing Hitler
The last descendant of a war hero has revealed how his great-uncle nearly changed the course of history – by killing Hitler during the First World War.
Second Lieutenant George James Mitchell, 33, faced Corporal Adolf Hitler, then 27, across the front line in Fromelles, France, on July 19, 1916.
Mitchell was attached to the 6th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment when British and Australian Forces attempted to advance on German-held territory near Fromelles in a surprise attack.
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The Allies lost the battle – along with more than 7,000 men in 24 hours – and Mitchell perished on the field ''less than 100 yards'' from Hitler's bunker.
Historian and writer Richard Hope-Hawkins, Mitchell's great-nephew and last descendant, has now spoken about his ancestor's heroism – and how he nearly changed the course of history.
He said: "On July 19 my great uncle led his platoon over the top as ordered. He had already suffered a slight wound as he was blown over by a shell blast earlier.
"George certainly knew that he would not survive.
"Opposite, just a short distance away on the German front line, in a bunker, was Corporal Adolf Hitler, then a messenger runner in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment who was defending the German front lines.
"The Gloucesters were the ones that got nearest to the German lines – literally less than 100 yards. In fact, some did get into the trenches and were repelled, unfortunately.
"Had the British and Australians taken those trenches and if Hitler was slain there, then the whole course of world history would have changed.
"One suspects that there would not have been a Second World War, no Nazi party and the holocaust would never had occurred."
The Battle of Fromelles was reportedly intended to be a distraction from the Somme, raging only 50 miles to the south.
The men went 'over the top' in broad daylight in a surprise attack at 6pm on the 19th after 11 hours of preliminary bombing.
But after advancing 400m to their supposed secondary line they found instead a ditch full of rainwater which provided limited means of defence.
The battle was a decisive German victory, with more than 1,500 British and 5,533 Australian men killed, wounded or taken prisoner in a single day and night of fighting.
Mitchell was blown over by a shell early on in the battle and was told he could return to his billet and be treated.
But he refused, saying he must "do his duty", knowing he would not survive. He was killed near the German trenches.
Hitler returned to his bunker at Fromelles during the Second World War, in the first weeks of France's occupation by the Nazis.
Mr Hope-Hawkins said: "It obviously had a significance to Hitler because when he was carrying on towards Paris there are photographs of him at Fromelles, and he went back to his old front line and his bunker.
"He visited his old billet at Fromelles and also one of the bunkers that still stands to this day known as the 'Hitler' bunker.
"Who knows what his thoughts and feeling were at that time at Fromelles – for the Germans too lost over 2,000 men, one of whom could easily have been himself had only moments played out slightly differently."
The remains of the men who died at Fromelles were collected by their German counterparts and buried in mass graves. In 2008, at Pheasant's Wood, near Fromelles, one of the graves was discovered by two amateur Australian historians and some of the remains carefully exhumed by a team from Oxford.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission will dedicate the site as a military cemetery on Monday – the 94th anniversary of the Battle – when 250 of the remains of the fallen will be ceremonially reburied.
The Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and Duke of Kent are expected to attend, along with 6,000 relatives of the fallen and members of the public. At the ceremony, Mr Hope-Hawkins will read messages on behalf of other relatives as well as speaking briefly about his Great Uncle. He is currently working on a documentary about the battle.