November 21, 2005

"Last allied witness of WWI Christmas truce dies"

Last allied witness of WWI Christmas truce dies.

LONDON (Reuters) - The last known surviving allied veteran of the Christmas Truce that saw German and British soldiers shake hands between the trenches in World War One died Monday at 109, his parish priest said.

Alfred Anderson was the oldest man in Scotland and the last known surviving Scottish veteran of the war.

"I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence," he was quoted as saying in the Observer newspaper last year, describing the day-long Christmas Truce of 1914, which began spontaneously when German soldiers sang carols in the trenches, and British soldiers responded in English.

"All I'd heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machinegun fire and distant German voices. But there was a dead silence that morning across the land as far as you could see.

"We shouted 'Merry Christmas' even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again."

Troops in the trenches swapped cigarettes, uniform buttons and addresses and even played football in one of the most extraordinary episodes of the war.

Parish priest Neil Gardner of Anderson's Alyth Parish Church in Scotland said he had died in his sleep and was survived by a large family, including 18 great grandchildren and two great great grandchildren.

"He was a wonderful old man: he was gracious, gentle, he had a great sense of humor and a fine sense of wisdom from his experience spanning three centuries," said Gardner, who also served as chaplain to Anderson's regiment, the Black Watch.

One by one, it seems of late, we're losing these treasured defenders of freedom.

Posted by Kyer at November 21, 2005 12:09 PM | TrackBack

Really one of the most extraordinary stories of WWI. I've got a piece on it up on my blog...some marvelous quotes from the soldiers. "Fancy a German shaking your flapper...and then a few days later trying to plug you" said one.

Posted by: Rick Beyer at November 21, 2005 01:24 PM