Australia — Navy’s oldest WWI veteran passes away

On behalf of the Roy­al Aus­tralian Navy, Vice Admi­ral Russ Crane, Chief of Navy, has expressed his con­do­lences to the Choules fam­i­ly at the pass­ing of Claude Choules.

Mr Choules passed away ear­ly this morn­ing at the age of 110.

Cap­tain Brett Wol­s­ki, Com­mand­ing Offi­cer HMAS Stir­ling, said that the loss of Claude Choules to the wider Navy fam­i­ly was con­sid­er­able.

‘Our thoughts are with Claude’s fam­i­ly at this sad time.’ he said.

‘Claude served in the Roy­al Navy dur­ing WWI and then with the Roy­al Aus­tralian Navy in WWII. His career has spanned some of the most sig­nif­i­cant events in mar­itime his­to­ry this cen­tu­ry.’

Speak­ing on behalf of Claude Choules’ fam­i­ly, Claude’s daugh­ter, Anne said: ‘Dad was always proud of his Navy ser­vice and con­sid­ered it his oth­er fam­i­ly. We are grate­ful for the Navy’s con­tin­ued asso­ci­a­tion with the fam­i­ly and their recog­ni­tion of our father’s life.’

Claude Choules Navy Back­ground:
A for­mer Roy­al Navy World War I and Roy­al Aus­tralian Navy World War II vet­er­an, Claude’s life has spanned the exis­tence of the Aus­tralian Navy, which came into being on 1 March 1901, only two days before his birth.

Born in Per­shore, Eng­land on 3 March 1901, Mr Choules joined the Roy­al Navy as a Boy in 1916, and served in the Naval Train­ing Ship HMS Impreg­nable sit­u­at­ed at Devon­port dock­yard. The Impreg­nable had been a 140 gun square-rigged wood­en bat­tle­ship pri­or to becom­ing a train­ing ship.

In 1917, Claude joined the bat­tle­ship HMS Revenge, Flag­ship of the First Bat­tle Squadron. While serv­ing in Revenge, Claude wit­nessed the sur­ren­der of the Ger­man Fleet at Firth of Forth in 1918, ten days after the Armistice and lat­er the scut­tling of the Ger­man Fleet, by the Ger­mans, at Scapa Flow.

A ‘big ships man’, Claude served in the bat­tle­ship Valiant with the Mediter­ranean Fleet between 1920 and 1923. A sub­se­quent post­ing saw him stand by the con­struc­tion of the RN’s first pur­pose built air­craft car­ri­er HMS Eagle, which was fol­lowed by a two year post­ing as a Pet­ty Offi­cer onboard Eagle, again in the Mediter­ranean Fleet.

In 1926 along with eleven oth­er RN senior sailors, Claude came to Aus­tralia on loan as an Instruc­tor at Flinders Naval Depot. Tak­ing a lik­ing to the Aus­tralian way of life, Claude decid­ed to trans­fer per­ma­nent­ly to the RAN.

After cours­es in the UK for Chief Tor­pe­do and Anti Sub­ma­rine Instruc­tor, Claude stood by the build­ing of the RAN’s heavy cruis­ers Aus­tralia and Can­ber­ra. Claude was a com­mis­sion­ing crew mem­ber of HMAS Can­ber­ra and served in her until 1931.

Claude took his dis­charge from the RAN in 1931, how­ev­er he remained in the RANR and rejoined the RAN in 1932 as a CPO Tor­pe­do and Anti Sub­ma­rine Instruc­tor.

Dur­ing World War II, Claude was the Act­ing Tor­pe­do Offi­cer, Fre­man­tle and also the Chief Demo­li­tion Offi­cer on the west­ern side of the Aus­tralian Con­ti­nent. Ear­ly in the war Claude was flown to Esper­ance, on West­ern Australia’s south­ern coast, to iden­ti­fy a mine washed ashore near­by. Even­tu­al­ly the mine was iden­ti­fied as Ger­man and Claude then dis­posed of the first mine to wash up on Aus­tralian soil dur­ing WWII.

As the Chief Demo­li­tion Offi­cer, Claude had the task of destroy­ing facil­i­ties and oil stor­age tanks in Fre­man­tle har­bour ren­der­ing them use­less in the advent of a Japan­ese inva­sion.

For a num­ber of weeks dur­ing the dark days of 1942, explo­sive charges were in place to car­ry out this task. Claude had depth charges placed in ships that had been unable to sail from Fre­man­tle for safe har­bour in Albany dur­ing this peri­od, with the intent of sink­ing them should the Japan­ese invade.

Claude remained in the RAN after WWII and trans­ferred to the Naval Dock­yard Police (NDP) to allow him to remain in the ser­vice until 1956, as retire­ment from the RAN for rat­ings in those days was at 50 years, while per­son­nel could serve until 55 years old in the NDP.

After retire­ment from the Naval Dock­yard Police, Claude pur­chased a Cray fish­ing boat and spent ten years fish­ing off the West­ern Aus­tralia coast.

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Aus­tralia

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