Last World War I Combat Veteran Dies in Australia
March 3, 1901 - May 5, 2011
Claude Stanley Choules, a man of contradictions, humble spirit and wry humor, died in a Western Australia nursing home on Thursday at the age of 110. And though his accomplishments were many - including a 41-year military career that spanned the two World Wars - the man known as "Chuckles" to his comrades in the Australian Navy was happiest being known as a dedicated family man.
Choules was born March 3, 1901, in the small British town of Pershore, Worcestershire, one of seven children. As a child, he was told his mother had died - a lie meant to cover a more painful truth: She left when he was 5 to pursue an acting career. The abandonment affected him profoundly, said his other daughter, Anne Pow, and he grew up determined to create a happy home for his own children.
World War I was raging when Choules began training with the British Royal Navy, just one month after he turned 14. In 1917, he joined the battleship HMS Revenge, from which he watched the 1918 surrender of the German High Seas Fleet, the main battle fleet of the German Navy during the war.
"There was no sign of fight left in the Germans as they came out of the mist at about 10 a.m.," Choules wrote in his autobiography. The German flag, he recalled, was hauled down at sunset.
"So ended the most momentous day in the annals of naval warfare," he wrote. "A fleet of ships surrendered without firing a shot."
During World War II Choules was the acting torpedo officer in Fremantle, Western Australia, and chief demolition officer for the western side of the Australian continent. Choules disposed of the first mine to wash ashore in Australia during the war.
He later transferred to the Naval Dockyard Police and remained in the service until his retirement in 1956.
"His career has spanned some of the most significant events in maritime history," Royal Australian Navy Captain Brett Wolski said in a statement Thursday.
Choules later in life became a pacifist who was uncomfortable with anything that glorified war. He disagreed with the celebration of Anzac Day, Australia's most important war memorial holiday, and refused to march in parades held each year to mark the holiday.
"He didn't believe in war," his 84-year-old daughter Daphne Edinger said.
My maternal grandfather - from whom I have derived my nom de guerre - served in the British Royal Navy during World War I. Perhaps one day I will share with you his adventures here in these pages, but today is for Claude Choules - the Last of the Last:
"The wind blows over a page in the open Book of History, and the final veteran of an ancient war passes . . .
A quiet drumbeat, a distant bugle call,
a final gun salute from the Ghost Fleet
to honor him."
From now and forever more we will look back at what has finally become a truly bygone Era.
- Sean Linnane, 5-11-2011
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