“Still the band plays ‘Waltzing Matilda’,
And the old men answer the call,
But year after year, more old men disappear,
Someday no one will march there at all.”
Even forty years ago, when Scotsman-turned-Australian Eric Bogle wrote his heartbreaking song about Gallipoli, he noted the passing of more and more veterans of World War I. And now, the man who is believed to have been the world’s last living WWI combat veteran has passed away in Australia.
Claude Stanley Choules, known as “Chuckles” to his mates in the Australian Navy, was 110 years old. He was born in Britain on March 3, 1901. His mother abandoned him at age 5 to pursue an acting career, starting him down a long road of resilience and self-reliance. He was attracted to water from his early fishing and swimming days and joined the British Royal Navy at the age of 14. He saw the 1918 German surrender from his station on the deck of the HMS Revenge.
On a stint as a naval instructor in Victoria state he met his wife, Ethel Wildgoose. Their marriage lasted 77 years until her death at age 98. He eventually joined the Royal Australian Navy and settled in Australia for the rest of his life.
Choules retired from the Navy in 1956 and NPR reports that he later took on a more pacifist stance, “uncomfortable with anything that glorified war.” (In that sense, he and the songwriter had a degree of kinship, as many of Bogle’s songs attest.)
His most enduring trait was his devotion to family–his wife, three children and their progeny. As recently as his 110th birthday, his daughter told reporters that “He doesn’t take any medication, because there’s nothing wrong with him.”
Choules’ assessment? “I had a pretty poor start, but I had a good finish.”