Navy’s oldest WWI veteran passes away
5 May 2011
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 Impregnablesituated 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 Valiantwith 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 Australiaand 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.
Media Note: Mr Choules family have requested privacy in this difficult time. A selection of photographs (circa 2009) is available by contacting Lieutenant Katey Mouritz on the numbers below.