The last known combat veteran of World War I was defiant of the tolls of time, a centenarian who swam in the sea, twirled across dance floors, and published his first book at 108. He also refused to submit to his place in history, becoming a pacifist who wouldn't march in parades commemorating wars like the one that made him famous.
Claude Stanley Choules died in a Western Australia nursing home Thursday (May 5, 2011) at age 110. And though his accomplishments were many — including a 41-year military career that spanned two world wars — the man known as "Chuckles" to his comrades in the Australian navy was happiest being known as a dedicated family man.
Mr. Choules was born March 3, 1901, in the small British town of Pershore, Worcestershire, one of seven children. In his autobiography, The Last of the Last published just two years ago, he remembered the day the first motor car drove through town, an event that brought all the villagers outside to watch. He remembered when a packet of cigarettes cost a penny.
In 1917, Mr. Choules began serving on the British battleship HMS Revenge, from which he watched the 1918 surrender of the German High Seas Fleet, the main battle fleet of the German navy.
"There was no sign of fight left in the Germans as they came out of the mist at about 10 a.m.," Choules wrote in his autobiography. The German flag, he recalled, was hauled down at sunset.
"So ended the most momentous day in the annals of naval warfare," he wrote. "A fleet of ships surrendered without firing a shot."
Mr. Choules and Ethel Wildgoose married in 1927 and spent the next 76 years together till her death in 2003 at age 98. Even in her final days, they could often be spotted sitting side-by-side, holding hands.
They are survived by their son, Adrian; two daughters, Anne Pow and Daphne Edinger; and 13 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren, according to Australian reports.