Quandamooka/Noonuccal man Richard Martin enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 17 December 1914. As Aboriginal people were prevented from enlisting, he declared that he was a New Zealander with five years’ service in the Light Horse. In fact, he had been born on Stradbroke Island in Queensland and had no known previous service.
On 9 May 1915 Richard joined the 15th Battalion at Gallipoli. apart from time spent hospitalised on ships or on the nearby island of Lemnos, he remained on the peninsula until the campaign ended in December.
Following the evacuation from Gallipoli, the AIF was reorganised and expanded. As a part of this process, Richard was transferred to the 47th Battalion and sent to fight on the Western Front, arriving in France in July. Nearly two months later, the 47th Battalion was involved in the grim fighting around the French village of Pozières, and at nearby Mouquet Farm. Two days after entering the front line, Private Martin was evacuated, wounded and suffering from shell shock. Richard had a brief respite from the front line, but rejoined his battalion when it left the front line four days later.
Over the next 18 months the 47th Battalion was involved in some of the most costly battles on the Western Front at Bullecourt, Messines, and Passchendaele. Richard was wounded twice more, and was admitted to military hospitals in France and England to recover from gunshot wounds.
In late March 1918, the German army launched a major offensive in an attempt to break through Allied lines. On 28 March, German forces attacked near the village of Dernancourt. The 47th Battalion, as part of the 4th Australian Division, defended its position along the railway embankment. The Germans succeeded in breaking the 47th Battalion’s part of the line but quick action by neighbouring Australian positions cut them off and prevented more German soldiers getting through. The Germans continued to attack in force during the day – men of the 47th Battalion saw German troops getting off buses behind the line to join the attack – but despite heavy casualties the Australian line did not break.
Among the casualties was Private Richard Martin, who was killed in action.
In September 1920, Richard’s mother, Rosey, wrote to the Base Records Office requesting Richard’s 1914–15 Star and his military overcoat:
“I am sure you will realise how a mother values personal belongings and tokens of bravery and courage of a son who is now gone forever.”
Richard was reportedly buried at the Dernancourt Military Cemetery. Later, however, his grave could not be found. His name is inscribed on the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux in France.