'Celebrity' WWI survivor to mark 110th birthday

2nd March 2011, Comments 0 comments

World War I's last surviving combatant Claude "Chuckles" Choules will celebrate his 110th birthday on Thursday with a low-key party, his son said, describing his father as a "celebrity" who hates war.

British-born Choules, who lives in an Australian nursing home, will mark his birthday just days after the death of American Frank Buckles made him the conflict's last male veteran.

"He's blind and he's deaf, but we get up close to him and we shout at him and he understands," his son Adrian Choules, 76, told AFP from Perth in Western Australia.

"And he still knows who we are. I don't think he suffers from dementia any more than you and I do. He's just biding his time."

Choules lied about his age to join the Royal Navy in World War I -- later witnessing the 1919 scuttling of the German fleet at Scapa Flow -- and was an officer in the Royal Australian Navy during the Second World War.

He became the 1914-1918 Great War's last surviving combatant after Buckles' death at 110 on Sunday. British veterans Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, aged 110 and 113 respectively, both died in 2009.

The only other surviving WWI veteran is believed to be Britain's Florence Green, who served with the Royal Air Force in a non-combat role and is now 110 years old.

"He's a celebrity now, he's a celebrity because everybody else has died," son Adrian said. "He is a celebrity because of his war experience and he hated war."

Choules said his father, who was born in Wyre Piddle in the British Midlands on March 3, 1901, had been taught to think "that the Germans... were monsters, terrible people" after joining the navy.

But he soon after realised that "they were exactly the same as any young people".

"And he hated war. War for him was a way of making a living, that was his job," Adrian Choules said.

Choules moved to Australia in 1926 and served in the Royal Australian Navy in WWII, becoming chief demolition officer for Australia's vast western coastline, which was then considered vulnerable to attack from the Japanese.

Adrian Choules said when his father talked about his life he rarely mentioned his war experiences, adding that the only military marches he participated in were when he was a serviceman.

"He wasn't interested in war, war to him was a terrible thing," he said.

Choules said his father was not in any pain, but had watched his friends pass away and no longer gave interviews to the media.

"If someone said to me do you want to live to be 110 I would say, 'No thank you very much'," Adrian Choules said.

But Choules' daughter Anne Pow said there will still be some birthday treats in store for the centenarian, who didn't own a car until he was 50 because he preferred to travel by bicycle.

"He still likes his mango juice and soft caramel-like chocolates," she told Perth's Sunday Times.

© 2011 AFP

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