By Martin Parry (AFP) – May 5, 2011
SYDNEY — Briton Claude Choules, the last World War I combat veteran, has died aged 110 in Australia, ending the living connection with a conflict that saw 70 million military personnel mobilised.
Blind and almost totally deaf, Choules, nicknamed "Chuckles", died in his sleep at his hostel home in Perth overnight. He was Australia's oldest man.
"His passing marks the end of a significant chapter in world history," Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Thursday.
"Mr Choules was the last known link to those who served in the Great War. We must now, more than ever, ensure that the contribution of those who fought in the First World War is never forgotten."
Australian Defence Force spokesman Gary Booth, who is close to the family, described his death as the end of an era.
"He was a living part of history and with his death, it's gone. There is no more link with active service personnel," he told AFP.
"It's hard to imagine all the things he's seen in his life -- two world wars, horse and cart to man on the moon."
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 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.
Choules' son Adrian told the Sydney Morning Herald he had been overwhelmed with phone calls offering condolences.
"He treated his family very, very well, and so they all responded by looking after him very well," Adrian said.
"He knew you only get out what you put in, and he was a fine example of that. He was a good family man."
Born in Worcestershire, England, Choules served with Britain's Royal Navy on board the HMS Impregnable in 1916 at the age of 15 and witnessed the surrender of the German Imperial Navy in 1918.
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 in 1926.
As the acting torpedo officer at Fremantle in Western Australia in World War II, he disposed of the first German mine to wash up on Australian soil.
He was also tasked with preparing explosives to sink the Australian fleet in Fremantle harbour in the event of a Japanese invasion.
Choules remained with the navy after the war but spent his final working years in the crayfishing industry at Safety Bay, south of Perth.
Married for 80 years to Ethel, a Scottish children's nurse who lived to 98, he had two daughters, a son, 13 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
As attention began turning his way as one of the last World War I veterans, Choules wrote an autobiography, "The Last of the Last", which was released in 2009, making him the world's oldest first-time published author at 108.
The memories of his life were also immortalised in the BBC documentary "Harry Patch - The Last Tommy", named after British veteran Harry Patch who died in 2009.
Despite his navy years, Choules made clear his dislike for war and the people who sent young men into battle, saying World War I for him was a "tough" life of privation and tedium, marked by occasional moments of extreme danger.
"He always said that the old men make the decisions that send the young men into war," son Adrian told the Herald.
"He used to say, if it was the other way around, and the old politicians were off fighting, then there would never be any wars."
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