Jim Martin: Stories of Service

Running time
6 min 59 sec
Date made
Place made
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

Department of Veterans' Affairs 2021

Video file

James (Jim) Martin was 14 years old when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). He served as a private in World War I. Arriving at Gallipoli in early September 1915, he served in Wire Gully and Courtney’s Post among other places. He is thought to be the youngest Australian known to have served and died in the war. Jim's story of service is one of youth and determination.

Student inquiry activities

  1. Jim was so determined to enlist in the AIF that he threatened to run away if his family didn't help him. Why do you think Jim felt so passionate about it?
  2. Explain why Australian and New Zealand forces invaded Gallipoli. Why was that part of Turkey important during World War I?
  3. Dr Hampton says Turkish soldiers were described as a 'formidable foe' in newspapers at the time. What does that mean? How was this an accurate description of the Turkish forces?
  4. Jim was a strong young man when he arrived at Gallipoli. He became unwell but refused to seek medical help until he could no longer do his duty. Why do you think Jim was reluctant to get treatment sooner?
  5. Jim's mother Amelia Martin always regretted allowing her only son to go to war. After hearing the news of his death, 'her hair turned white almost overnight'. Her family recall that she never recovered from his death. Consider the cushion cover that Jim had embroidered for his mother and the letters he sent home. Do you think Jim understood the impact that his decision to go to war would have on him and his family?


[Music plays]

Opening credits: The title 'Stories of Service: First World War' appears, then a pale telegram envelope. A collage of images shows a young soldier, a nurse, the Australian Coat of Arms, service medals, a young pilot in uniform and the cover of an Australian recruitment pamphlet for the Great War. A thumbtack pins an ANZAC Christmas card onto an envelope. A worn silver identity tag is visible.

[Music plays]

The presenter Ray Martin walks on screen in front of a war memorial of 2 large soldier statues poised for battle. A caption reads 'Ray Martin AM'.

'You know, these days, you have to shake your head and wonder why hundreds of thousands of young Australian men, like these blokes, went off to fight in World War I. It was the Great War, the big adventure. You had to be 18 years of age to enlist. But somehow James Martin, they called him Jim, got in there when he was only 14. He went off to Gallipoli. And he died a few weeks later. Just 14. How did that happen?'

[Music plays]

A man's right hand sketches a young soldier in uniform using a lead pencil. He adds details with lead pencil and watercolours. These include a khaki green uniform, metal buttons and brown hair. Jim Martin's face slowly becomes clearer.

A photo is labelled 'Jim Martin' in white cursive text. The screen changes to an old photograph of 3 girls and 2 young women. A young man in a soldier's uniform stands in the middle. A boy in school uniform holds a photo of Jim Martin. A caption reads 'Photos courtesy Martin family'. An old photo shows Jim standing next to a young girl who sits on a high stool. He has his arm around her. A close up of Jim's face.

'Jim was born James Charles Martin, in Tocumwal, New South Wales, in 1901. He was the only boy in a family of 5 girls. He was interested in the Army and in Cadets at school. Even today, Glenferrie Primary is proud of their boy soldier. Jim left school to work as a labourer. He'd been doing that for around 12 months when the war began. He was physically fit, he was tall and very determined to go to war. The problem, however, was his age. So how did he manage to get to war?'

A woman, Dr Meleah Hampton, is speaking. Old footage shows some soldiers moving in a line and others sitting and standing together as a group. They are talking and smiling while some are laughing and being silly. A caption reads 'Dr Meleah Hampton Historian, Australian War Memorial'.

'Men needed to be 21 years old because they wanted the biggest and the strongest Australians to go. You could apply with parental permission from the age of 18. They were mostly turned down, though. A 14-year-old has to lie a lot to get to war. That young man told some big fibs, I'm afraid. He was able to fool the recruitment officer to the degree where the recruitment officer was happy to let him through.'

A handwritten letter on notepaper is shown. Old film footage of newly recruited soldiers. A photo of the Martin family. Presenter Ray Martin and Jim's relative John Harris talk to one another, standing in a room with shelves of boxes. Both men wear archival gloves. A caption reads 'John Harris Great nephew of Jim Martin'.

Ray Martin speaks: 'Jim's mother, Amelia, wrote him a letter of permission, but only because Jim had threatened to sign up under a false name. John Harris's grandmother was Jim's sister. He says the family had no choice but to let young Jim go off to war.'

John Harris speaks: 'His words were, as I understand it, "Let me go, certify that I'm 18 years of age, and I'll stay in touch, I'll write. If you won't, I'll run away and you'll never hear from me again."'

Ray Martin speaks: 'Really?'

Old photos show military tents and young men at an army training camp. Old film footage of ships loaded with supplies and soldiers. Old photos show ships landing at Gallipoli. Old film footage of soldiers in trenches firing periscope rifles from behind sandbags. Dr Meleah Hampton speaks. Photos show young Turkish soldiers in trenches. Film footage of the battleground at Gallipoli in 1915.

Ray Martin speaks: 'After some basic training outside of Melbourne, at Broadmeadows Army Camp, Jim joined the 21st Battalion and sailed off to Egypt in late June 1915. That was only 2 months after the Anzac landings. But already the news from the battlefield was terrible.'

