Claude Choules, last combat veteran of World War I, dies at 110

May 5, 2011

Claude Choules, the only remaining male veteran of World War I and one of the last people to have served in both world wars, died May 5 at a nursing home near Perth in western Australia. He was 110, and no cause of death was reported.

The former seaman, who was underage when he signed up for duty, witnessed the surrender of the German Imperial Navy in 1918. He also watched as German sailors scuttled their own fleet at Scapa Flow, near Scotland, to avoid having the ships fall into British hands after the war.

Mr. Choules and another Briton, Florence Green, became the war’s last known surviving service members after the death of American Frank Buckles in February, according to the Order of the First World War, a U.S.-based group that tracks veterans.

Mr. Choules was the last known surviving combatant of the war. Green, who turned 110 in February, served as a waitress in the Women’s Royal Air Force.

“Everything comes to those who wait and wait,” Mr. Choules told an interviewer in 2009.

He was born in Wyre Piddle, a village in the English county of Worcestershire, on March 3, 1901.

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 daughter, Anne Pow, and he grew up determined to create a happy home for his own children.

He lied about his age so he could join the British Royal Navy in 1916, two years after the Great War began. Enlistees were supposed to be at least 18 years old.

In 1926, he transferred to the Royal Australian Navy after working as an instructor at a naval depot, according to the Worcester News. “I was nobody,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio in 2009 of his years in England. “But I was somebody here.”

During World War II, he was a torpedo officer and was assigned to blow up the Australian navy’s ships in Fremantle Harbour, in western Australia, if Japanese forces invaded. Mr. Choules retired at age 55 after serving with the Naval Dockyard Police.

He wrote a memoir, “The Last of the Last,” which was published two years ago.

He was married to the former Ethel Wildgoose, whom he met on the way to Australia in 1926. She died several years ago at age 98. They had three children, according to the Australian Associated Press.

Despite the fame his military service brought him, Mr. 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.

“I had a pretty poor start,” he told a reporter in 2009. “But I had a good finish.”

— From News Services

Most Read Local