Percy William MARTIN

MARTIN, Percy William

Service Number: 2147
Enlisted: 22 February 1916, West Maitland, New South Wales
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 1st Pioneer Battalion
Born: Gunnedah, New South Wales, Australia, January 1894
Home Town: Gunnedah, Gunnedah, New South Wales
Schooling: Gunnedah Superior Public School, New South Wales, Australia
Occupation: Saddler
Died: Pneumonia, 45th Casualty Clearing Station, Dernancourt, France, 22 February 1917
Cemetery: Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension
Plot VI, Row A, Grave No. 13
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Gunnedah Cenotaph, Gunnedah Public School WW1 Honour Roll
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World War 1 Service

22 Feb 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 2147, West Maitland, New South Wales
3 May 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 2147, 1st Pioneer Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '4' embarkation_place: Sydney embarkation_ship: HMAT Clan McGillivray embarkation_ship_number: A46 public_note: ''
3 May 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, 2147, 1st Pioneer Battalion, HMAT Clan McGillivray, Sydney
22 Feb 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 2147, 1st Pioneer Battalion, German Withdrawal to Hindenburg Line and Outpost Villages

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Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From Francois Berthout

Pte 2147 Percy William Martin,
1st Battalion of the Australian Pioneers,
1st Australian Division
On the old battlefields of the Somme, now silent and serene, stand in the remembrance and immortality of a world at peace, row after row, the thousands of immaculate graves of young men who, there are more hundred years, together and driven by the desire to do what was right, answered the call of duty and came from the other side of the world to fight on the grounds of northern France in the name of freedom and peace and who together, tightly packed in the promiscuity of the trenches, stood admirably bravely under the fire of artillery and machine guns who, enraged, thirsty for flesh and blood, mowed down the ranks of these young boys who far from home did their duty with determination without ever backing down, even in the face of death, in the face of their fears, alongside their friends and brothers in arms, moved forward through the barbed wire, through hail of bullets and were dragged into the darkness of a world war that pushed a whole generation of young boys to kill each other in the chaos and fury of hand-to-hand combat that ended in torrents of blood on the battlefields, slaughterhouses where today, in peace ,in eternal brotherhood so many of them rest in peace under the breeze of the wind through the poppies, eternal symbols of the sacrifices and the lives that were lost too soon in the hell of these fields of death on which shine today the light of remembrance in which the immortal voices of these young boys are heard who rest in peace on these sacred grounds and towards whom we owe so much then today and until my last breath, I would dedicate my life to them to tell who they were, to say what they did for us so that they are never forgotten, to keep their memory strong, so that their names live forever.

Today, it is with the utmost respect and with the deepest gratitude that I would like to honor the memory of one of these young men, of one of my boys of the Somme who gave his today for our tomorrow.I would like to pay a very respectful tribute to Private number 2147 Percy William Martin who fought in the 1st Battalion of the Australian Pioneers, 1st Australian Division, and who died of illness 106 years ago, on February 22, 1917 at the age of 23 on the Somme front.

Percy William Martin was born in 1894 in Gunnedah, New South Wales, Australia, and was the son of George and Ellen Martin, who first lived in Chandos Street, Gunnedah then settled in Barber Lane, Gunnedah. He was educated at Gunnedah Superior Public School then after graduation, acquired a first military experience in the 13th Australian Infantry Battalion with which he served for four years then worked as a saddler until he enlisted.

Percy enlisted on February 22, 1916 at West Maitland, New South Wales, in the 1st Australian Pioneer Battalion, 3rd Reinforcement.

Pioneer Battalions were essentially light military combat engineers organised like the infantry and located at the very forward edge of the battle area. They were used to develop and enhance protection and mobility for supported troops and to deny it to the enemy. They constructed defensive positions, command posts and dugouts, prepared barbed wire defences and on occasion breached those of the enemy using devices like the Bangalore Torpedo.

Their skills and capability were broad from building, construction and maintenance to road and track preparation and maintenance. They could also, and did quite often, fight as infantry.

Although they had existed in the Indian Army before 1914, pioneer battalions were used on a large scale by Commonwealth forces on the Western Front during the First World War.

Because of its largely static nature, there was a much heavier reliance on field defences and the provision of mobility support to get people weapons ammunition rations and stores up to the front and casualties out. Roads and railways needed to be built maintained and repaired.

While these were also Engineer tasks, Engineers alone could not meet the heavy demand, while riflemen were always needed at the front. Therefore, pioneer battalions were raised to meet the needs of both and trained to support both engineers and infantry.
The 1st Pioneers were raised in 1916 and after a training period of less than two months, Percy embarked with his unit from Sydney, New South Wales, on board HMAT A46 Clan MacGillivray on May 3, 1916 and sailed for Egypt.

On June 13, 1916, Percy arrived in Egypt and was disembarked at Tel-El-Kebir where he joined the 1st Divisional Depot on July 5 and was taken on strength the same day then after a short period of training under the heat of the pyramids, he embarked with his battalion from Alexandria, on board HMT Arcadia, on July 29 and sailed, this time, for England where the 1st Pioneer arrived early in August. Shortly after, on August 11, Percy was taken on strength in the Pioneer Training Battalion in London and three months later, on November 2, ready to join the front line, proceeded overseas from Folkestone for France on board "Onward".

