Last man standing: WWI vet Choules dies at 110

Claude Stanley Choules served 41 years

Claude Stanley Choules, the last man standing among First World War combat veterans, died May 5, 2011, at age 110 in a nursing home in Perth, Australia, just a few months after Frank Woodruff Buckles, the last American WWWI vet, died. Their stories were somewhat similar — starting with both lying about their age to get in uniform.

Choules, who pretended to be older when he signed up to serve at age 14, was certainly a close witness to history through 41 years of duty for Britain and his adopted Australia. He looked on from the British battleship HMS Revenge as the German High Seas Fleet surrendered on Nov. 21, 1918, and during the Second World War served the Royal Australian Navy as chief demolition officer for the continent’s western side.

While Choules’ death leaves the world without a living link to the front-line conduct of the First World War, it also ends an awkward – some would say unseemly – era that lionized its longest-living participants regardless of their peripheral roles or lack of desire to be recognized.

Despite the fame his military service (and longevity) brought him, Choules became a pacifist later in life, refusing to glorify war.

In his 80s, he took a creative writing course at the urging of his children and decided to record his memoirs for his family. The memoirs formed the basis of his autobiography.

Choules, whose autobiography, The Last of the Last, was published when he was 108, was seen through by a wry sense of humour and his warm and loyal family. On Day 1 of his seaborne journey from England to Australia in 1926, he met Ethel Wildgoose, who went on to become his wife of 76 years until she died in 2003. They had three children.

After he retired from the Naval Dockyard Police in 1956, the couple moved to a seaside home near Perth on Australia’s west coast, where Choules indulged his lifelong love of water through swimming and fishing. When asked to reveal the secret to longevity, as so many centenarians often are, he would simply say “keep breathing.”

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