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Last known World War I combatant dies at 110

By Peter Wilkinson, CNN
  • Last known surviving combatant of World War I, a British sailor, dies aged 110
  • Claude Choules witnessed the surrender of the German fleet in 1918
  • He was declared last WWI combatant after U.S. vet Frank Buckles died this year
  • Only surviving WWI vet is Florence Green, who served in RAF in non-combat role

(CNN) -- The last known survivor of the 70 million combatants from World War I, a British sailor who witnessed the surrender of the German fleet in 1918, has died at the age of 110.

Claude Choules, who was born in Pershore, western England, died in his sleep at a nursing home in the Western Australian city of Perth on Thursday.

Choules was declared the last-known WWI combatant earlier this year after the death of U.S. veteran Frank Buckles, also aged 110.

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The death of Choules now means the only known remaining WWI veteran is 110-year-old Florence Green, who served with the British Royal Air Force in a non-combat role.

The Royal Australian Navy expressed its condolences on Thursday while Captain Brett Wolski, Commanding Officer of HMAS Stirling, said all naval personnel had been affected by the announcement. "Our thoughts are with Claude's family at this sad time," he said.

Choules joined the Royal Navy in 1916, and initially served on the training ship HMS Impregnable at Devonport. While serving on HMS Revenge the young sailor saw the German imperial fleet's surrender at Firth of Forth, in Scotland. He was also present for the German fleet's destruction at Scapa Flow.

In 1926, after emigrating to Australia, he transferred to that country's navy, and rose through the ranks to become chief demolition officer on the western side of the continent at the outbreak of World War II.

Last known WWI combat vet dies
He always said that the old men make the decisions that send the young men into war.
--Adrian Choules on his father Claude

Early in the war Claude was flown to Esperance, on Western Australia's southern coast, to identify a mine that had washed ashore. After realizing the weapon was German, Claude was responsible for disposing of the first mine to wash up on Australian soil during WWII.

During the low point of the Allied campaign, Claude was made responsible for destroying facilities and oil tanks in Fremantle harbor in the event of a Japanese invasion. In 1942, Claude placed depth charges in ships that were unable to sail from Fremantle with the intention of sinking them should the Japanese invade.

After the war Claude served in the Australian docks police until his retirement in 1956. Married for 80 years to Ethel, a Scottish children's nurse who lived to 98, he had three children, 13 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

His son Adrian told the newspaper he had received many phone calls offering condolences. But he said he wanted to celebrate his father's life rather than mourn.

"He treated his family very, very well, and so they all responded by looking after him very well," Choules said of his father.

"He knew you only get out what you put in, and he was a fine example of that. He was a good family man."

Choules said his father refused to glorify war and flouting Anzac Day parades. In later life Choules refused to be interviewed about the wars in which he served.

"He always said that the old men make the decisions that send the young men into war," Adrian said.

"He used to say, if it was the other way around, and the old pollies were off fighting, then there would never be any wars."