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The Christmas Truce

23 Dec

This is one of my favorite stories from Christmas past. I am reposting this from the archives of November 2005.

WWI veteran, 109, was Scotland’s oldest man

LONDON, England (AP) — Alfred Anderson, the last surviving soldier to have heard the guns fall silent along the Western Front during the spontaneous “Christmas Truce” of World War I, died Monday at age 109.

More than 80 years after the war, Anderson recalled the “eerie sound of silence” as shooting stopped and soldiers clambered from trenches to greet one another December 25, 1914.

His parish priest, the Rev. Neil Gardner, said Anderson died in his sleep early Monday at a nursing home in Newtyle, Scotland. His death leaves fewer than 10 veterans of World War I alive in Britain.

Born June 25, 1896, Anderson was an 18-year-old soldier in the Black Watch regiment when British and German troops cautiously emerged from the trenches that Christmas Day in 1914. The enemies swapped cigarettes and tunic buttons, sang carols and even played soccer amid the mud, barbed wire and shell-holes of no man’s land.

The informal truce spread along much of the 500-mile Western Front, in some cases lasting for days — alarming army commanders who feared fraternization would sap the troops’ will to fight. The next year brought the start of vast battles of attrition that claimed 10 million lives, and the Christmas truce was never repeated.

“I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence,” Anderson told The Observer newspaper last year.

“All I’d heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machine-gun fire and distant German voices,” said Anderson, who was billeted in a French farmhouse behind the front lines.

“But there was a dead silence that morning, right 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. It was a short peace in a terrible war.”

During the war, Anderson served briefly as batman — or valet — to Capt. Fergus Bowes-Lyon, brother of the Queen Mother Elizabeth. Bowes-Lyon was killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915.

Prince Charles said he was “deeply saddened” by Anderson’s death and recalled meeting him several times. “We should not forget him, and the others of his generation who have given so much for their country,” the heir to the British throne said.

Anderson fought in France until 1916, when he was wounded by shrapnel. In 1998, he was awarded France’s Legion of Honor for his war service.

Anderson was Scotland’s oldest man. The country’s First Minister, Jack McConnell, said he “represented the generation of young Scots who fought in the First World War, and endured unimaginable horrors.”

“Many of them made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and we must never forget what they have given to us.”

Lt. Col. Roddy Riddell, regimental secretary of the Black Watch, said Anderson’s death marked “the end of the epoch.”

“The entire regiment is in mourning and we are all the sadder for his passing,” he said.

Gardner said Anderson “was quite philosophical about his wartime experiences.” Anderson himself said he tried to put them out of his mind.

“I think about all my friends who never made it home,” he said once. “But it’s too sad to think too much about it. Far too sad.”

In later years, Anderson spoke often of the guilt he felt over the loss of friends and comrades.

“I felt so guilty meeting the families of friends who were lost,” he told The Times newspaper this month. “They looked at me as if I should have been left in the mud of France instead of their loved one. I couldn’t blame them, they were grieving, and I still share their grief and bear that feeling of guilt.”

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7 Comments

Posted by on December 23, 2007 in Art, Current Events, Inspirational, Meditation, People, Politics

 

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7 responses to “The Christmas Truce

  1. rono

    January 1, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    Hope you had a great holiday season…and I wish you a wonderful New Year. I am glad I checked here for posts from you since I think samgail is no longer a place you post at. Hope all is well.

    Ron

     
  2. Suresh Gundappa

    January 14, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    mmm what a way to start New Year!

    Gracie is back in action Wow! This must be sunshine year! or sunflower year!

    It’s always nice to hear from you!

     
  3. Gracie

    February 13, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Sweet Suresh – so nice for you to stop by – I sure miss you, my friend – will write so we can catch up. Hugs and kisses!!

     
  4. Alex Gwyther

    October 18, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    Hi there.

    I am a writer from London finishing up a spoken word play on the Christmas Truce. I am looking for suitable pictures / paintings of the Truce to use as the main logo. The second painting you have included of the dark figures shaking hands – do you know who owns the rights to it, as I would like to use it for the play.

    My email address is alexgwyther@hotmail.co.uk

    Many thanks and a very inspiring blog post.

    Alex

     
  5. Gracie

    October 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    Alex,

    Sorry, I don’t have any info on the photo – I found it doing an image search. Thanks for your kind words and good luck with your play. Can’t find the original article but maybe this will help,

    http://www.uiowa.edu/~c030070/warstories04/cnnworld051122/src/cnn.com/2005/WORLD/europe/11/21/wwi.soldier.ap/index.html

     
  6. Alex Gwyther

    October 18, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Thanks for that Gracie.

    If you’d like to listen to a snippet of the play, you can do so here

    http://www.soundcloud.com/bestofthebiro

    and here is a spoken word piece about the truce

    Hope you enjoy!

     
  7. Gracie

    October 29, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Very touching, Alex! Thanks so much for sharing!

     

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