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B. Felstead; WWI British Soldier Spent Christmas Day Truce With Germans

July 27, 2001|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Bertie Felstead, one of the last survivors of the informal Christmas truces between British and German soldiers during World War I, died Sunday at a nursing home in Gloucester, England. He was 106.

Felstead, a private with the Royal Welch Fusiliers, was one of the soldiers who crossed into no man's land to celebrate Christmas with the Germans in 1915 during an unofficial truce.

"Of course we realized we were in the most extraordinary position, wishing each other Happy Christmas one day and shooting each other the next, but we were so pleased to be able to forget the war," Felstead told an interviewer in 1996.

The soldiers exchanged holiday greetings, swapped cigarettes and played soccer--before being ordered back to their trenches to resume hostilities on the front near the French village of Laventie.

The truce, Felstead said, was started by the Germans, who emerged from their trenches and just started "walking over to us." One German began singing "All Through the Night," and the Welshmen responded with "Good King Wenceslas."

Soon "all the soldiers were shouting to one another, 'Hello, Tommy; Hello, Fritz,' and we gradually got to know each other this way," Felstead recalled.

"Nobody decided for us--we just climbed over our parapet and went over to them. We thought nobody would shoot at us if we all mingled together."

Such truces had been widespread at Christmas 1914, to the chagrin of military commanders. They recurred sporadically in 1915, but never happened again.

Felstead was wounded at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Three years ago, he was awarded France's highest award for gallantry, the Legion d'Honneur.

He was born in Hertfordshire, north of London, on Oct. 28, 1894. After the war, he worked as a civil servant at a Royal Air Force base and later for General Electric Co.

"He lived a very good, full and active life, and will be sorely missed," said his daughter, Barbara McIntosh, 73.

Felstead was predeceased by his wife, Alice, to whom he had been married for 65 years.

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