“Who will remember, passing through this Gate, the unheroic Dead who fed the guns? Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate?” asked war poet Siegfried Sassoon On Passing the New Menin Gate.
Denounced by Sassoon as a “sepulchre of crime” when it was opened in 1927, the Menin Gate memorial to the missing at Ypres – the epicentre of the Belgian battlefields – was dedicated to almost 55,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave, among them Private Robert Martin.
His name is listed on the memorial’s Panel 29 with those of 6000 Australians missing in Belgium, including Private Wilfred Montgomery, also of the Canungra district. The two enlisted in the same battalion in January 1916, left Brisbane on the same ship in May 1916 and died in the same action on October 4, 1917.
The son of Robert and Jean Tait Martin of Riemore, Tamborine, Robert , 30, was the older brother of John Martin, who served in the Middle East, and whose name is also listed on the Canungra Memorial.
Robert was initially posted as wounded and missing on October 4 until it was determined two months later that he had indeed been killed in action at Zonnebeke in Belgium, during the Third Battle of Ypres.
Robert was working as a labourer before he enlisted in Brisbane on January 3, 1916, becoming part of the 13th reinforcements of the 26th Battalion.
Embarking on the HMAT Seang Choon, Robert left Australia from Brisbane on May 4, arriving in Alexandria in Egypt on June 15. He left Alexandria In August on the Franconia as part of the British Expeditionary Force bound for France.
In November, 1916, as France was moving into its worst winter in decades, Robert was taken on strength with the 26th Battalion, which had recently taken part in two attacks east of Flers and been bogged down in mud and slush.
The battalion joined in the pursuit of the Germans to the Hindenburg Line in early 1917 and attacked firstly at Warlencourt and then at Lagnicourt, where Robert was first wounded in action on March 26.
Suffering severe gunshot wounds to his nose and eyes, Robert was evacuated to England and admitted to Kitchener Military Hospital on April 14.
In June, he was pronounced “quite recovered – will be fit for duty in a week or two”. He was granted furlough from June 25 to July 9 and then returned to France from Perham Downs at the end of July, rejoining his battalion a month later.
In September 1917, the 26th Battalion was among the first Australian units to take part in the larger operation which became known as Third Ypres, overcoming fierce German opposition during the Battle of Menin Road.
The following month, Robert was also among the troops of three Australian divisions who fought side by side in a head-on clash with the Germans to capture Broodseinde Ridge on October 4. There, wounded in action for the second time, he was later reported wounded and missing.
The fighting continued and with days of rain the battlefield was churned into a quagmire. Robert’s body may simply have vanished in the mayhem and mud.
At the opening ceremony of the Menin Gate 10 years later, the crowd was told that the memorial at Ypres, where so many of the missing were known to have fallen, should express the nation’s gratitude for their sacrifice and sympathy for those who mourned them.
“Now it can be said of each one in whose honour we are assembled here today: ‘He is not missing, he is here’.”