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Claude Choules, last WWI combatant, dies

SYDNEY -- The last known combat veteran of World War I was defiant of the tolls of time, a centenarian who swam in the sea, twirled across dance floors, and published his first book at 108. He also refused to submit to his place in history, becoming a pacifist who wouldn't march in parades commemorating wars like the one that made him famous.

Claude Stanley Choules, a man of humble spirit and wry humor, died in a Western Australia nursing home yesterday at age 110. And though his accomplishments were many -- including a 41-year military career that spanned two world wars -- the man known as "Chuckles" to his comrades in the Australian Navy was happiest being known as a dedicated family man.

"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."

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, said his other daughter, Anne Pow, and he grew up determined to create a happy home for his own children.

Choules met his wife, Ethel Wildgoose, in 1926. They went on to have three children -- Daphne, Anne and Adrian, now in their 70s and 80s.

The couple would spend the next 76 years together, until Ethel's death in 2003 at age 98.

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