Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Christmas Truce Leaves Living Memory

A Scotsman named Alfred Anderson was the last person alive who could remember the Christmas Truce of 1914. With his death on Sunday at the age of 109, that definitive moment of the Great War leaves memory and enters history.

Sgt. Alfred AndersonAccording to the Scotsman,
    Alfred Anderson was the last of the “Old Contemptibles” - the British expeditionary force which went to war in 1914 - and the last surviving witness of the historic Christmas truce when opposing troops declared a brief and unofficial ceasefire to play football and share drinks and cigarettes in the hell of no man’s land. Mr Anderson served with the 5th Battalion the Black Watch until he was wounded by shrapnel in 1916.
The Great War divides our time from the age that came before. The four years of slaughter on the Western Front tore down the European structures that had existed since the Enlightenment, replacing them with what we call Post-Modern Times.

Men like Sgt. Anderson bridged the chasm between those two worlds. It’s staggering to think that until two days ago there still lived someone who had stood in the stinking mud in Flanders in 1914. He was a relic of what was truly a different age.
     Neil Griffiths, a spokesman for the Royal British Legion of Scotland, said: “He was our last surviving link with a time that shimmers on the edge of our folk memory. There was something old worldly about him — he was honourable, dignified and had a tremendously droll sense of humour. He always stood erect and was always immaculately turned out. We will not see his likes again.”
Sgt. Anderson was compos mentis until near the end, giving an interview last year:
     He said he found the two-minute silence on November 11 “remarkably poignant” because of the “terrible constant noise in the trenches”.
“It’s special to think that Britain is united in silence remembering a time that I will never forget,” said Mr Anderson. “The country stops for a few minutes each year and remembers those who fought and died but there’s not a day goes by that I don’t think of those I left behind. Young men I went to school with, played football with and trained for war with. All dead, all gone.”
All dead, all gone for these past ninety years. And now he has joined them at last.

Rest in peace, Sgt. Anderson.

Update: Florida Cracker supplies this link to a useful historical account of the Christmas Truce of 1914.


Sensei Mitch said...

Thank you for that post. It is important that we remember our history and the men who forged it.

Gryffilion said...

That was one of the last wars in which both sides were just men--not monsters, as our current enemies are today. John McCutcheon wrote about that truce:

"We traded chocolates, cigarettes
And photographs of home
These sons and fathers far away
From families of their own
Young Sanders played his squeezebox
And they had a violin
This curious and unlikely
Band of men..."

Up until the Great War period or so, it was man versus man, usually directed from afar by some higher-up caste memeber, like a Kaiser, King, or Emperor. Now, it's monsters, criminals, thugs, bandits, and zealots on the other side, whom I consider men only in the technical and biological sense of the word--not in the same sense of a young German gefreiter from Frankfurt and a young English rifleman from Liverpool gazing at each other across the ravaged fields of Flanders

El Jefe Maximo said...

I am a reasonably frequent poster on the Great War, surely the most needless major conflict produced by our civilization and the major producing cause of the apparently accelerating decline of the West. World War II, Communism, the Nazis, Socialism, moral relavitism -- even the latest stage of the Great Jihad all got their opening from this conflict. Lunatic cranks became the mainstream.

The Christmas Truce always struck me as a sort of collective pause, the last hesitation on the brink by Old Europe before it threw itself completely into the job of suicide.