Albany’s Most Influential — the survivor
In a place inextricably linked to a history of wartime sacrifice, Harold Martin stands as a living monument to all those Australians who have gone before him.
As WA’s last Thai-Burma Railway survivor, no one else’s words should carry as much weight in this city as his.
Like many of his ilk, the 102-year-old World War II veteran is not one to seek attention.
The stories he has to tell are incredible, harrowing, tragic and important, but he kept them to himself for decades after the war.
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A kind soul with a sharp wit, Martin joined the army aged 23.
He was taken prisoner by the Japanese in Singapore in 1942 and put to work on the Death Railway in atrocious conditions.
After two years of slave labour, he was loaded onto a ship bound for Japanese coal mines.
The ship was hit by US torpedoes, leaving him clinging to debris in the South China Sea for almost four days until a US submarine crew plucked him out of the water.
More than 2700 Australians died working on the railway, where men were malnourished, disease-stricken and worked to death.
Determined to honour their sacrifice, Mr Martin has returned to Hellfire Pass in recent years to recite The Ode at the Anzac Day dawn service.
Before he left this year, he told friends it would be fitting in a way if he died in Thailand because he would be with the other Australians who never made it home.
One day he will be gone — and Albany will be all the poorer for it.
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