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Martin, William Clarence (1890–1970)

by Margaret Browne

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

William Clarence Martin (1890-1970), horseman, soldier and pastoralist, was born on 28 December 1890 at Jarrahdale, Western Australia, son of George Kersley Martin, labourer, and his wife Rose Sarah, née Markwell. He attended Kelmscott Primary School until he was 14, then went as a jackaroo to a station in the Murchison district.

Martin enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 13 July 1915 and in October embarked at Fremantle with the tenth reinforcements for the 10th Light Horse. Too late for Gallipoli, they landed in Egypt in November and joined their unit next month. Early in 1916 the regiment took part in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force's advance across Sinai into Palestine. Martin joined the 3rd Light Horse Brigade scouts during 1916 and as early as September 1917 was recommended for an award. In November he was promoted lance sergeant.

By April 1918 the British had reached the Jordan. During a difficult and ultimately unsuccessful raid on 29 April on Es Salt, across the Jordan, Martin led an advanced section of the brigade scouts. He and another scout crept on a Turkish observation post, captured two of the enemy and killed the rest. Martin was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

After the failure to secure Es Salt the troops spent four months in the Jordan valley in oppressive heat. In September the British planned to take Damascus. On the night of 27-28 September, the 10th Light Horse, to which Martin had returned in June, forced the Jordan crossing above Jisr Benat Yakub in the face of heavy machine-gun and rifle fire. Martin was riding close to his troop commander when the latter was wounded. He took command and pushed on with the charge. The ground was impossible for horses, so the men dismounted in the semi-darkness and, with Martin in the lead, rushed at the enemy with bayonets and engaged in hand-to-hand fighting. Over fifty prisoners and two machine-guns were captured. Martin was awarded a Bar to his D.C.M. and promoted sergeant on 6 November. In the opinion of his commanding officer, Martin was not only 'exceptionally brave', but possessed a 'rare intelligence and cool judgment which did not … impair his brilliancy and dash'; his guide work was 'really wonderful'.

In April 1919 Martin was invalided to Western Australia with malaria and discharged from the A.I.F. on 25 October, after which he went droving in the Kimberley. Later, using money earned from droving and his entitlement under the repatriation land settlement scheme, he bought the major share in Mount Padbury Pastoral Co. near Meekatharra. He lived there until selling out about 1969. He had married Nellie Cooree Francisco at St Mary's Anglican Church, West Perth, on 25 January 1923. They had a son but the marriage ended in divorce.

Bill Martin was a rugged character, about 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall, and a good horseman and buckjumper who loved mustering and camping out. He died of leukaemia in Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Perth, on 29 January 1970, leaving an estate of $72,154, and was cremated with Anglican rites. On the basis of his appearance and performance in the field Martin had been chosen in 1920 to represent light horsemen in a series of paintings of the A.I.F. commissioned by the Australian War Museum Committee. Two portraits by Frank Crozier are in the Australian War Memorial.

Select Bibliography

  • Distinguished Conduct Medals to Australia - From 1915-20, vol 3 (Melb, 1982)
  • A. C. N. Olden, Westralian Cavalry in the War (Melb, 1921)
  • H. S. Gullett, The A.I.F. in Sinai and Palestine (Syd, 1941)
  • H. P. Bostock, diaries and letters, 1914-18 (Australian War Memorial)
  • war diary, 10th Light Horse Regiment, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Margaret Browne, 'Martin, William Clarence (1890–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/martin-william-clarence-7506/text13089, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 19 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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