On November 3, 1916, after a short journey across the English Channel, Percy finally arrived in France and was disembarked at Etaples where he joined the 1st Australian General Base Depot and the next day marched to the Machine Gun Base where he underwent a training period in the handling of Lewis and Vickers machine guns.

On December 9, 1916, after completing his training, Percy proceeded to join his unit and was taken on strength in the 1st Australian Pioneer Battalion on December 11, in the Somme, at Bernafay camp, between Flers and Delville Wood where furious fighting ensued. Here the men of the 1st Pioneer were employed in constructing new lines of trenches and in improving the camp which on 28 December was renamed "Perth Camp".

On January 16, 1917, Percy and the 1st Pioneer Battalion left Perth Camp and embarked by lorries for Franvillers where they were billeted until January 24, then the following day marched to Fricourt where they were employed in the construction of a railway line leading in Bazentin and this, in extremely difficult climatic conditions because at that time, the Somme knew one of its coldest winters but that did not start the courage of the Australians who served here without rest with an admirable courage but during this period, many men were struck down by pneumonia.

On February 1, 1917, in a cold that made the roads and the ground as hard as iron, the men of the 1st Australian Pioneer Battalion left Fricourt and moved to the Mametz Camp and in this sector of the front, were employed in the construction of dugouts and in the construction of railways allowing "Decauville" trains to transport large caliber shells to the front line. In the mud, they also had to build "Duckwalk" tracks allowing men to go from trench to trench without bogged down, a job made even harder by very active enemy artillery, then also built lines of defenses protected by fortified machine-gun posts and by lines of barbed wire in the High Wood sector, but on February 22, Percy fell very dangerously ill and was immediately admitted to the 45th Casualty Clearing Station in Dernancourt suffering from severe pneumonia from which he died later the same day at only 23 years old.

Today, Percy William Martin rests in peace alongside his friends, comrades and brothers in arms at Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, and his grave bears the following inscription: "Australia is proud of her hero who was only a private that's all."

Percy, it is with loyalty and love for your country that you joined your comrades who all together, in the most beautiful bond of brotherhood and friendship answered the call of duty to serve overseas, to do what for them was righteous even though it meant facing death on the battlefield and knew deep down that many would not return home but all chose the good fight and left behind their homes, the love of their families, the innocence of a youth lived too quickly, the joys of a life, of a too short peace which was broken by the bells of a war which, without distinction of nationalities and age, pushed a whole youth , a whole generation to sacrifice themselves in the mud and the blood of the fields of death but with devotion towards their loved ones, out of loyalty and fidelity towards their mother country, towards their mothers, towards the values which were dear to them, they all took a step forward and embarked for the other side of the world, to fight in the name of peace and freedom on the lands of the Somme, on the lands of France, of a country they did not know but for which they were determined to give their all and in their innocence, in the prime of their young lives, believing deeply that this trip would be the greatest adventure of their existence, they moved forward singing, carrying the hopes and the dreams they joined the front line and entered the darkness of the trenches, in blood-red mud in which they sank up to their knees, staggering alongside the wounded, mutilated men who formed the ranks of ghost battalions decimated by the cruelty and brutality of war and in these first instants, these poor boys did not discover the glory of which they were spoken so much but only death whose specter wandered without respite a few meters from the line, present at every moment beyond the parapets under the mournful howl of a devastating artillery and the rabid crackle of enemy machine guns that rained down torrents of lead as they ripped through the air with their shrill whistles preceded by the smell of sulfur mixed with the suffocating fumes of poison gas that burned the lungs.In this apocalypse they were brutally drawn into the madness of a world that was consumed in darkness and flames but in camaraderie, in unity they found in the men, in the pals who stood side by side, the faith and the courage to stand tall, the strength to fight and to go over the top behind the whistles of their officers who were the first to collapse but despite this avalanche of pain, suffering, they continued to move forward and saw their brothers, their fathers caught in terrible explosions, they saw them blown to pieces,they saw them falling riddled with bullets and imploring god's help to get them out of this hell on hearth which was for thousands of men, the only life, the only youth they had. The Somme, like Gallipoli and Ypres was an endless nightmare of fire and steel where friend and foe, on the battlefield, in the air and underground lived, suffered and died and paid for every yard gained, for every step forward, for each trench conquered in tears and sweat, the supreme sacrifice and for their friends, for us, they gave their today and their lives, they sowed in the blood they shed, the hopes and dreams of peace, of a better world in which we live thanks to them who did not have the chance to grow old like us but in the Somme, among the poppies, they see the children, the future generations for whom they fought who stand with respect and gratitude in front of their graves that I would also show my son when he is old enough to understand the meaning of the sacrifice of these heroes over whom I am proud to watch over and for whom, with dedication, with gratitude and admiration, with love and care i would keep the history and memory of their lives alive so that they would never be forgotten. Thank you Percy, for all you did alongside your comrades for my country and be sure that I will always watch over you. The memory of the Diggers and the ANZAC spirit, on the sacred grounds of the Somme, will live on forever.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember him, we will remember them.