Lt-Cdr Adrian Martin - obituary

 

Lt-Cdr Adrian Martin, who has died aged 92, spent nine days adrift in a minefield in 1944.

Martin was the 21-year-old commanding officer of ML 216, fitted with magnetic and acoustic mine-sweeping gear. He had spent several months sweeping the east coast convoy routes clear of mines when, in early September, he was sent to sweep the approaches to Ostend, which was still in German hands. When Martin protested that the channels were suitable for the Germans to lay contact mines, which he could not sweep, he was told that “intelligence wallahs” said there were no such devices.

On the morning of September 19, ML 216 hit just such a mine, which blew off the forecastle, part of the bridge and the hull under the bridge. The engine room was almost undamaged, although the forward bulkhead was leaking. Of the seven watertight compartments in the ship, only three were intact. While surveying the damage, Martin found the horn of a contact mine that had landed on the deck, and put it in his pocket.

Some of the crew had been wounded, and most of the men used a small boat to reach the shore of Belgium, while Martin remained on board with four volunteers.

His craft drifted into a known British-laid minefield, where it sat helplessly for the next nine days, urged by the ebb and flow of the tide. On September 28 they drifted clear and were towed to Margate, where the motor launch rolled over and sank. Martin and his volunteers were rescued and taken to Harwich, where the captain in charge of minesweepers demanded to know what had gone wrong. When his boss insisted that it was impossible to have hit a contact mine, Martin replied “Well, sir, I have the horn of the mine in my pocket.”

Adrian Sidney Martin was born at Appledore in Devon on April 8 1922 into a family whose seafaring tradition went back to the 17th century. His father, as a leading seaman and gunlayer in the battlecruiser Invincible, had been awarded a DSM at the Battle of the Falklands in 1914, but in 1925 he died, leaving the family in straitened circumstances . Adrian went to Bideford Grammar School, and in 1939 followed his older brother into high street banking. Two years later he was called up into the Navy.

After serving in ML 216, Martin commanded a minesweeper in the Adriatic which cleared mines on the coast of Yugoslavia. There Josip Tito invited him for a lunch which turned into a drinking contest. Martin, determined to uphold the honour of the Royal Navy, matched the communist leader toast for toast, and after the war Tito bestowed on him the freedom of Yugoslavia, and with it the right to own property in that country. The advent of the Cold War prevented Martin from taking up this right.

In May 1946 Martin rejoined Lloyds Bank, where he met Joan Mingo, whom he married in 1951.

He became manager at branches throughout Devon, including at Tiverton, Ottery St Mary and Heavitree in Exeter .

Martin retained a strong interest in the Royal Navy serving in the reserves for many years. He took part in annual Nato exercises; formed lasting friendships with numerous American and Canadian officers; and supported the Exeter Sea Cadets for 21 years. From 1963 to 1988 he was chairman of the Exeter Flotilla, an association of reserve and retired naval officers , and in 1972 he instigated the annual Trafalgar Day service in Exeter cathedral. He was appointed MBE in 1975.

On retiring in 1982, he settled at Budleigh Salterton on the Devon coast, where he took up building dry stone walls for the British Trust for Nature Conservation, and cruising to revisit the ports he had seen during the war.

Adrian Martin is survived by his wife and by their son and four daughters.

 

Lt-Cdr Adrian Martin, born April 8 1922, died July 31 2014

 

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