West Australian man Claude Choules, believed to be the world’s last surviving WWI combat veteran, has died.
Mr Choules, who celebrated his 110th birthday in March, died at his hostel home, Gracewood, in Salter Point last night, his daughter Daphne Edinger confirmed. It is believed he was the seventh oldest known man in the world and the oldest known man living in Australia.
He was declared the last known survivor of the more than 70 million military personnel mobilised globally during The Great War, after American veteran Frank Buckles passed away earlier this year.
Born in Britain and raised in Wyre Piddle, Mr Choules joined the Royal Navy in 1915 at 14.
He settled in Fremantle after he was seconded to the Royal Australian Navy in 1926 and is recognised as the only living veteran who served in both world wars.
Blind and almost totally deaf, Mr Choules "hated war" and only marched in Anzac Day parades when he was ordered to.
Mr Choules recorded many of the twists and turns of his long life in his autobiography The Last of the Last.
It is a tale of the scrapes and misadventures of a small boy in a small English village, of life on the high seas, of war and war’s aftermath, life in suburban Perth when there were few suburbs, of messing about in boats. And family.
“My family is the most important thing, ” he told The West Australian in a 2009 interview.
Claude’s mother left their home when he was five to go back on the stage and he never saw her again. His two sisters went to live with relatives, leaving just Claude and his brothers Douglas and Leslie at home with father Harry. Soon there was just Claude at home after his brothers moved to Western Australia in 1911.
Leslie and Douglas answered the call in the first month of WWI, joining the Australian Imperial Force and surviving the Gallipoli landing.
Inspired by their “very exciting” letters, Claude couldn’t wait until he was 14 and able to leave school to follow in their footsteps.
After his bid to join the army as a bugler was rejected, he was accepted on to a training ship a month after his 14th birthday.
Claude thrived and at 16 joined the British Grand Fleet aboard HMS Revenge.
After Armistice Day ended hostilities, Claude saw much of the enemy fleet go down at Scapa Flow after the Germans, anxious to keep their vessels out of British hands, scuttled their own ships.
In 1926, Claude was part of a group of Royal Navy instructors seconded to the Royal Australian Navy. On the way to Australia on the passenger ship SS Diogenes, Claude was struck by “a tall brunette with dark brown eyes, a real stunner”.
The young lady concerned was on her way to Melbourne. And so it was that Ethel Wildgoose, 21, a children’s nurse from Scotland, met her future husband. After 76 years together Ethel died in 2003, aged 98.
The lure of WA was strong, and the family settled in Fremantle. Yet war was not done with the world, nor with Claude.
As World War II engulfed the region, Chief Petty Officer Choules was again serving his nation’s cause, wiring up merchant ships in Fremantle Harbour in case they had to be scuttled in the event of a Japanese landing and clearing Broome anchorage of bombed flying boats.
And after war’s end, there was still work to be done at sea, crayfishing. And teaching a new generation about boats.
“I have had a happy life,” he said from his home at the Gracewood Hostel in Salter point in 2009. “I don’t think there was anything in my life I would wish had not happened.”