Lap of honour — Albany residents line the streets to farewell WWII hero Harold Martin
A tree of life, whose branches spread out and touched the lives of so many people around him.
That is how Iris Thomas described her close friend, World War II veteran Harold Martin, at a funeral service which was live streamed to the world from Albany on Friday.
“He was an inspiration to those he knew and those who knew of him,” Ms Thomas said.
“In his very humble manner, he would always shy away from being called a hero.
“We all knew he was a hero, he was our hero — he was everyone’s hero.
“But he always wanted to give that credit to his comrades, who never made it back, and he continued to spread the word and try to get everyone to know about what happened during the war.”
Mr Martin had many friends in Albany, both young and old, drawn to him by his powerful combination of wisdom and warmth.
He died in Albany two weeks ago at the age of 103, marking the loss of one of the world’s last Thai-Burma Railway survivors.
COVID-19 restrictions meant only 20 people were allowed at his funeral.
There was never any question about how respected and cherished he was in his home city, but the people of Albany provided an answer anyway when they took to the streets to bid him farewell.
Hundreds lined York Street and Stirling Terrace as his funeral procession moved through the heart of the CBD.
Church bells rang 103 times, while WA Police formed a guard of honour, led by Great Southern Superintendent Ian Clarke, who saluted as Mr Martin’s hearse passed by.
At the York Street War Memorial, flags flew at half mast, and State RSL president Peter Aspinall and Albany sub-branch president Laurie Fraser stood side-by-side.
On Stirling Terrace, a crowd gathered outside Dylans on the Terrace, the cafe owned by Morris and Gwen Blake, where Mr Martin used to spend many of his mornings.
In recent years, Mr Blake travelled with Mr Martin to the US, Thailand and Myanmar, on a journey of rediscovery.
In the US, they visited a navy museum which housed the USS Pampanito — the submarine which came to Mr Martin’s rescue in the South China Sea.
He was with Mr Martin in Myanmar, when he found the graves of three mates who never made it home — a moment Mr Blake described as one of the most moving of his life.
“I could tell there was a lot going on in his head at this time,” Mr Blake said at Friday’s funeral.
“He was shaking his head and thinking, I was able to make it and they couldn’t. I think that took him a long time to come to terms with that. But he did.”
Mr Blake described his friend’s life as a story of survival, resilience and friendships.
Mr Martin’s eldest son, Ray, spoke at the funeral service, remembering his father as a man who could do anything.
“He built two houses; perfect houses,” Mr Martin said.
“Everything he did, he was good at it.”
Some of Mr Martin’s relatives were in tears at the sight of people lining the streets. On the streets, some who would have loved to attend his funeral shed their own tears.
“To know Harold was a privilege and an honour,” Ms Thomas said at the service.
“He was a man of dignity and honour. His mantras in life were tolerance, compassion and self-respect and these were direct reflections of the person he was.”
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