March 2, 2010

AUSTRALIA: Last WW1 veteran in Australia, Claude Choules, turns 109

. PERTH, Western Australia / PerthNow / March 2, 2010 By Linda Cann, PerthNow AUSTRALIA'S last World War I veteran, Perth's Claude Choules - possibly the oldest man in the country - has turned 109 today. Mr Choules, who served in Britain's Royal Navy in WWI and the Australian navy in World War II, will celebrate his birthday with family at Gracewood Hostel, an aged care facility in Salter Point. In previous years, his birthday has been attended by dozens of people including naval representatives. LAST OF THE LAST: Claude Choules with his daughter Anne Pow Picture: Bohdan Warchomij Source: PerthNow But this year a smaller number of close family and friends will hold a morning tea on Sunday due to Mr Choules’ increasing frailty. Mr Choules’ son Adrian, 75, said his father was not completely aware of the major milestone he was reaching. “When we tell him that his 109th birthday is on Wednesday, he just says: ‘That’s nice’,” Mr Choules said. “He doesn’t have dementia, but his reality is in his head – he’s not really here with us.” When he was born, Orville and Wilbur Wright were still two years away from successfully flying at Kitty Hawk, Australia had been a federation for a matter of months and the British Empire was still mourning the death of Queen Victoria after a 64-year reign. Mr Choules' daughter, Anne Pow, said he was still able to communicate ``when he wants to'' and had his favourite treats -- chocolates and mango juice -- on hand. ``He has his ups and downs. Some days he's talkative and some days he's not so responsive, but he always knows when we're there,'' Ms Pow said. Mr Choules, who had a 41-year career as an explosives expert, has lost most of his hearing and sight, but remained active until a few years ago. Born in Wyre Piddle, near Pershore Worcestershire, he was married for 80 years to Ethel, a Scottish children's nurse, who lived to 98. Mr Choules wrote an autobiography, The Last of the Last, which was released late last year, making him the world's oldest first-time published author. There had been a flurry of interest in Mr Choules from around the world since he became Britain's last surviving World War I veteran last July, but he didn't care much for the records any more. ``He doesn't do interviews anymore -- it's too exhausting for him,'' Ms Pow said. ``And the sort of questions he's always asked, he's not so interested in any more. ``He's had: `What do you think about the war?' questions over and over again and he's bored with all that now, not interested. ``When we talk about the past, it's about something we've shared as a family that's interesting to him. ``People always ask, `What do you put your long life down to?' and he says, `I just keep breathing.' ``He's very much a man of his time -- a very good man. He was a wonderful father and still is.'' While serving aboard HMS Revenge, Mr Choules witnessed the surrender of the German Imperial Navy in 1918. In 1926, he was seconded to the Australian navy, in which he served until 1956. But Mr Choules always told his children that, though war featured moments of high danger, it was boring for much of the time. Ms Pow said her father, who met his wife on a voyage to Australia, was a very devoted husband. [rc] Copyright 2010 The Sunday Times