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Thursday, May 5, 2011
  • In this Sept. 11, 2009 photo supplied by the Royal Australian Navy, World War I Navy Veteran Claude Choules sits in the Gracewood Retirement Village lounge room in Salter Point, on the suburb of Perth, Western Australia.

    In this Sept. 11, 2009 photo supplied by the Royal Australian Navy, World War I Navy Veteran Claude Choules sits in the Gracewood Retirement Village lounge room in Salter Point, on the suburb of Perth, Western Australia. (LSIS Nadia Monteith,AP Photo/Royal Australian Navy)

SYDNEY - Claude Stanley Choules, the last known combat veteran of World War I, died Thursday at a nursing home in the Western Australia city of Perth, his family said. He was 110.

Beloved for his wry sense of humor and humble nature, the British-born Choules — nicknamed "Chuckles" by his comrades in the Australian Navy — never liked to fuss over his achievements, which included a 41-year military career and the publication of his first book at the age of 108.

"We all loved him," his 84-year-old daughter Daphne Edinger told The Associated Press. "It's going to be sad to think of him not being here any longer, but that's the way things go."

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He usually told the curious that the secret to a long life was simply to "keep breathing." Sometimes, he chalked up his longevity to cod liver oil. But his children say in his heart, he believed it was the love of his family that kept him going for so many years.

"His family was the most important thing in his life," his other daughter, Anne Pow, told the AP in a March 2010 interview. "It was a good way to grow up, you know. Very reassuring."

Choules was born March 3, 1901, in the small British town of Pershore, Worcestershire, one of seven children. As a child, he was told his mother had died — a lie meant to cover a more painful truth: She left when he was 5 to pursue an acting career. The abandonment affected him profoundly, Pow said, and he grew up determined to create a happy home for his own children.

In his autobiography, "The Last of the Last," he remembered the day the first motor car drove through town, an event that brought all the villagers outside to watch. He remembered when a packet of cigarettes cost a penny. He remembered learning to surf off the coast of South Africa, and how strange he found it that black locals were forced to use a separate beach from whites.

"He doesn't have medication because there's nothing wrong with him," Pow, his daughter, told the AP on Choules' 110th birthday.

"He's just going to quietly drift out of life — eventually," she added with a laugh.

Still, the aging process took its toll, and in recent years, he grew blind and nearly deaf. Despite that, his children say he retained his cheerful spirit and positive outlook on life.

"I had a pretty poor start," he told the ABC in November 2009. "But I had a good finish."

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