Alfred Anderson, the last known survivor of the 1914 "Christmas Truce" that saw British and German soldiers exchanging gifts and handshakes in no-man's land, died early Monday, his parish priest said. He was 109. His death leaves fewer than 10 veterans of World War I alive in Britain.
Anderson died in his sleep at a nursing home in Newtyle, Scotland, said Rev. Neil Gardner of Alyth Parish Church.
Born June 25, 1896, Anderson was an 18-year-old soldier in the Black Watch regiment when British and German troops cautiously emerged from their trenches on Dec. 25, 1914. The enemies swapped cigarettes and tunic buttons, sang carols and even played soccer amid the mud and shell-holes of no man's land.
The informal truce spread along much of the Western Front, in some cases lasting for days.
"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 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."
Award from France
During the war, Anderson served briefly as batman, or valet, to Capt. Fergus Bowes-Lyon, brother of the late Queen Mother Elizabeth. Bowes-Lyon was killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915.
Anderson fought in France until 1916, when he was wounded by shrapnel from a shell.
In 1998, he was awarded France's Legion of Honor for his war service.
Anderson, who was Scotland's oldest man, had "lived a truly remarkable life," Gardner said.
"Alfred was quite philosophical about his wartime experiences — he was never up or down, he took everything in his stride," Gardner said. "He had a great sense of humor but also a terrific sense of wisdom which came from his great age."
Neil Griffiths of the Royal British Legion of Scotland said Anderson was "one of those old Scots who represented the finest aspects of the Scottish character."
"Everyone who met him was always impressed by his vitality and great pride in his personal appearance, Griffiths said. "He was gentle and very humorous, with a quick wit. He used to say until recently that his ambition was to die shot in bed by a jealous lover."
In later years, Anderson spoke often of the guilt he felt at the loss of his friends and comrades.
"I felt so guilty meeting the families of friends who were lost," he told The Times newspaper earlier 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."
Anderson is survived by four children, 10 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.