The world’s oldest known combat veteran of World War I, Claude Choules, died on Wednesday. But his legacy remains as a pacifist more than a fighter.
Despite lying about his age to join the British Royal Navy at age 14 in 1915, and serving two wars, he simply “saw it as a job,” which he “hated,” according to his son, Adrian, who added that, “He’s a celebrity, but that’s only because everyone else has died.”
Claude Choules, who was also known as “Chuckles,” died at his nursing home in his adopted hometown of Perth, Western Australia, where he had spent his final years.
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The thought of Australia’s most important war memorial holiday, Anzac Day, enraged Choules, and he wouldn’t even consider marching in the annual commemoration parades. But that’s not to say that he forgot about his past; at the age of 80, he took a creative writing course and wrote a book about his experiences.
The Last of the Last was published in 2009, making Choules a first-time author at the age of 108. The book follows the war veteran from his idyllic childhood in Worcestershire, England, to his life in Australia where he moved in 1926.
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His book is certainly unique, not only because it was written by one of the oldest first-time publishers in the world, but also because of the interesting life he led. “His job was to blow up the Fremantle port if the Japanese invaded, which they were thought to be very close to at one stage,” his publisher Peter Bridge, told AAP.
His remarkable life was also immortalized in a BBC documentary, Harry Patch – The Last Tommy, in 2006.
Choules preferred not to discuss the dark side of the war, according to Malcolm Edinger, his grandson. “There was definitely no glory in it from his point of view. He firmly believed that war was a pure waste of time, resources and human life,” he said.
But Chuckles died cheerfully. “If I had my time over again I’d do exactly what I did do. I couldn’t beat it,” he once told Perth Now.
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