Last Great War combatant laid to rest

20th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

The last surviving combat veteran from WWI, Briton Claude Choules, was laid to rest in Australia on Friday in a moving naval ceremony quietly marking the end of an era.

Choules, nicknamed "Chuckles", died in his sleep at his hostel home in Perth two weeks ago. He was 110.

In his eulogy, son Adrian Choules said his sailor father had been a loving parent, had lived a very long and wonderful life, and "now belongs to the rest of the world".

"The last time I spoke at a funeral I was sad, very sad," Adrian Choules said. "But today it is different... today is a celebration."

Born in Worcestershire, England, Choules served with Britain's Royal Navy on board the HMS Impregnable in 1916 at the age of 15.

In 1918 he witnessed the surrender of the German Imperial Navy and he was also present for the scuttling of the German fleet at Scapa Flow off Scotland.

After the war he moved to Australia and was seconded to the Royal Australian Navy -- acting as the torpedo officer at Fremantle in Western Australia in World War II.

Had the Japanese invaded Australia, it would have been Choules' job to prepare the explosives to sink the Australian fleet in Fremantle harbour.

Adrian Choules said while he father was a life-time mariner, with a "sailor mouth", he never heard his father swear until he was a teenager.

"Our father certainly knew all the words and how to use them," Choules told the 250 mourners at St John's Church in Fremantle, among them Defence Minister Stephen Smith.

He said when his father was angry, his mother would warn him not to swear in front of the children, prompting him to reply: "Send the children outside."

Choules, who was married for 80 years to Ethel, had two daughters and a son, 13 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

His daughter Anne Pow said Friday she had been overwhelmed by the support from the community since his death.

"People are touched by his story and our story too and we appreciate their interest," she said.

She said Choules had had "such a wonderful life and he was such an important member of the family, a patriarch you might say of our family".

"But you can't keep people forever. He did get to 110."

After American Frank Buckles died earlier this year, Choules was declared the last known combat survivor of a war that left 37 million soldiers dead or wounded.

The only other surviving veteran of The Great War is said to be Britain's Florence Green, who served with the Royal Air Force in a non-combat role as a mess waitress and is now aged 110.

© 2011 AFP

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