Friday, May 6, 2011
History stuff: Last WWI vet dies in Australia...
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, a man of contradictions, humble spirit and wry humor, died in a Western Australia nursing home Thursday at age 110. And though his accomplishments were many — including a 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.
"We all loved him," his 84-year-old daughter Daphne Edinger told The Associated Press. "It's going to be sad to think of him not being here any longer, but that's the way things go."
Choules was born March 3, 1901, in the small British town of 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 5 to pursue an acting career. The abandonment affected him profoundly, said his other daughter, Anne Pow, and he grew up determined to create a happy home for his own 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. 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 Western Australia state coast, only stopping when he turned 100.
World War I was raging when Choules began training with the British 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.