Though Mr. Alfred Anderson will not celebrate the upcoming holiday season, he celebrated his share of them.
Mr. Anderson, who was 109 years old, died on Monday. He was Scotland's oldest man, and a veteran of WW I. And he was a witness to one of history's most encouraging sports events.
On Christmas Eve, 1914, at the age of 18, Alfred Anderson was just behind the front lines when an unknown number of other very young men in the uniforms of the United Kingdom and of Germany climbed out of the holes in which they had been living and from which they had been shooting at each other, and temporarily transformed a field of battle into a field of play. They had managed to communicate across the no man's land between their trenches that a temporary cessation of combat in favor of soccer would be mutually acceptable.
Like all games, the one played on that Cristmas Eve almost 92 years ago was ephemeral. But it achieved significance because for the length of time those young men, many of them doomed, played soccer, they could acknowledge that they were not much different from each other. beyond that, on that evening, nobody on that field killed anybody else.
The Christmas truce of 1914 is also said to have included an exchange of humble gifts between combatants, the illumination of small Christmas trees set on the edges of the trenches, and the singing of carols, first from one side of the battlefield, then from the other...first in English, then in German.
According to the newspaper account of his life published in Scotland this week, Alfred Anderson was an admirable as well as a durable fellow. praised as "dignified and unassuming," he continued to serve his country as an instructor with the army after he was wounded in 1916, and he took command of a detachment of the homeguard during the Second World War.
Colonel Roddie Riddel, currently the commander of the regiment in which Scotland's oldest man served, commemorated the occasion of Alfred Anderson's death as "a sad moment in history." But his passing comes with a collateral blessing: it gives us a reason to remember that remarkable night upon which, however briefly, the impulse toward brotherhood — represented in part by a game of soccer — prevailed over our inclination to slaughter one another.
This program aired on November 23, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.