Harold “Curly” Martin survived the fall of Singapore, the death railway at Burma Road and an American torpedo in the South China Sea.
At 97, he might be thinking about the quiet life.
Not a bit of it. He recently treated himself to an X-Type Jaguar and took a trip to Thailand for the Anzac Day services in Kanchanaburi and to join others in remembering his mates who lost their lives working on the rail line from Thailand to Burma.
Martin, from Albany in Western Australia, is one of the few remaining survivors from the notorious death railway.
He believes Australians should know more about what happened 70 years ago.
“There’s not many of us left to tell about it,” he says.
“What I’ve been concerned about for years is the young people know nothing about the fall of Singapore.
“They all know about Gallipoli but Australia was never threatened in the first war.
“It was the parents and the grandparents of these young people that saved us and they should know about it.
“Eighty five thousand British, Australian and Indian troops taken prisoner and they know nothing about it. A history of the Second World War should be taught in schools.”
When Singapore was captured by the Japanese in 1942 Martin was sent to Thailand, where the PoWs had to march 200km to where they were forced to work on the rail line.
“These men should be remembered. I worked with them and went through a lot – they were starved, they were worked to death, they lacked medication, clothes and shoes worn out,” he said.
“They were beaten but they were never broken. They were soldiers to the end and I am proud of them.”
Of the 60,000 allied PoWs who worked on the rail line, 16,000 perished, including 2800 Australians, as well as 90,000 Asian forced labourers from a work force of 200,000.
Curly Martin was one of the survivors then ordered to Japan to work in the coal mines.
After a boat and rail journey across to Saigon and then back to Singapore, they were put on the Japanese passenger cargo ship SS Rakuyo Maru.
As it made its way through the South China Sea it was torpedoed by US submarines.
More than 1100 PoWs died and Martin was one of 63 who survived the sinking. He and some of his mates managed to stay afloat on rafts made from wooden boat hatches bound together with life-jacket straps.
On the fourth day the submarine USS Pampanko surfaced nearby and with guns at the ready the sailors suddenly recognised Martin’s blond curly hair.
He says they decided to “have another look” and signalled Martin and his mate to swim to the vessel.
“We were well enough to climb onto the submarine and told them who we were and that’s when they started to pick them (survivors) up,” he said.
The submarine holding 88 sailors took on board 73 PoWs while vessels were called to rescue other survivors.
“We were 50 miles from where we were sunk. The sub was returning to base so it was just pure luck that it spotted us,” he said.
Martin eventually made his way back to Australia by way of the Marshall Islands.
He lives in Albany, which has a special place in ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.
On November 1, 1914 it was the departure point for the first convoy of ships carrying the Australian Imperial Force and New Zealand Expeditionary Force to the First War.
“Curly” Martin lives life to the full.
To pick up his Jag he took a six-hour bus journey to Perth then drove it the 450km back to Albany on the same day.
He worked until he was 65. “I recently realised I have spent more than a third of my life as a pensioner,” he said, with a wry smile.
As for his extraordinary life: “I’ve always been lucky.”