- Associated Press - Thursday, May 5, 2011

SYDNEY — 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 would not 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 on Thursday at the age of 110. 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.

“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.”

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 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 western Australia, only stopping when he turned 100.

World War I was raging when Mr. Choules began training with the British Royal Navy, just one month after he turned 14.

In 1917, he served aboard 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 10 a.m.,” Mr. Choules wrote in his autobiography. The German flag, he recalled, was hauled down at sunset.

Mr. Choules and another Briton, Florence Green, became the war’s last known surviving service members after the death of American Frank Buckles in February.

Mr. Choules was the last known surviving combatant of the war. Mrs. Green, who turned 110 in February, served as a waitress in the Women’s Royal Air Force.

Mr. Choules met his wife, Ethel Wildgoose, in 1926 on the first day of a six-week boat trip from England to Australia, where he had been dispatched to serve as a naval instructor at Flinders Naval Depot in Victoria state.

The couple would spend the next 76 years together, until Ethel’s death in 2003 at the age of 98. Even in their final days together, they could often be spotted sitting side-by-side, holding hands.

“I think it was love at first sight,” Mr. Choules wrote in his autobiography. “Certainly on my part, anyway.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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