House debates

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Constituency Statements

Martin, Mr Harold

10:53 am

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to acknowledge a living legend of my electorate of O'Connor—World War II veteran Harold Martin, who is soon to turn 100. Harold Martin was a prisoner of war during World War II. He was captured by the Japanese in the Fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942. Harold spent the next two years as a prisoner of war, building the notorious Burma-Thailand railway along with 60,000 other Allied soldiers. Over 12,000 of those Allied soldiers died as a direct result of working on this railway, 2,700 of them Australians. Harold has an epic tale of survival.

Family friend, ex-Albany girl and now international photographer Samm Blake has captured this in a moving documentary about Harold revisiting Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore more than 70 years after his rescue. It was viewed by audiences throughout O'Connor during the Anzac Centenary year. Samm's poignant film A Long Way Back traces Harold's recollections of life as a POW and his feelings on returning to Myanmar in 2012 to visit the graves of his fallen mates.

On another epic journey, in 2014, Harold travelled to Thailand to attend the Anzac Day service at Hellfire Pass and the cemetery at Kanchanaburi. Harold was a VIP guest along with two other POW survivors from Australia. Samm, her dad, Morris, and friend Murray walked with Harold along many parts of the Thai-Burma railway line and visited the bridge over the River Kwai. They viewed one of the original Japanese trains that carted the POWs on their five-day journey from Singapore to Thailand. Harold recalled how each carriage had over 50 men crammed into it, with no ventilation and no toilet. Many were sick and died en route.

Just before surrender, the Japanese army attempted to relocate the POWs to Japan by boat. Harold was transported on the Rakuyo Maru, a cargo ship unidentified as a vessel carrying POWs. During this voyage, with 1,317 POWs on board, they were torpedoed twice by a US submarine. The Japanese panicked and abandoned their sinking ship, leaving the POWs to perish.

The surviving POWs floated at sea, covered in oil and virtually unrecognisable as human beings. Harold clung to a makeshift raft for four days before being found by the USS Pampanito on 15 September 1944. A total of 73 POWs were rescued and Harold remembers the crew bathing them, treating their injuries and giving up their beds to the survivors.

Harold returned home to his wife, Molly, and young son, Ray, in late 1944, and their family was blessed with four more children. Harold has finally shared his story after 70 years, touchingly retold by Samm Blake, with the help of photographs and footage from the national War Memorial. Her documentary honours Harold Martin and will endure as a reminder of all Australian soldiers' sacrifice.

I salute Harold Martin, World War II veteran, survivor of one of the most horrific events of the war and a living legend. Happy 100th birthday, Harold. (Time expired)