Last WWI combatant to mark 110th birthday
SYDNEY (AFP) – World War I's last surviving combatant Claude Choules will celebrate his 110th birthday on Thursday with a low-key party, his son said, describing his father as a reluctant "celebrity" who hates war.
British-born Choules, who is nicknamed "Chuckles" and lives in an Australian nursing home, will mark his birthday just days after the death of American Frank Buckles made him the 1914-1918 conflict's last male veteran.
"He's blind and he's deaf, but we get up close to him and we shout at him and he understands," his son Adrian Choules, 76, told AFP from Perth in Western Australia on Wednesday.
"And he still knows who we are. I don't think he suffers from dementia any more than you and I do. He's just biding his time."
In previous interviews Claude Choules has credited cod-liver oil, a healthy diet low on alcohol as well as regular exercise and laughter for his longevity, joking that the real secret to a long life is to "just keep breathing".
Choules lied about his age to join Britain's Royal Navy in World War I -- later witnessing the 1919 scuttling of the German fleet at Scapa Flow -- and was an officer in the Royal Australian Navy during World War II.
According to official listings by the Australian and British armed forces, he became the Great War's last surviving combatant after Buckles' death at 110 on Sunday.
British veterans Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, aged 110 and 113 respectively, both died in 2009. The last combatant from the opposing side, Franz Kuenstler of the then Austro-Hungarian Empire, died aged 107 in 2008.
"He's a celebrity now, he's a celebrity because everybody else has died," Adrian Choules said of his father. "He is a celebrity because of his war experience and he hated war."
The only other surviving WWI veteran is believed to be Britain's Florence Green, who served with the Women's Royal Air Force in a non-combat role in England. She is now 110, according to the RAF.
Choules said his father, who was born in Wyre Piddle in central England on March 3, 1901, had been taught to think "that the Germans... were monsters, terrible people" after joining the navy.
But he soon realised that "they were exactly the same as any young people".
"And he hated war. War for him was a way of making a living, that was his job," Adrian Choules said.
Choules moved to Australia in 1926 and served in the Royal Australian Navy in WWII, becoming chief demolition officer for Australia's vast western coastline, which was then considered vulnerable to attack from the Japanese.
Adrian Choules said when his father talked about his life he rarely mentioned his war experiences, adding that the only military marches he participated in were when he was a serviceman.
"He wasn't interested in war, war to him was a terrible thing," he said.
Choules said his father was not in any pain, but had watched his friends pass away and no longer gave interviews to the media. The Choules family has been offered a navy funeral for the veteran when the time comes.
"If someone said to me do you want to live to be 110 I would say, 'No thank you very much'," Adrian Choules said.
Claude's daughter Anne Pow said there will still be some birthday treats in store for the centenarian, who didn't own a car until he was 50 because he preferred to travel by bicycle.
"He still likes his mango juice and soft caramel-like chocolates," she told Perth's Sunday Times.