One of last 2 WWI veterans turns 110 in Australia

AP News
Posted: Mar 02, 2011 10:50 PM
One of last 2 WWI veterans turns 110 in Australia

One of the last two known veterans of World War I celebrated his 110th birthday Thursday with at least three generations of family and a contingent of navy officers in dress uniform. His daughter said he didn't want a fuss.

Claude "Chuckles" Choules, who sneaked into the British navy in 1915 aged just 14, has lived quietly in Australia for more than 80 years, though his longevity has brought him closer to history with the passing of each comrade who fought the war that was meant to end all others.

"I don't know that he's overwhelmed by it," said daughter Anne Pow, who was busy Thursday organizing the party at Choules' nursing home in the Western Australia city of Perth. "He just takes it pretty much as, "It is what it is, that's how old I am, that's life."

Choules' three children and some of his 11 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren gathered for the party, along with the commander and other personnel from HMAS Stirling, the Australian naval base in Perth, who come in their dress whites.

Choules was born in Worchester, England, in 1901, and World War I was raging when he began training with the British Royal Navy. In 1917, he joined the battleship HMS Revenge, from which he watched the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet, the main battle fleet of the German Navy during the war.

He stayed in the military services for 41 years, transferring to the Royal Australian Navy in the 1920s and working on clearing mines that washed ashore on the west coast during World War II.

Choules and another Briton, Florence Green, became the last known surviving service members from World War I after the death of American Frank Buckles on Sunday, according to the Order of the First World War, a U.S.-based group that tracks veterans.

Green, who turned 110 in February, served as a waitress in the Women's Royal Air Force.

No official records exist of everyone who fought in the war, which pitted the British Empire and allies including France and the United States against German and its allies in Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.

Millions died in the 1914-1918 war _ sometimes called the Great War or the War to End All Wars _ as new technologies such as tanks, long-range artillery and poison gas met outdated military strategies and hundreds of thousands of men became bogged down for months in trench warfare across Europe.

Choules met Ethel Wildgoose in 1926 on the first day of a visit to Australia as a naval trainer, and they married within a year. The couple settled in Perth after he transferred permanently to the Royal Australian Navy.

He retired in 1956 and he and his wife lived happily together until her death in 2003, at age 98.

Pow said Choules is used to the attention that has grown around his status as one of the last veterans, and takes it in his stride.

He is healthy and happy in the nursing home where he has lived for the past 10 years, though he is now blind and can hear little.

"He's a happy man," Pow said. "He's very fond of the carers, and they of him, and his family is around him."

"He doesn't have medication because there's nothing wrong with him. He's just going to quietly drift out of life _ eventually," she said, laughing.


Associated Press writer Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.