Death railway vet turns 100 on New Year’s Day

Talitha WolfeAlbany Advertiser
Albany’s Harold Martin turns 100 on New Year’s Day.
Camera IconAlbany’s Harold Martin turns 100 on New Year’s Day. Credit: Laurie Benson

A lot has happened in the past century, from the Great Depression to major technological advances, and Harold Martin, well, he has seen it all.

Born in Kanowna east of Kalgoorlie in 1917, Mr Martin will celebrate his 100th birthday this Sunday.

It has not been an easy road for the World War II veteran.

The Kalgoorlie-raised fitter-mechanic joined the army at 23, leaving behind his wife of 18 months, Emma Mary “Molly” Gleeson, and six-month-old son, Raymond.

“In that day it was an adventure, something new.”

But nothing prepared Mr Martin for happened 10 days after he arrived in Singapore.

Mr Martin was one of the 20,000 Allied troops who were taken prisoner by the Japanese in the 1942 fall of Singapore — a stunning blow to the Allied war effort in the region.

There, Mr Martin spent two horrific years working on the Burma-Thai Railway, also known as Death Railway.

“We were deprived of all medical aid ... and we worked unreasonably long hours,” he said.

“We were virtually walking skeletons.

“These men were beaten, starved, deprived of everything, but they were never broken.”

Gaunt and weary Mr Martin was among the 2500 PoWs shipped to Japan on one of the notorious “hell ships”.

While being transported, the convoy of Japanese ships was torpedoed by US submarines.

After surviving three days in the ocean, Mr Martin was rescued by USS Pampanito along with 72 other Allied soldiers.

“On the second day this deck-house, a wooden deck-house came floating by ... so we tied up to that and that’s the only reason we drifted far enough north to be in the path of that submarine,” Mr Martin said.

“They were going to shoot us because they thought we were Japanese, then they spotted my (blonde, curly) hair.”

On returning home to Australia at 25, Mr Martin had three more children with Molly: Jeffery, Phillip and Beth.

After various jobs and a 17-year stint with the Shell Company Mr Martin worked as a trucker, then tried his hand at prospecting and running a service station before he and his wife retired to Albany more than 15 years ago.

Mr Martin, who gave up driving just months ago, spends his days drinking coffee at Dylan’s on the Terrace and making new friends.

Mr Martin will celebrate with close friends and family in what he said would be a big party.

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