Gallipoli's decoy soldier

Jack Martyn (85) talks about the Gallipoli diaries that his father wrote about the War. His father Jack Martyn was one of the last to leave the beaches.
Jack Martyn (85) talks about the Gallipoli diaries that his father wrote about the War. His father Jack Martyn was one of the last to leave the beaches.

Under heavy artillery fire from the Turks a Waikato soldier remained in the trenches at Gallipoli as a decoy for retreating soldiers.

Jack Martyn was one of nine Kiwi soldiers hand picked to remain with the 12 squadron - the last remaining troops to leave the shores of Gallipoli under cover of darkness in December 1915.

Ninety-seven years on Jack Martyn jnr sits at the dining room table in his Hamilton home crying as he recalls the contents of his father's carefully kept diaries from World War I.

"I'm sorry, it makes me emotional to think of what he went through - it's very raw," Mr Martyn told the Waikato Times.

At the age of 85, Mr Martyn has decided to share his father's items from the war - they include pay booklets, letters and the pocketsized notebook containing pencil-written accounts that are now barely legible.

The diary has already been transcribed and added to a locally produced book called Gallipoli 1915 by Paeroa author Colin Townsend, but as Anzac Day approaches Mr Martyn is keen for his father's account of the final days at Gallipoli to be told.

"Dad never spoke much about the war, but it was very clear that he considered it a priviledge to be chosen as one of the final few who remained in the trenches to the end," Mr Martyn said.

His father's story is told through his personal war diary and letters written to his mother.

They begin with his departure from New Zealand on December 14, 1914 with the Otago Mounted Rifles 12th squadron.

"Dec 14: Left 5am for Hobart and the following night (15th) was rough. We lost three horses."

"May 19: Wednesday. Arrived at the Dardanells at 2pm. Heavy guns firing all the afternoon. The Turks who are quite at hand responding with heavy fire. Airships (British and French) manoeuvring and were heavily bombarded by the Turks' guns. One airman in particular was wonderful and had 42 shells in succession go after him which he skilfully avoided."

In a letter home Mr Martyn spoke of landing at Gallipoli. "I can imagine the sad hearts and homes there must have been in New Zealand and Australia," he wrote.

"Our losses have been heavy but if you could only see the landing our men had to make you would marvel that our casualities were not even greater. The efforts were super human and nothing but grim pluck and determination won a foothold on the hill that was a volcano of shrapnel, bullets and shells."

Mr Martyn also details his own close calls with the enemy like on June 20 when after "standing to arms" on Sunday morning at 4am he went to the well for a kerosene tin of water. "Had just got out of the sap when several rifles opened fire on me. I ran for my life and cover, had got my water but had to make my return journey of 100 yards under fire."

"I got a devil of a fright and had sundry hair breadth escapes of being bagged, but got through with a whole skin. I will never do it again."

But it was his account of the final days at Gallipoli where "wild rumours" about a possible evacuation were fuelled by items, previously difficult to obtain, suddenly becoming available as supplies were whittled down.

"Thursday last we were lined up and told that all troops were leaving Anzac. It was an evacuation and it had to be done with the utmost secrecy."

Mr Martyn described the evacuation as a "a very ticklish problem". "We continued to carry on our duty as nothing was happening, and so deluded Joe Turk. Dozens of little stunts were put on to Joe which he took in."

On Friday 17 December, 1915, the first party of 140 men left. "Another party left at 5pm on Saturday and we carried on till 10 minutes to 2am on sunday morning when the 5th and 7th squadrons left."

"Just fancy the position, mother. We were holding a line of two miles of trench against Heaven knows how many Turks. Hadn't we a cheek. Ten minutes we held on alone. It seemed like a week to me. Then as pre-arranged we filed silently out of the trench and made off in the darkness at the double."

When the final party reached Anzac at 3am they walked straight on board a barge and pulled out to a waiting transport.

"The Turks were completely fooled and we laughed till we almost cried, to hear them blazing away at our empty trenches. The Turks put volley after volley into our trenches expecting an immediate attack - Lord, how we did laugh."

Mr Martyn went on to serve in France and was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in 1918. After the war he returned to New Zealand and married Mildred Ryan and together they had four children - their youngest being Jack Jnr who now resides with his wife Anne in Te Rapa.

His father farmed a block of land at Te Mata near Raglan - he died in October 1967 aged 84 and was buried at the Te Mata cemetary.

The final words come from one of Mr Martyn's final letters home from Gallipoli.

"It would take a book to tell the whole story. The authorities had made provision for 7,000 casualties, and did not expect the last party to get off. We had strict orders to leave any wounded as they would hinder the operations. At 3pm Sunday the Turks were still shelling our top trenches. It seems incredible that we could have fooled them so completely. Well mother, I wonder what is ahead of us now..."

Waikato Times