Claude Choules, the last known combat veteran of WWI, has died aged 110. Born in England in 1901, he was too young to enlist in the army when the war broke out in 1914, so he waited until he was 15 and enlisted in the Royal Navy, where he saw service throughout the war.
Unlike most veterans, he liked the service and stayed on. While working as a visiting instructor for the Australian Navy, he fell in love with the country and moved there. When war broke out again he fought for his new country in its navy. He retired after 40 years in service but never stopped being active. At the tender age of 80 he took up writing and penned his memoirs. Over time he became a pacifist and controversially refused to participate in ANZAC Day parades. There’s much more to his story, so check out the link and his memoirs, assuming the book isn’t sold out by now.
Choules fought on the sea, so with no battlefields to visit, where can you see the legacy of WWI’s last combat veteran? A good start would be the museums of the two navies in which he served. The Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth, UK, currently has an exhibition called Sea Your History: 20th Century Royal Navy that shows what life was like aboard naval vessels during the two world wars and beyond. This gives a good insight into what a teenaged Claude Choules had to endure. The Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre at Garden Island Naval Base near Sydney also has displays about life in the navy. I wouldn’t be surprised if both museums make special exhibitions to mark the passing of this remarkable man.
But you don’t have to go to the UK or Australia to see Choules’ legacy. He lived through the most momentous event of the early 20th century. The war changed Europe and the world. The millions of deaths seriously weakened Europe’s hold on their colonies and emboldened independence movements in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The old aristocracy found itself hit hard financially and began to lose their grip on society. Large numbers of women got to work in factories and other “man’s jobs” for the first time, and began to question why they couldn’t vote.
While the First World War wasn’t the sole factor in the end of colonialism or the rise of women’s rights, it was a major one. If you want to see Claude Choules’ legacy, just look around you.
[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]
Archaeologists in Turkey are making a detailed survey of the famous World War One battle of Gallipoli. Using period military maps and GPS technology, they’re mapping the old trenches and redoubts used by both sides.
Gallipoli was the scene of fierce fighting starting in 1915. A peninsula with highlands dominating the Dardanelles strait linking the Black and the Aegean seas, it guarded the western approach to the Ottoman capital of Constantinople, now Istanbul. The Ottoman Empire was on Germany’s side during World War One and the British Empire’s high command believed an attack on Gallipoli would be the first step to knocking the Ottomans out of the war.
They were wrong. The Ottoman Empire, long dismissed “the sick man of Europe”, put up a determined resistance and the British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and French troops got stuck on the beaches as Ottoman troops pummeled them from the highlands. After nine bloody months, the allies sailed away.
The international team of Turkish, Australian, and New Zealand archaeologists and historians have discovered large numbers of artifacts from the battle and are busy working out a complete map of the complicated network of trenches, many of which can still be clearly seen today.
The battle started 25 April 1915, and this date is marked as ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, who did some of the toughest fighting in the campaign. Many people in both of these countries feel the soldiers’ efforts proved the worth of the two young nations.
Last year archaeologists discovered the HMS Lewis and a barge sunk off the shore.
Underwater archaeologists exploring off the coast of Gallipoli, Turkey, have found a somber relic from the famous WWI battle. A barge that removed dead and wounded soldiers from the beachhead back to a hospital ship was found at the bottom of the sea. The team also found the wreck of the HMS Lewis, a British destroyer.
Gallipoli is a Turkish peninsula that controls access between the Black and the Aegean seas. It also guards the western approach to Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, which fought on Germany’s side in World War One. In 1915, UK’s First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill decided it was of crucial strategic importance and landed troops there. What followed was a disaster. Allied troops got pinned down on the beaches and endured months of constant fighting before they finally pulled out. The Turks suffered too, with each side losing a quarter of a million men.
The Allied side included not only UK, French, and Canadian troops, but also a large number of men from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The ANZACs, as they’re commonly called, became heroes back home and are national icons to this day. The hospital barge was found near ANZAC Cove, shown here, and was probably sunk while carrying casualties from this famous unit.
Gallipoli is one of the most popular destinations in Turkey. Faint traces of the trenches from 90 years ago are still visible, and guided tours show visitors the locations of the various armies fighting it out for control of the beach and overlooking mountains.
A nice detail about this story is that the archaeologists are a joint Australian-Turkish team. Looks like these folks are remembering their history while putting it behind them.
Photo courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.