Ceremonial tree planting honours war veteran image

1 March 2017

Albany centenarian and war veteran Harold Martin was honoured with a ceremonial tree planting in Eyre Park on Tuesday morning.

Mayor Dennis Wellington paid tribute to Mr Martin, a former World War II Prisoner of War who survived incredible hardship to reach his 100-year milestone.

With family and close friends present, Mr Martin shoveled the last topsoil to plant a beautiful Chinese Elm, quipping it was the first time he had picked up a shovel since his days on the infamous Death Railway.

“This tree has been planted with pride and honour to commemorate the life of Harold Martin, a respected citizen who has reached the graceful age of 100 years.  May it thrive and give joy to all who come here for now and forever more,” Mayor Wellington said, after sharing a little of Mr Martin’s incredible and inspiring life story.

Born on January 1, 1917 in Kanowna east of Kalgoorlie, he was raised as a mechanical fitter before joining the army at 23 years of age, leaving behind his wife of 18 months Emma Mary “Molly” Gleeson and their six month-old son Raymond.

Mr Martin was among the 15,000 Australian soldiers captured by the Japanese in the fall of Singapore in 1942, and spent two long and brutal years working on the Burma “Death” Railway.

He survived this ordeal but was then shipped to Japan on one of the notorious “hell ships”, before the convoy was torpedoed by US submarines.

The ship Harold was on sunk and he managed to survive by clinging onto a makeshift raft. After four days drifting at sea he was rescued by USS Pampanito along with 72 other Allied soldiers.

Mr Martin returned to Australia when he was 27 and with wife Molly had four more children – Douglas, Phillip, Bethany and Geoffery.

After various jobs and a 17-year stint with the Shell Company, Mr Martin retired in Albany with his daughter. 

In recent years, thanks to the friendship formed with Morris and Gwen Blake, Mr Martin has been able to travel back to Myanmar and Thailand to pay tribute to his fallen mates and seek closure to a dark chapter of his life.

A Long Way Back, The Story of Harold Martin filmed by Samm Blake follows this journey. You can watch the 38-minute documentary at http://www.sammblake.com/a-long-way-back-short-film/.