11.5.11 Condolences - Mr Claude Stanley Choules
Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (17:19): It is appropriate today that we reflect as a House on the passing away of Claude Choules, who died at the age of 110 in Perth in a nursing home. It is appropriate that we take this opportunity to pause at this juncture to reflect not just on his personal iconic qualities that have been so ably outlined by my colleagues here today but also on the fact that he was the last known combat veteran of World War I, the war that was to end all wars. When you reflect upon the life of Claude Choules, here was a man who signed up at the age of just 14 years of age in the Royal Navy and who served on famous ships, like the HMAS Impregnable and the HMAS Revenge; who was a commissioning crewmember of the HMAS Canberra before World War II and who served with her until 1931; who served in two world wars, the most famous conflicts of human history; and who was a person who rejected war as a means to an end, who never liked it and never commemorated it or regarded it as something that he would tolerate.
We are here today, because of the service and sacrifice of so many people like Claude, that great generation of Australians who volunteered to put themselves in harms way. I want to take a moment to reflect upon this conflict and Claude's contribution and the contributions of those Australians who did so much for us in World War I, because it is very important. Out of a population of just five million—a tiny component of the entire world—416,809 men enlisted in World War I. That goes to show what a great nation Australia truly is: in the cause of freedom, 416,809 people out of five million enlisted voluntarily to fight. That is the mark of the strength of a free society like Australia.
The citizen soldier is something that I believe in quite passionately. Every free nation, indeed, needs a citizen soldiery. When you look at the great Australian military tradition that has emerged since our nation's formation, the citizen soldier—the ordinary person who steps forward to volunteer their life for their family, for their friends and for their country—is the hallmark of greatness. There is no other nation or system that can replicate that quality of a person putting themselves into harm's way by their own choice. They do not ask what their country can do for them; they ask what they can do for their country. Every free society that you look at has this. If you go back to Rome, republican Rome had the citizen soldier, and they conquered the known world. In Elizabethan England, privateers fought the Spanish and the closed markets. Minutemen in Boston in the United States of America were citizens who within minutes would take up a musket and fight the oppression of invaders who they regarded as taking over their country and their land.
In Australia, we had those 416,809 men out of five million—men like Sir John Monash, who at the beginning of the First World War was a citizen, a successful engineer. At the end, he commanded the Australian corps; he was Field Marshall Sir John Monash. He was laden with honours. He was appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George and Knight Commander of the Bath. He was mentioned in despatches five times. He was decorated by the French, Belgian and American governments. And he was an ordinary Australian, like those 416,809 men. They were ordinary Australians, not soldiers. They stepped up to save our country from oppression. It reminds me of that great story of the Australian who came back from World War I to be congratulated on being a great soldier. That unknown soldier gave an immortal retort: 'I am not a soldier; I am a farmer.'
That is why I am such a supporter of the citizen soldier and the reserve forces in our country today. That great Australian military tradition that has been passed down by men like Claude Choules through his life, his service and his belief that he should do something to make our country a better place. The life of Mr Choules spanned an incredible era of technological and other change. Yet that tradition of military service—that tradition of people doing something for other people, of stepping up to the plate and joining our Defence forces—carries forward. The service and sacrifice of those in the Australian Defence forces has a connection and a bond to those who have served our nation over a span of more than a century—indeed, the span of the life of Claude Choules. He would have been happy to see it. His generation nurtured and preserved a way of life that we embrace today. It is my hope in supporting this motion of the House today—and I commend the House for bringing forward such a motion—that we also let future generations be so privileged as to live under the same freedom and values of Australia through the dedication of the young people who are in uniform all around the world deployed on our behalf today. I want to thank Mr Choules and those 416,000 brave men of that great generation of people who stepped up to fight for the cause of freedom in our world. I endorse this motion before the House today.