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Martyn, Athelstan Markham (1881–1956)

by Ronald McNicoll

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

Athelstan Markham Martyn (1881-1956), military engineer, was born on 5 June 1881 at Armidale, New South Wales, eldest son of Sydney-born John Griffin Martyn, licensed surveyor, and his wife Hope, daughter of Thomas Markham, medical practitioner of Armidale. He was educated at The Armidale School and the University of Sydney (B.E., 1905).

Early in 1901 he had enlisted in the Sydney University Scouts and by 1903 was a second lieutenant. In 1906 he was commissioned in the permanent Australian Engineers and as a subaltern served in the Royal Australian Engineers in Victoria and Queensland. In 1911 he was promoted captain.

Soon after the outbreak of war in August 1914 Martyn, then serving in Western Australia, was commissioned in the Australian Imperial Force as captain in the 2nd Field Company. He was soon appointed to command. He embarked with his unit in October, supervised its training in Egypt, and landed with it at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, on 25 April 1915. During the next three months he shared his company's hardships, suffering from chronic dysentery but retaining his characteristic cheerfulness. He was acting commander of the 1st Divisional Engineers for a fortnight in May, and in July was appointed commanding royal engineer although his lieutenant-colonelcy was not gazetted until shortly before the evacuation. For his work in the Gallipoli campaign he received the Distinguished Service Order and the French Croix de Guerre, and was mentioned in dispatches.

The 1st Divisional Engineers moved from Egypt to France in March 1916. After some months in Flanders they were engaged in the Somme sector, taking part in the battle of Pozières in July and in actions about Mouquet Farm in August. Then there was a period out of the line and Martyn was able to take some leave. On 21 October 1916, at St Mary Abbot's Church, Kensington, London, he married Stella Godfrey, only daughter of Frank Swifte of Tasmania; the bride had journeyed from Australia.

The 1st Divisional Engineers were engaged in the 1917 battles known as '3rd Ypres' at Menin Road in September and Broodseinde in October. At the end of the year Martyn was appointed C.M.G. In April 1918, after nearly two years as C.R.E., 1st Division, he was posted to command the A.I.F. Engineer Training Depot at Brightlingsea, Essex. In July he returned to the Australian Corps on the Western Front as C.R.E., Corps Troops, an appointment which he held during the 3rd battle of Amiens and the breaching of the Hindenburg line. A week after the Armistice he relieved C. H. Foott as chief engineer of the Australian Corps with the rank of colonel. He embarked for Australia in April 1919. He had been mentioned in dispatches five times.

Once more a lieutenant-colonel, now in the Australian Military Forces, Martyn was in 1920-24 instructor in military engineering and surveying at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. He then served for eight years in a succession of appointments outside of the Royal Australian Engineers. Early in 1932 he was appointed commandant in Western Australia, as colonel and with the temporary rank of brigadier, and in 1936 took up the corresponding appointment in South Australia. He was awaiting retirement when World War II broke out but was retained in the service and appointed to administer the numerous training camps in New South Wales. He retired in June 1941, as a brigadier, to Adelaide.

'Tin' Martyn was a cheerful, gregarious man, fond of the countryside, and a keen rifle shot. In his youth he was an able engineer and showed himself a capable administrator in his later years when his early slightness of figure had been succeeded by a ruddy corpulence. He died in Adelaide of heart failure on 4 November 1956, survived by two daughters, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • R. McNicoll, The Royal Australian Engineers, 1902 to 1919: Making and Breaking (Canb, 1979).

Citation details

Ronald McNicoll, 'Martyn, Athelstan Markham (1881–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/martyn-athelstan-markham-7507/text13091, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 16 November 2018.

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

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