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Originally published Friday, March 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM



British airman shared his wartime experiences

The date was June 12, 1944. It was the 28th mission of the Royal Air Force's Lancaster bomber, flying from its base at RAF Waterbeach near...

Times Snohomish County Bureau

The date was June 12, 1944. It was the 28th mission of the Royal Air Force's Lancaster bomber, flying from its base at RAF Waterbeach near Cambridge, England.

Eight men were on board.

Over occupied Holland, the plane was shot down by a German aviator. Of the eight men, only three survived.

Gerald Martin, the crew's flight engineer, was one of them.

"He was picked up by two young Dutch boys who would go out every evening looking for airmen," said his wife, Ruth. "They hid him in a farmhouse, and he ended up in a bakery in the little town of Nijverdal."

The Dutch family risked their lives to save Mr. Martin. When the Germans did house-to-house raids, there was a "hidey hole," a false panel upstairs behind the mansard roof, where he could hide until the raid was over.

When Allied forces completed the liberation of Holland in 1945, Mr. Martin was free. He moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where he ran a business involving cranes and excavating equipment for 35 years while also flying volunteer missions for the Red Cross.

Mr. Martin, 85, died of cancer March 5 at his farm in Snohomish. Mr. Martin's family has a remarkable amount of oral history and memorabilia as a result of his wartime experiences, from photos to the silk escape maps issued to airmen.

Mr. Martin returned to Holland in 1999 and met the German pilot, Dieter Schmidt, who had shot his airplane down. The two former enemies visited the crash site and retrieved bits of the airplane that had been plowed up. Mr. Martin also visited a crewmate's family in Australia to share stories and photos of one of the young RAF fliers who didn't make it that day in 1944.

"He was very, very good about sharing the experiences. You kind of figure these guys are going to go on forever," Ruth Martin said of her husband, a native of Croydon, England.

"He was the most vital and active person," she said. "After the war, his life was 10 lives."

Mr. Martin met his wife, formerly of Colorado, in South Africa. They married in 1972 and came to the U.S. in 1982 to be closer to her family. The pair and their children settled in Edmonds before moving in 1999 to Snohomish, where they renovated a house and an old dairy barn on 10 acres.

Mr. Martin worked in fabrication for many years, later running his own business in Lynnwood. Known as "Metal Man," "he did just about everything — fabrication, repairs, welding," Ruth Martin said. "He would undertake the unusual and difficult jobs."

Mr. Martin also was a sailor, building a 60-foot steel ketch and sailing it from Cape Town to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Ruth Martin describes life with her husband as "a total adventure. There was never a dull moment. He would get out of bed every day with something he was looking forward to doing."

Mr. Martin was a keen reader of history, and his wife says, "The person he most admired, which you can say of Britons of that era, was Winston Churchill."

In the face of opposition, that great leader once wrote his mother, "I believe in myself."

"That absolutely describes my husband," said Ruth Martin. "He believed in himself. He was confident he could make things work."

Besides his wife, Mr. Martin is survived by daughters Caroline Adam, of Kirkland, Eliza Martin-Mazzeo, of Edmonds, and Jessica McIvor, of Sammamish; son David Martin, of Seattle; and four grandchildren. In England, he is survived by Jane Wallis, his daughter by a previous marriage; and two grandchildren.

A celebration of Mr. Martin's life will be held from 1-4 p.m. March 29 at his farm, 20320 10th Place S.E., Snohomish, with remarks at 2:30 p.m.

Remembrances in the name of Gerald Martin may be made to Providence Hospice,, or to prostate-cancer research at

Diane Wright: 425-745-7815 or

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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