A well known and well respected Rifleman, Sergeant-Major Charles Cromwell Martin, DCM, MM, will be missed by all in the Regimental Family. As a young Rifleman one of the most memorable times of my career was listening to Charlie speak about those who had not returned from Europe. Charlie was very passionate about his men, a quality that endeared him to all who worked for him. As Major Fotheringham describes below, Charlie was a hero to all of us. History will recount his distinguished career and the Men will remember a good Sergeant-Major and a great man.
So long Charlie...
Corporal Ian Howard, QOR of C
A hero among us
The following is a speech recited by Major John Fotheringham during his Militia Officer Staff Course in 1993. Major Fotheringham chose Charlie as his subject for the public speaking portion of this course.
When I first joined The Queen's Own Rifles in 1985, I would have told you that my military heroes were members of the Special Air Service or Delta Force. To me, these men were legendary - super soldiers, if you will. As my army career has progressed, and I have got to be friends with Green Berets and Rangers, and had the privilege of commanding Airborne Regiment troops, I've realized that these men are really not that different from you or me - they had a job to do, and with the proper conditioning, training and support, they got it done.
While I certainly respect these soldiers, I think that a little of their mystique and my awe of them is gone, and my choice of military heroes has moved a little closer to home - to men such as Colonel Fraser Eadie, CO of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, who took command when his predecessor landed in a tree above a German machine gun nest; Queen's Own Victoria Cross recipient Sergeant Aubrey Cosens, who single-handedly cleared three buildings, killing 20 of the enemy and capturing an equal number, only to be killed by a sniper immediately after; and Company Sergeant Major Charles Cromwell Martin, DCM, MM, who I'd like to talk about today.
These three Canadians, like thousands of others, were just like you and me - "average" Canadians - and they answered the call when it came, and got the job done when it needed to be done, and then went back to being "average" Canadians - these were not professional soldiers. I'm sorry that I couldn't get Charlie to be here today, all 5'5" of him, but his wife, whom he married in England before D-Day, is not feeling well, and he didn't want to leave her. He might also be embarrassed, having to sit through the military version of "This Is Your Life."
I'd like to tell you a little of his military escapades, and then show you what kind of a soldier was really behind his deadly facade, and why I admire him so much.
When war broke out, Charlie Martin was a farmer in Dixie, now Mississauga. On his way down to the University Avenue Armouries to enlist, his car brakes failed and he was almost smashed by a streetcar.
The armouries were full of young men like Charlie, and they all shared Charlie's view, and I quote, "If you belong to a country, you should be proud enough to fight for it."
When the Queen's Own arrived in Britain in 1941, Charlie was a Corporal, and on June 6, 1944, when The Queen's Own Rifles hit the beaches at Bernieres-sur-Mer on D-Day, Charlie Martin was the CSM of A Company, some of the first Allied troops to hit Normandy on that fateful morning.
They felt as though they were 250 men against the whole German army. "In the movies", Charlie says, "you see hundreds of boats and planes in support, but there was nothing when we landed, just our ten craft. I remember looking back over my shoulder and the sea was empty. It was the loneliest I ever felt in my whole life."
After racing off the beach, Charlie and two of his men took out a German machine gun, then carried on with what little remained of the Queen's Own to reach their first day objective. Charlie said, "After we had charged the beach and I knew what war was, I couldn't help going behind a wall and crying. I was so sad. Fellows I had known for four or five years, to see them destroyed for nothing."
Charlie Martin continued as the CSM of A Company through France and into Holland, fighting in every battle in which the Queen's Own participated, finally being severely wounded on a dike in Holland. Because he had a cold, he didn't want to get his feet wet, so walked along the top of a dyke. His platoon had been held up, but he continued along, running into a dug-in German with a machine gun. They both fired at the same time, Charlie killing the German while having his arm and leg broken, and as he fell, an anti-aircraft battery opened up and put shrapnel in his back.
The war was over for CSM Martin, but not before he had won the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal.
Charlie was obviously a very effective and deadly soldier, but he also cared deeply for his own men and was a classic example of a good CSM. He never charged a man, preferring to talk to him instead, because he felt that he'd lost control if he had to resort to charges. Charlie cared for his men, and they respected him and would follow him because of it.
After each battle, Charlie would take a few soldiers and go out looking for wounded men to bring back in. He personally rescued 16 wounded soldiers under fire one day.
Shortly after D-Day, a Queen's Own Rifleman named Al Murray was lying on a battlefield, shot through the eye. The medic had passed over Rifleman Murray, thinking him dead. Charlie Martin noticed that he was breathing, and carried Murray back to the aid station, insisting that the medics take a shot at saving him. The last thing that Rifleman Murray remembered before he passed out was his Sergeant-Major leaning over him and saying, "Don't worry, you'll be OK."
Al Murray survived, and he and Charlie met again for the first time in 45 years on our D-Day + 45 tour in 1989. On the second night in Normandy, we were eating in the hotel restaurant, and Al started to choke on his dinner. His wife sent him to the washroom and after about a minute, Charlie thought that he'd better check on Al. He found Al turning blue, and saved him with the Heimlich Maneuver. Not only was he caring for his men during the war, but he was still saving their lives 45 years later!
Charlie returned to Canada with his wife and worked as an agriculture specialist for the Ontario government until retiring. Just last month, he was the guest speaker at our Mens' Christmas Dinner, and he's still passing on little tips to us that are still applicable today, and could save lives in war - things like using mortar smoke on a position while attacking, no matter how windy it is; or leaving a member of your patrol at the release point, so there's no surprises when you return - little, simple things.
Charlie Martin finished his speech at our Christmas Dinner by telling a story about the day he won the Military Medal. The soldier with the Bren gun came up to Charlie, under fire, and said, "If you'll carry the gun, I'll carry the ammo." Charlie said, "Why don't you carry the gun?" The soldier held up his right arm, minus the hand. Charlie says, "This soldier was ready to carry on, and did, missing his hand. Who deserved the medal that day, him or me? I don't wear these medals for myself; I wear them for men like that who served with me."
I really wish that you could meet Charlie Martin - he's one of the nicest men I've ever met, and he is definitely one of my heroes. I'm glad that I could tell you about him today. Thank you.
To view the citation for CSM Martin's Distinquished Conduct Medal, CLICK HERE
To view the citation for CSM Martin's Military Medal, CLICK HERE
"In Pace Paratus - In Peace Prepared"