Dr Meleah Hampton speaks: 'He's under no illusions. He's not going into it blind. They know that the Turk is a formidable foe. That's how they talk about them in the newspapers. And he knows that there is a lot of rifle fire and snipers, a lot of wounded and a lot of sickness and gangrene.'

Painting of a transport ship and an old photo of a ship. Footage of moving seawater as seen from the deck of a ship. Photos of longboats arriving at Anzac Cove. Old photos show soldiers in long coats and snow on the ground. Troops in the trenches look tired, cold and uncomfortable.

Ray Martin speaks: 'In September, Jim's luck started to turn bad. His troopship, heading from Egypt to Turkey, was torpedoed by an enemy submarine. Jim spent 4 hours in the cold Aegean Sea before being rescued. Only a few days later, he jumped ashore at Anzac Cove, expecting dust, flies and hot weather.'

Dr Meleah Hampton speaks: 'When James Martin arrives, they are experiencing cold nights, the weather's closing in. It's exhausting because they are on watch through the night regularly, and then they get to sleep in a hole in the ground to recover from spending all night on watch.'

A handwritten letter on AIF Broadmeadows Military Camp S.A. letterhead. John Harris is speaking, then Ray and John are shown speaking to one another in a room. Old photos of armed weary soldiers standing in trenches.

Ray Martin speaks: 'Jim kept his word to his mum and he wrote home regularly.'

John Harris speaks: 'It was the letters that really get to me, because they seem to me to be like ... letters by a boy writing back from a boy scout camp, and he was trying to say to mum and dad, "Everything's all right here." You know? "I'm doing splendid over here." Or words to that effect.'

Ray Martin speaks: 'But he also said the Turks are 70 metres away.'

John Harris speaks: 'It's just so very hard to imagine.'

Ray Martin speaks: 'Jim quickly found that on the battlefield, you couldn't depend on getting letters from home.'

Dr Meleah Hampton beside the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Many red poppies poke out of the wall. She carefully places a poppy next to Jim Martin's name on the Roll of Honour. Dr Hampton speaks. A handwritten letter is shown.

Dr Meleah Hampton reads aloud one of Jim's letters: '"I have not received any mail since I left Melbourne on June 28th. They must be going astray somewhere. I hope you're getting some of mine as I am writing pretty often." One of the things that struck me is his first letters say, "I remain your fond son, Jim." And the further he gets from home, and the harder it gets, the more loving he gets. So, "I remain your loving son, Jim." And then five kisses at the end. And you can see the progress of him missing his family and it being a little bit harder than he thought.'

Ray Martin speaks: 'Jim's battalion arrived at Gallipoli near the end of a period of intense fighting. He was positioned in one of the worst spots of all, at Courtney's Post.'

Old film footage from the hills area around Anzac Cove. Photo of a map showing the Gallipoli area and Courtney's Post. Dr Meleah Hampton speaks.

'Courtney's Post is one of those iconic places that so many people are in and out of, and it's so close to the Turks, and you can't rest. You've got to be careful about lighting your cigarette. You hear them talking. He's in a dangerous position. He will be coming under shell fire occasionally.

Old photos show wounded men aboard boats, a wooden cradle moving an injured soldier and hospital ships at sea off Gallipoli. Ray Martin speaks beside a lake and reads from a paper. An old photo shows activity at Anzac Cove. A man stands in front of the Honour Roll at Lone Pine, poppies are visible and then a close up of 'Martin J.' listed as a Private under 'Australian Infantry 21st Battalion'.

'After 6 weeks of constant fighting, it was a deadly disease that took Jim out of the war. He contracted what was called rheumatic fever or paratyphoid. He was evacuated to a hospital ship on 25th October 1915. Now, the hospital ship's matron was a Mrs Frances Reddock. And she wrote this tender letter to Jim's grieving mother back in Melbourne.

She wrote, "He was brought on board from the shore at 5 pm in a very collapsed state. We got him to bed and did everything possible for him. He said he was feeling much more comfortable and he thanked me so nicely. He thanked me so nicely for what had been done to him. He then settled down to get a sleep. But he died suddenly and quietly of heart failure at 6:40 pm.” Less than 2 hours after he came on board the hospital ship. Jim Martin was buried at sea. His name is listed on the Lone Pine Memorial.'

Footage of a person's hands in archival gloves showing a worn silver army identity tag on a thin leather lace. Next, a woman in archival gloves stands between Ray Martin and John Harris. The woman places a plastic-covered item on a table. It is a cream-coloured textile square with colourful hand-stitching. The words 'Egypt, Cairo, 1915, To Mother from Jim, and Good Luck' can be read. John Harris speaks to someone unseen. An old photo shows a woman sitting next to a man who is standing. The next photo shows the same woman with white hair.

Ray Martin speaks: 'Only a few sad mementos survived Jim's war, like his Army identification tag. But probably the most moving of all is this cushion cover. Wow! I mean, it says it all, doesn't it? Jim had it made in Egypt for his mother before sailing for Gallipoli.'

John Harris speaks: 'For a long time, there was a degree of shame, perhaps. Certainly early on, when his mother was still alive, she regretted very much giving in to Jim. Her hair went white almost overnight. She never really forgave herself.'

Ray Martin speaks beside a lake.

'James Jim Martin was 14 years, 9 months and 22 days young when he died. He was just a boy soldier.'

An old photo of Jim Martin in his soldier's uniform. Then the white logo for the Department of Veterans' Affairs is shown on a black background.

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