Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Other Christmas Truce - 1915

Fusilier Bertie Felstead, (28 October 1894 – 22 July 2001). At the time of his death (aged 106) was believed to be the last survivor of the First World War 1915 Christmas Day truce when British and German troops played football together.

Mr Felstead, the second oldest person in Britain at the time of his death, was by his own account an average man who experienced an extraordinary event. His whole life was dominated by that moment in history" in 1915 when the guns went silent and British and German troops emerged from the trenches to play football in the snow.

He was even included in the book Centurians, a list of the most culturally influential people of the 20th century.

Born in High gate, north London, on Oct 28, 1894, Mr Felstead joined the 15th (1st London Welsh) Battalion, The Royal Welch Fusilier at Grays Inn, London. He trained in North Wales before being sent to France with his Battalion in 113th Brigade, 38th (Welsh) Division. The Christmas 1915 Truce was not as widespread as the 1914.

However, men who had been sniping at each other for months stopped the killing for a few hours.

He was spending his first Christmas Eve in northern France when he and his colleagues, shivering in their trench near the village of Laventie, heard the carol Silent Night wafting over from the German lines 100 yards or so away.
"It wasn't long before we were singing as well. Good King Wenceslas, I think it was," he said in an interview some years ago. "You couldn't hear each other sing like that without it affecting your feelings for the other side.

"The next morning, Christmas Day, there was some shouting between the trenches. 'Hello Tommy, Hello Fritz,' that sort of thing and that broke a lot more ice. As far as I can remember, a few of the Germans came out first and started walking over. I do remember a whole mass of us just getting up and going out to meet them. Nothing was planned. It was spontaneous.

"There was a bit of football; if you can call it that. Someone suggested it and somehow a ball was produced. I don't know were from. It wasn't a game as such - more of a kick-around and a; free- for all. There could have been 50 on each side for all I know. "I played because I really liked, football. I don't know how long it lasted, probably half an hour and no one was keeping score."

The truce came to an end with the appearance of an angry British major, barking out orders to return to the trenches and terse reminders that they were there to "kill the Hun not make friends with him". A British artillery salvo finally shattered the mood. "The Germans were all right," said Mr Felstead, who was wounded on the Somme in 1916 and shipped back to England.

After recovering from injury, Mr Felstead volunteered for overseas service and fought in Salonika in 1917 until being evacuated home with acute malaria.

Discharged in 1919, Mr Felstead worked as a store man at an RAF base in Uxbridge, London. Mr Felstead married on Mar 16, 1918. His wife, Alice, died in 1983. He died on Sunday, at a Gloucester nursing home. He is survived by two of his three daughters, five grandchildren, II great-grandchildren and two great great grandchildren.
 (4 photos)

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