The Passing Out Parade was supported by the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund and was coordinated by South West Arts in partnership with South West Music Regional Conservatorium and Outback Theatre for Young People.
By Sally-Ann Dillon
"There were no white feathers for the MARTIN family, as having two sons enlist brought overwhelming pride to my parents living in Berrigan. Although Mother's two soldier sons brought differing war experiences, there was anguish and heartache along with the pride.
I was known as "Howard" in those days , although christened "Henry Howard Martin" - son of James Martin local saddler. I did not enlist until I was 26 years old and fought alongside soldiers who were only fourteen. Putting your age up to ensure enlistment was very common in rural areas, but I was never sure if it was brave or naive? I mistakenly thought at twenty six I would be better equipped to deal with what I might see in battle, but I quickly learnt it was all too ghastly to even imagine. Until now I have never talked about my war experiences.
My mother feigned pride and bravery when only weeks after my enlistment my little brother VICTOR followed me to War.
The Australian Imperial Forces consisted of a variety of ages, occupations and personalities and publications like the 274th List of the Killed, wounded, and missing told little of background of the soldiers.
Some say the lack of news from overseas and no communication for months was a protective blessing for those left behind at home. The anguish my dear mother must have felt would have been intolerable.
Things got so bad in France that we even lost contact with those we were had to report to. There had been no news as to my whereabouts or welfare to my parents since my departure. To see a brief item in the Sydney Morning Herald dated 24th December 1917, reporting her son Private Howard Martin "missing in action" could have hardly meant a "Merry Christmas" for my family.
We had tinned kidneys and tinned mushrooms for Christmas breakfast. Still the war did not stop with our guns firing all afternoon.
My hometown seemed a million miles away when I first arrived in France and went straight to the trenches. The battlefield in France were soft and swampy with water a foot deep in the trenches where we had to "dig in". At times we had to crawl on our knees through the slush. The deafening noise of relentless machine gun fire was terrifying. I tried to recall the taste of the tins of sweet pineapple and puddings sent from The Red Cross Society. A mouth full of damp mud made this difficult but oh how I tried to imagine it.
After serving in France, I was promoted to Sergeant but the rank did little to protect me from the horrors of war. Subsequently, I was sent to an English hospital suffering from gas poisoning. The advertised death tally told me I should "feel lucky".
Silence after my discharge was a vow and a tool to ensure my salvation and sanity.
Like every serving soldier we were often shell shocked and physically damaged with gas poisoning. Victor didn't cope as Mother and I feared. Victor and my own war experience was mostly on the battle field but peppered by hospital admissions. Victor was rebellious and impulsive and this saw him being charged with disobeying orders on two separate occasions. He should never have enlisted.
Memories of Vicker's machine guns, my Lewis gun, amongst a variety of other machine guns, stokes, motors and artillery together in a barrage of sounds against the Hun I would rather forget. The deafening echo of those sounds are with me every night and I have continual nightmares.
I returned to Berrigan in 1919 to parents who had aged twenty years with the worry and concern for their two soldier sons.
Yes, they both said they were "so proud" but like their two sons they too were permanently scarred. Father never uttered a word or showed any emotion on our return.
My 1918 Military Medal for bravery on 2nd May softened their sadness I guess. Who knows? It did little to make me feel the war was worth it.
The war had a deep impact and Berrigan never returned to the peaceful rural community it was prior to the War. The male population was depleted and our women folk were never the same. The war raged on in the hearts of those who lost loved ones and in the minds of those who served.
My legacy and the family business Howard Martin and Co. lives on to this day in Berrigan. It is now 100 years since I started the rural merchandise and grain storage facility."