Claude Choules, last WWI combatant, was anti-war

5th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

The last World War I combatant, who has died aged 110, was staunchly anti-war and snubbed remembrance activities despite a 41-year navy career which began when he was just 14.

Britain's Claude Choules, nicknamed "Chuckles", witnessed the 1919 scuttling of the German fleet and saw out World War II as a demolitions expert in Western Australia.

But he was scarred by his experiences, dismissing war as "boring" and refusing to mark Armistice Day or join other veterans' events like Australia's annual ANZAC Day commemorations.

"After my father left the navy, he never went to ANZAC Day again. He didn't think we should glorify war," daughter Daphne Edinger, one of Choules's three children, said in 2009.

Claude Stanley Choules, from Wyre Piddle in the British Midlands, was born on March 3, 1901, and became the last surviving man to have seen active service in WWI after the deaths of Britons Henry Allingham and Harry Patch in July 2009.

Choules lied about his age to join the Royal Navy's HMS Impregnable in 1916, and witnessed the surrender of the German Imperial Navy in 1918 and the fleet's destruction off Scotland the following year.

He remembered war as a "tough" life of privation and tedium, marked by occasional moments of extreme danger, and said he saw "more death and desolation" as a Black Sea peacekeeper between 1919 and 1920.

Choules was seconded to Australia in 1926 and was immediately dispatched to fight wildfires -- a task which "scared the living daylights" out of him.

A specialist in "blowing things up", he was appointed chief demolition officer for Australia's vast western coastline, considered vulnerable to attack from the Japanese, during WWII, and was based at Fremantle near Perth.

The port became a key strategic base for Australian, American and Dutch naval operations and Choules was responsible for much of their fleets' stocks of torpedoes, depth charges, mines and mine detection equipment.

He was tasked with searching Fremantle Harbour for enemy mines and had depth charges attached to all the ships moored there as fears of a Japanese invasion mounted.

"We would (have blown) the ship up so it would be of no use to them," explained Choules.

In the event of an invasion, daughter Anne Pow said that her father, who rode a bicycle to and from work, would have been the last to leave port.

"So when the Japanese were coming, there would be my dad, pedalling like hell, with the Japanese following behind him," she laughed.

When Japan bombed and sank a fleet of Catalina flying boats at their moorings in Broome, then-Chief Petty Officer Choules was sent north to clear the harbour by blowing up the wreckage.

He met a young Scottish nurse, Ethel Wildgoose, during his 1926 voyage to Australia, and they were soon married. They settled in Safety Bay, south of Perth, were married for 80 years and had three children.

Choules, who lived out his final days in a Perth nursing home before passing away on Wednesday evening, credited cod liver oil, a healthy diet and regular exercise for his longevity.

He also drank very little alcohol and stressed the importance of laughter, joking that the real secret to a long life was to "just keep breathing".

© 2011 AFP

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