Revered Thai-Burma Railway survivor Harold Martin celebrates 103rd birthday
For what he has been through and the legacy he bears, Harold Martin is a giant in a city imbued with the history of Australia’s wartime sacrifice.
But sitting around a picnic table at Foundation Park, sharing a laugh with his friends, he shows no signs of his journey to hell and back.
Mr Martin, one of Australia’s last Thai-Burma Railway survivors, celebrated his 103rd birthday yesterday on New Year’s Day.
His hearing is a little worse than when he turned 102, but not much else has changed.
He has friends of all ages, including young staff members from Dylans on the Terrace who go out of their way to stay in touch with him.
His youngest son, Jeff, tries to visit him in Albany after every second swing on a goldmine in the Pilbara.
Jeff, 63, said his father never really spoke about the harrowing aspects of World War II or his time as a prisoner of war.
Mr Martin endured two years of slave labour on what came to be known as the Death Railway before he was put on a ship bound for Japanese coal mines.
That ship was hit by US torpedoes, leaving him and hundreds of other skeletal prisoners of war treading water in the South China Sea.
He and 72 fellow Allied soldiers were picked up by the crew of the USS Pampanito after almost four days spent clinging to makeshift life rafts.
So there are plenty of harrowing stories to tell.
“The only stories he told me were a few comical things about it — none of the nitty-gritty or what he went through,” Jeff said.
“I’ve read a lot of the books and things like that. Once I got older and more mature and had a different outlook on it, I could start to appreciate what he went through.
“Plus, he never went to the RSL or anything like that, he just carried on by himself with his family.
“He was a product of his era, I suppose.
“He just carried on regardless.”
His father’s input to the conversation was to ask Jeff if he had told the story about their big gold find when they were prospecting together many years ago.
That trip netted just under $21,000 — a hefty payday, and clearly a fond memory for both.
Mr Martin rarely told anyone about his service, until he opened up to Morris and Gwen Blake at their cafe, Dylans on the Terrace.
The trio have become good friends, with Mr Blake accompanying the ex-POW to two dawn services at Hellfire Pass. Mr Martin recited The Ode at Hellfire Pass last year, despite telling the crowd in 2018 that visit was likely his last.
Even now, at 103, he is not prepared to rule out another trip to honour his fellow Australians who never made it home.
More than 2700 Australians died on the Thai-Burma Railway.
“I’m thinking about it, getting someone to take me over,” Mr Martin said. “I would like to go one more time.”
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