I’ve had the luckiest life in the world, I reckon
So said Claude Choules, the last surviving English First World war combat veteran, as he looked back on his long life.
Born in Pershore, Wiltshire, Claude tried to join the Army when the First World War broke out in 1914. He was only 13 and was sent instead to a navy training ship, serving as a boy seaman on HMS Revenge in 1917. He witnessed the surrender of the German fleet in November 1918.
In 1925, he emigrated and joined up with the Royal Australian Navy. He went on to train hundreds of recruits in his role as as a Chief Petty Officer Torpedo Instructor.
When the Second World War broke out, he became chief demolition officer on Australia’s West Coast. Aged 50, he left the Navy and built a family home at Coogee Beach on the Western Australian coast. He became a security guard, a policeman and later, a cray fisherman and took to writing in his eighties, in order to record his memories for his family. This resulted in a bestselling autobiography, The Last of the Last.
Although he’d played his valiant part in two World Wars and was awarded the Australian Defence Medal, Claude later became a pacifist, who abstained from Remembrance Day marches. He credited his long life to a daily dose of cod liver oil and said that if he could have lived it all over again, he would have done it all the same.