Heroism in wartime takes a variety of forms. One that was probably unexpected by those who carried it out was to disarm a ‘mad’ comrade firing his weapon wildly. Bermondsey lad Arthur Edward Feldwick did just that in May 1916.
Arthur Edward Feldwick was born in St Olave, Bermondsey in 1890 and lived there until the start of the Great War. He worked as a postman for the General Post Office; his father Thomas had taught at the London Postal School and died serving in the army during the Boer War. On 4 April 1914, Arthur married a neighbour in his block of flats (Russell Scott Buildings, on the corner of Jamaica Road and Cherry Garden Street) named Ada Legon.
When the war started, Feldwick was mobilised in the 1/8th London Regiment – the Post Office Rifles, a Territorial Force unit (at least he has a low enough number that he was probably a pre-war territorial). The battalion went to France in 1915 as part of the 2nd London Division; Corporal Feldwick arrived there with them on 18 March 1915.
On 6 May 1916, Feldwick and his comrades were fired upon behind the British lines. The London Gazette describes their actions, led by Second Lieutenant William Rathbone:
As a working party under Second Lieutenant Rathbone, 15th London Regiment was proceeding down a communication trench by night, they were fired upon from close quarters. Second Lieutenant Rathbone ascertained that the shots came from a soldier who had run amok, and had posted himself with loaded rifle and fixed bayonet farther down the trench. Second Lieutenant Rathbone borrowed a rifle and, accompanied by Corporal Feldwick, advanced along the trench until in view of the mentally deranged man. They then advanced with rifles at the ready; the officer calling upon the man to surrender. Receiving no reply, they then dropped their rifles and rushed him, and after disarming him took him to the nearest dresing station. (London Gazette, 4 August 1917)
The following statement which was written by Second Lieutenant Rathbone on 7 May 1916, the day after the event is included in his Albert Medal recommendation file, and was located by auctioneers selling his medals in 2007:
‘I was taking a working party along Cabaret Road and had nearly reached the artillery positions when I heard a shot and the bullet seemed to pass close to the party. I concluded that it had probably come from an incinerator and took no notice. A little further on the artillerymen shouted to us to stop, which I did thinking some guns were going to fire. As nothing happened for some time I called out to know what was the matter. The artillerymen then shouted “There is a man who has gone dotty further up the trench with a loaded rifle”. This explained the shot and as the trench is shallow I ordered the men to get down. The artillery did not appear to be making any attempt to deal with the situation so I borrowed a rifle – loaded – from Corporal Feldwick of the 8th and told him to get another and load that. I then worked my way along until I could see the madman and ordered him to put his hands up. He took no notice so I walked towards him with my rifle at the ready. As soon as I got near enough I dropped my rifle and grasped that of the man, holding it so that he could neither shoot nor use his bayonet. The Corporal and others then rushed up and collared him. The bayonet was fixed and the rifle was at full cock with a round in the chamber and one on the magazine. The man was with difficulty removed to the dressing station in Hospital Road. I do not know to what regiment the man belonged. The two men of my own party who were nearest were Corporal Feldwick and Rifleman Haynes, both of the 8th Battalion. Some of the artillerymen must also have seen what occurred.’
The auctioneers state that ‘a note in one of the reports in this file suggests that the soldier who ran amok in the trenches belonged to the Royal Irish Rifles.’
Cabaret Road is shown on this trench map segment posted on a Great War forum thread, and ran across the countryside south of Souchez in France – just south of the Cabaret-Rouge Cemetery (googlemap). This is where Feldwick and Rathbone tackled the ‘dotty’ soldier and earned their Albert Medals (Second Class), which Rathbone was lucky enough to receive from the King at Buckingham Palace. By this time, Feldwick had become a prisoner of war. What happened to the crazed soldier who shot at them is not recorded.
After he was repatriated (presumably at the end of the war) Feldwick went home to Bermondsey and to Ada. They had four children in the 1920s, although sadly only two (Joan and Arthur) survived infancy. Ada died in 1947 and Arthur in 1950.
Many thanks to Michael Feldwick who contacted me about this post and sent through images of his grandfather to add to it. 16/9/2013