Like so many other World War II veterans, Ted Martin witnessed unspeakable horrors while serving with the Royal Australian Air Force.
“After 70 years, there still isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about my mates who didn’t return home,” Ted says.
But it’s a moment of peace that is most vivid in his mind.
Ted, who now lives at Bupa Aged Care Echuca, witnessed the signing of the Japanese surrender, which marked the end of World War II.
“It was a tremendous moment for me and my fellow diggers,” says Ted.
But what he didn’t realise was the end of the war marked the beginning of another epic journey.
After serving four years, from 1942 to 1946, during the Aitape–Wewak campaign, Ted was desperate to return home to western Sydney to see his wife and his baby girl he had never met.
But with so many diggers on the ground, flying home wasn’t a simple exercise.
“I was told that due to the amount of troops trying to get home to Australia, it would be a while before I could get a flight back home.”
After 19 months away, Ted refused to wait around. He and another comrade took matters into their own hands.
“My options were to either wait for a flight, or make my own way home,” he said.
Ted chose the latter. With limited transport options, there was little choice but to hitchhike.
“It was quite an adventure; we were going from airport to airport trying to get a flight to Australia.”
They found some diggers who were flying home in a seaplane. But the cabin was full.
“The pilot could see the disappointment in our faces, and asked if we would like to jump in the cargo pit. Of course we said yes!”
“That was a rough ride back to Cairns,” says Ted. “When we made it back on Australian soil, I said farewell to my mate who met up with his loved ones in Queensland.”
Then Ted boarded a train from far north Queensland to western Sydney.
“I caught a bus to my house and as it drove up my street and as I was looking out the window, I saw this gorgeous woman with a baby on her hip,” said Ted.
“That was the first time I saw my daughter and wife for 19 months and I couldn’t get off the bus soon enough!”
Ted’s arrival came as a complete shock to his wife Phyllis, who waited outside on the street every day, for three months, hoping and praying her husband would return to her.
“Christmas Eve and being reunited with my family was the best Christmas gift I have ever received,” Ted said.
Almost 70 years on, and Ted raises the Australian flag at Bupa Aged Care Echuca every day.
On Remembrance Day, he’ll lay a wreath along with other residents, (also retired service men and women), to pay tribute to those who never came home.