Private Charles Martin Photographs Digitised @SLQ
Private Charles Martin, ca. 1915. Source: John Oxley Library, Accession 30353/1.
It is timely, with the centenary of the Battle of Pozieres fast approaching, to honour the sacrifice of a young Queensland soldier, Private Charles Martin, who lost his life in this most tragic of conflicts. Charles' descendants recently donated the portrait above to the John Oxley Library as well as allowing us to digitise a group photograph of the 26th Infantry Battalion, of which Charles was a member. Both images are now available through our catalogue.
Troops of the 26th Australian Infantry Battalion at Enoggera Military Training Camp, Brisbane, 1915. Source: John Oxley Library, Accession No. 30353/2
Private Charles Martin (regimental no. 3100) was born on the 12th March 1891 in Toowoomba, Queensland, being the eldest child of Thomas Martin, from Scotland, and Annie Mary Beitz. The Martins settled on a farm at Lilydale, near Helidon, in the Lockyer Valley. It was a large family as the couple went on to have four more sons and four daughters. Sadly, the youngest son, Norman Leslie, died as an infant in 1905.
Charles enlisted in Brisbane on the 13th August 1915, at the age of 24. After initial training at Enoggera Military Camp, he embarked from Brisbane on the troopship HMAT A50 Itonus on the 30th December 1915.
Once in Egypt he was admitted to the 1st Australian General Hospital at Heliopolis with a mild case of influenza, before travelling to France on the 19th May 1916 to join his unit. The postcard below was sent by Charles to his sister, Mary, in April 1916 while he was in Egypt.
The 26th Battalion, as part of the 2nd Australian Division, fought its first major battle around Pozieres, France, between the 28th July and the 7th August 1916, and although the allied forces were successful, capturing the town and the ridge on which it stood, victory came at a huge cost. The 2nd Australian Division had 6848 casualties with Charles Martin being amongst that number. He was originally listed as missing and it was not until the 3rd January 1917 that Charles was officially reported as having been killed in action on the 29th July 1916.
An unidentified soldier surveys the shell shattered battlefield in front of the French village of Pozieres, 28 August 1916. Source: Australian War Memorial, Image ID. EZ0099.
Charles Bean, Australia's official war historian, wrote that Pozieres Ridge "is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth'. Conditions during the battle were horrendous, with the Australian troops being subjected to an almost incessant barrage of German fire, and to make matters worse, the men suffered horrendous conditions in open trenches. A message sent to headquarters from Colonel Jess of the 7th Brigade described the situation: "It has been impossible to construct adequate trenches owing to the pulped nature of the ground. Those that were constructed N.E. of Pozieres are wiped out, and men are so dazed that they are incapable of fighting". (Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France,1916 (p.590).
According to Bean "It was upon the 2nd Division that the strain of the bombardment chiefly fell", enduring "twelve days of practically continuous bombardment such as was seldom experienced on any front".(Bean p.724). A high proportion of the wounded were not only maimed but also suffering from severe shell shock. An eye witness has recorded that of the wounded who were waiting to be treated "Nearly every one was shaking like an aspen leaf - a sure sign of over-strain by shell fire". (Bean p. 724)
2nd Australian Division Memorial at Pozieres, France, dedicated to the men who fell taking Pozieres Ridge in July-August 1916. Source: Australian War Memorial, Image ID E02059
It was during these horrifying conditions that Charles Martin lost his life. His body was never recovered. Charles is commemorated at the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, France.
Charles' cousin, Private Thomas Martin (regimental no. 2236), enlisted on 7 June 1915. His father, Robert, was living in Scotland, so he gave his next of kin as his uncle, Thomas Martin, of Lilydale. Tom Martin served at Gallipoli in the 15th Battalion, where he was wounded in action at Lone Pine on the 8th August 1915. After recovering in England he was transferred to the 4th Division Pioneers and served on the Western Front. Tom returned to Australia in April 1919.
Lynn Meyers, QANZAC100 Content Curator