The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX25394) Private John William Martin, Australian Army Service Corps, 8th Division. Second AIF

Place Asia: Borneo, North Borneo, Ranau
Accession Number AWM2016.2.37
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 6 February 2016
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Dennis Stockman, the story for this day was on (NX25394) Private John William Martin, Australian Army Service Corps, 8th Division. Second AIF

Speech transcript

NX25394 Private John William Martin, Australian Army Service Corps, 8th Division. Second AIF
DOD 13 February 1945
Photograph: P02467.131

Story delivered 6 February 2016

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private John William Martin, who died during the Second World War.

John Martin was born to William Henry and Gwendoline Lorimer Martin, who married in Wahroonga, New South Wales, in 1916. William served in Britain with the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War, and John was born in London on 11 January 1918. He was the eldest of four boys born to the couple. When the war ended the family returned to Australia, eventually settling in Warrawee.

John attended Knox Grammar School for a time before being sent to board at Tudor House with his brother Tony. He completed his education at Geelong Grammar School, and became an apprentice carpenter and joiner in Sydney. He enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force on 6 June 1940 and was taken on strength with the Australian Army Service Corps as part of the Australian 8th Division. In February 1941 Martin embarked for overseas service aboard the famous ocean-liner-cum-troopship Queen Mary, arriving in Singapore in mid-February.

As Japan entered the war its forces invaded the Malayan peninsula, and from mid-January 1942 the units of the 8th Division were involved in fierce fighting. On 15 February the Australians surrendered to the Japanese, and John Martin was among the thousands who, overnight, became prisoners of war.

The Japanese soon called for working parties to build and expand new infrastructure across their empire. In July “B Force” was formed at Changi prisoner-of-war camp, among them John Martin. The men volunteered, assured of better food and conditions, but found themselves on a hellish sea journey to Borneo, crammed into cargo holds for 11 days before arriving at Sandakan.

Though initially bearable, conditions at Sandakan devolved into some of the worst experienced by prisoners of the Japanese. Prisoners, including the sick, were forced at gunpoint to work on the construction of a military airstrip, and were often beaten by their captors. Illness and death ravaged the camp and food was scarce, and by January 1945 the prisoners were fending for themselves.

The completed airfield was soon destroyed by Allied aircraft bombing, and between January and March 1945 some 450 of the fittest prisoners were ordered to march west to Ranau – a distance of around 260 kilometres. All were suffering from malnutrition and some from disease.

The march was horrendous. The Japanese guards refused to let the prisoners rest, and those too sick or weak to continue were left behind to die. Among those was John Martin, who was reported to have died of beriberi on 13 February, less than 30 kilometres from Ranau, and was buried beside the track where he fell. Of the more than 2,400 Australian and British prisoners of war in Borneo, all but six perished at Sandakan, Ranau, or on the death marches.

John Martin was described by his commanding officer as “upright, loyal and efficient; courageous and uncomplaining throughout our whole association … a true friend”. Returning from his own time spent in prison camps, the same officer added: “John’s passing has marred my homecoming more than I can say.” Private John Martin was 27 years old.

He is commemorated on the memorial at the Labuan War Cemetery in Malaysia, and his name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 others from the Second World War. His photograph is displayed by the Pool of Reflection.
This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Private John William Martin, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Christina Zissis
Editor, Military History Section

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