While Christmas Day 1914 was notable for being the first recorded Christmas truce, Christmas Day 1915 is perhaps best known for the legendary game of football that took place in No-Man’s Land.
Supposedly, some games of football had broken out the year before, but on Christmas Day 1915 both sides of the trenches met up for a large, pre-planned game.
Nothing official was recorded during the day, so our knowledge of what took place is not accurate. However, the death in 2001 of one man who took part in the legendary game led to many of his memories being opened up to the public. For the first time, this provided a first-hand account of the famed football match that took place across the Western Front.
Bertie Felstead, the last survivor of the football match, died in July 2001 aged 106. Remembering the event, Bertie confirmed that he had been stationed in northern France near the village of Laventie. He reported that he had heard the Germans in the trench 100 metres away singing ‘Silent Night’. In response to the carol, the Royal Welch Fusiliers sang ‘Good King Wenceslas’.
After some shouting between the trenches and verbal confirmation of a cease-fire, Bertie and his colleagues emerged from their trench to greet the Germans, who he believed were already in No-Man’s Land. According to Bertie nothing was planned, and the following events were entirely spontaneous.
A football was produced, although Bertie was unsure who had provided it, and men from both sides started to join in.
“It was not 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.”
Sadly the truce didn’t last as long as it did the year before. A British major ordered the British soldiers to return to their trenches, reminding them that they were “there to kill the Hun not to make friends with him”. The order broke the friendly Christmas mood and artillery fire began once more, but Bertie Felstead remarked that he had still thought the Germans to be “all right”.
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