Petty officer Choules. Image Source: Sky News.
The last known World War I combat veteran died today in Australia; at 110 years old, he was the last survivor of almost 70 million combatants. World War I combat has now passed from living human memory and into the realm of history. The Guardian reports:
Below the jump, interviews with the last surviving World War I soldiers, who have all died in the past decade.Claude Stanley Choules, the last known combat veteran of the first world war, died on Thursday at a nursing home in Perth, Western Australia his family have said. He was 110.
"We all loved him," his 84-year-old daughter Daphne Edinger said. "It's going to be sad to think of him not being here any longer, but that's the way things go."
Beloved for his wry sense of humour and humble nature, the British-born Choules nicknamed "Chuckles" by his comrades in the Australian navy never liked to fuss over his achievements, which included a 41-year military career and the publication of his first book at the age of 108.
He usually told the curious that the secret to a long life was simply to "keep breathing." Sometimes, he chalked up his longevity to cod liver oil. But his children say in his heart, he believed it was the love of his family that kept him going for so many years.
"His family was the most important thing in his life," his other daughter, Anne Pow, said in a March 2010 interview. "It was a good way to grow up, you know. Very reassuring."
Choules was born on 3 March, 1901, in Pershore, Worcestershire, one of seven children. As a child, he was told his mother had died – a lie meant to cover a more painful truth. She left when he was five to pursue an acting career. The abandonment affected him profoundly, Pow said, and he grew up determined to create a happy home for his own children.
In his autobiography, The Last of the Last, 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 one penny. He remembered learning to surf off the coast of South Africa, and how strange he found it that black locals were forced to use a separate beach from whites.
He was drawn to the water at an early age, fishing and swimming at the local brook. Later in life, he would regularly swim in the warm waters off the West Australian state coast, only stopping when he turned 100.
The first world war was raging when Choules began training with the Royal Navy, just one month after he turned 14. In 1917, he joined the battleship HMS Revenge, from which he watched the 1918 surrender of the German high seas fleet, the main battle fleet of the German navy during the war. "There was no sign of fight left in the Germans as they came out of the mist at about 10am," 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."
Choules and another Briton, Florence Green, became the war's last known surviving service members after the death of American Frank Buckles in February, according to the Order of the First World War, a US-based group that tracks veterans.
Report on Choules's death. Video Source: Sky News via Youtube.
Buckles's funeral, Arlington, Virginia, March 2011. Video Source: Youtube.
Interview with Clarence Laking, reportedly the last Canadian WWI combat veteran; he died in 2005. Video Source: Youtube.
The last Scottish First World War combat veteran, Alfred Anderson, who served with the Black Watch, died in 2005. Video Source: Youtube.
The last Central Powers combatant was Erich Kästner, who died in 2008. According to Wiki, there are two veterans from the First World War remaining: Florence Green and Józef Kowalski; Kowalski is the only surviving combat veteran of the Polish-Soviet War, and believed to be the oldest living military veteran today. There is a distinction drawn between veterans who saw combat and those who did not. A list of WWI military veterans by country is here.
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