On November 21, 2005, Alfred Anderson died at age 109. He was Scotland‘s last known World War I veteran, the last member alive of the “Old Contemptibles,” the last known soldier who took part in the 1914 World War I Christmas truce, and Scotland’s oldest man for over a year.
Anderson was born on June 25, 1896, and joined the volunteer reserve of the British Army in 1912 when he was only 16 years old. Unbeknownst to him, he had volunteered to fight on the Western Front, which was where the German Army had invaded France through neutral Belgium shortly after the outbreak of WWI.
On December 24 and 25, 1914, when Anderson was 18 years old, he participated in the Christmas Truce. This odd occurrence involved British and German troops going through a ceasefire and celebrating Christmas in comradery by decorating their trenches, singing carols together, and even participating in soccer games together in the muddy No Man’s Land. Over 80 years later, Anderson recalled these days saying,
I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence. 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. 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 he was also briefly appointed to be a batman, or personal servant, to Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon, brother of the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. A brave and calm servant, Anderson would often go into No Man’s Land at night with Bowes-Lyon to listen for enemy activity. He continued to fight in France during the first World War until he was injured by a piece of shrapnel during one of his late-night outings with Bowes-Lyon.
In 1988, Anderson was awarded by the French Legion of Honor along with other WWI veterans who fought on French soil, and he was visited by Prince Charles in 2003 after news that Anderson was batman for the prince’s uncle, Bowes-Lyon, was brought to public attention.
A few weeks after being featured on the BBC One documentary The Last Tommy along with other WWI British Army vets, Anderson died in his sleep in Sweden. At the time of his death, he was the oldest man in Sweden.