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Edward Fowell Martin (1875–1950)

by Matthew Higgins

This article was published:

Edward Fowell Martin (1875-1950), soldier, accountant and public servant, was born on 22 August 1875 at Launceston, Tasmania, son of Edward Martin, pastoralist, and his wife Harriet Alice Louisa, née Fowell. The family moved to New South Wales after Edward's birth and he was educated at King's College, Goulburn. He worked as a bank accountant for three years before joining a woolbroking firm. In Sydney on 6 April 1898 he married Lilian Mary Davies; they had three children.

Martin's voluntary military service began that year when he joined the Australian Army Service Corps. He was commissioned in 1903. A major when war broke out in 1914, he immediately joined the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force to New Guinea and was made a company commander. The force sailed for Rabaul on 19 August. On 14 September Martin led the advance guard of a contingent that marched on Toma, New Britain, headquarters of the German acting governor. Following the German surrender, Martin was placed in command of the garrison at Madang and acted as administrator of Kaiser Wilhelm's Land until February 1915. Given an independent role by the A. N. & M.E.F. commander, Colonel William Holmes, he discharged his duties responsibly.

On return to Australia, Martin joined the Australian Imperial Force on 29 March 1915 and was appointed second-in-command of the 17th Battalion. He embarked for Egypt on 12 May. The unit reached Gallipoli in August and on the 27th suffered many casualties during the attack on Hill 60. In early September the battalion occupied Pope's Post and Quinn's Post. During the evacuation in December Martin led the first draft of the unit out of the trenches.

In January-February 1916 the 17th manned posts on the Suez Canal and in March sailed for France; in April Martin was promoted lieutenant-colonel in command. The battalion served in the Armentières sector before moving to the Somme in July. At Pozières it spent a cruel eleven consecutive days in the line and fought an exhaustive bombing attack in Munster Alley. For his indefatigable efforts and organizational ability here and at Armentières, Martin was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

The unit fought at Flers, saw action in the Butte de Warlencourt sector in February-March 1917 and again at Noreuil in April where Martin's headquarters was caught in the fighting. On 20 September the 17th fought in the battle of the Menin Road; when the forward platoons reached their objective Martin immediately moved his headquarters into the front line despite shell-fire. His battalion was recognized as an efficient and dependable fighting unit and in early 1918 he was appointed C.M.G.

In May Martin was given command of the 5th Brigade and in June was promoted colonel and temporary brigadier general. On 8 August the great allied offensive began and his brigade played an important role. On 31 August, tired and under strength, it attacked the vital position of Mont St Quentin. It took the hill and, though pushed off the summit by a counter-attack which was in turn repulsed next day by the 6th Brigade, Martin and the 5th were singled out for special praise for their stunning feat. The advance continued to the Hindenburg line and on 3 October the brigade helped to capture the Beaurevoir line, the Germans' last complete line of defence. For his part in these closing months of the war Martin was appointed C.B. and he had been mentioned in dispatches six times.

Martin returned to Australia in July 1919. The death of his son Edward in 1920 caused severe distress; Martin and his wife separated and about 1924 he went to Perth where he became an accountant with West Australian Newspapers. In 1932 he was appointed sergeant-at-arms of the Legislative Assembly and he carried the mace for the next eighteen years.

Though reticent about his wartime experiences, Martin was an active member of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia and Legacy, and was a custodian of the Perth war memorial. During World War II he helped to organize the Volunteer Defence Corps in Perth. After the death of his wife he married Evlyn Lucy Haslam at Cannington in 1947. He remained sergeant-at-arms until a few days before he died on 22 September 1950 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Hollywood, survived by his wife and a daughter of his first marriage.

Martin's wartime comrades remembered him as being of a reserved, even retiring disposition, yet a man who weighed problems carefully and resolutely stuck to a course of action. He 'zealously maintained' the welfare of those who served under him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • S. S. Mackenzie, The Australians at Rabaul (Syd, 1938)
  • K. W. Mackenzie, The Story of the Seventeenth Battalion A.I.F. in the Great War, 1914-1918 (Syd, 1946)
  • London Gazette, 29 Dec 1916, supplement 1 Jan 1917, 2 Jan, supplement 4 Jan 1917, 1 June 1917, 25 Dec, supplement 28 Dec 1917, 28 Dec 1917, supplement 1 Jan 1918, 24 May, supplement 28 May 1918, 27 Dec, supplement 31 Dec 1918, 30 May, supplement 3 June 1919, 8 July, supplement 11 July 1919
  • Listening Post, 22 July 1932
  • Mail (Fremantle), 21 July 1932
  • Reveille (Sydney), Nov 1950
  • West Australian, 23 Sept 1950
  • Bulletin, 4 Oct 1950
  • war diaries, 17th Battalion and 5th Brigade (Australian War Memorial)
  • AIF nominal roll, 17th Battalion (Australian War Memorial)
  • biographical details of Brigadier General E. F. Martin (Australian War Memorial)
  • honours and awards, 2nd Aust Division, 27 July–6 Aug 1916, 23 Feb–28 Mar 1917, 1 Feb–7 Mar, 3-6 Oct 1918 (Australian War Memorial)
  • CRS A457, item 650/31 German New Guinea administration: central applications for appointment as administrator (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Matthew Higgins, 'Martin, Edward Fowell (1875–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 26 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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