Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Loretta Martin was 21 years younger than her husband Albert.
Loretta Martin was 21 years younger than her husband Albert.

Loretta Mary Martin, one of the last links to First World War’s famed Newfoundland Regiment, dies at 91 Add to ...

One of the last living links to the Newfoundland Regiment has died.

Loretta Martin was the widow of Albert Martin, who enlisted to fight The Great War in 1916.

It is almost unbelievable that, almost a century after that conflict began, there would still be a spouse living, but it came about through the combination of an underage soldier who later married a much younger woman.

 Martin died on Aug. 2.

The Newfoundland Regiment was a volunteer force that earned great distinction during the First World War – including the honour of adding the prefix “Royal,” bestowed by King George V in 1917.

“To many Newfoundlanders, the regiment is the means by which Newfoundland became a player, in a small role, on the world stage,” said Bert Riggs, archivist with Manuscripts and Special Collections at Memorial University.

“Through the regiment, we gained a sense of independence, moving from a colony to a people. People had pictures of the soldiers in their homes, and treated them with reverence and pride.”

Loretta Mary Martin was born Feb. 12, 1921, in her family home on King’s Bridge Road in St. John’s, to Thomas Smyth, a businessman, and Katherine (Murphy); she was one of eight children.

She studied at Presentation Convent and then Commercial School. She passed her courses but never received her actual certificate – the ship carrying the official documents was sunk by enemy action.

Her class was simply granted their status and she became a secretary. She worked briefly for Monroe Fisheries before moving to the American Base at Fort Pepperrell, where the pay was good.

Among her duties was paying the bands who performed for the soldiers, and she remembered working with a slim, bespectacled young officer named John Williams, who went on to become the Hollywood composer of Star Wars fame.

In the summer of 1959, the Queen embarked on a national Royal tour that included a stopover in Corner Brook. Martin, a staunch monarchist, decided to take a vacation so she could join the festivities.

Amid all the pageantry, she met Albert Martin, a widower. His first wife, Margaret Edens, had died, leaving him with four children: Peggy, Joan, Leonard and Marty.

Some women might have found this, or their 21-year age difference, an obstacle.

But not Martin. It was something of a whirlwind romance, and they didn’t just get married, but eloped to Montreal.

They honeymooned in the U.S. South and settled in Corner Brook. Albert worked at Bowater’s (now Kruger), where he was eventually promoted to general manager of the pulp-and-paper mill.

His residence, Corner Brook House, was designed by American architect Andrew R. Cobb as a major townsite commission.

Daughter Katie was born in 1961.

Martin retired in 1965. He then spent a year and a half working in Stephenville with Harmon Power, and then decided, as he didn’t care if he ever saw snow again, the family should move to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

There he golfed and snorkelled. Always athletic, he had been inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame in 1974, for his achievements – in the 1920s – in several fields including track, tennis and cricket.

This was all the more remarkable as he had come out of the war shot, captured, imprisoned and forced to work the coal mines of Westphalia.

Albert Mortimer Martin was born in St. John’s Jan. 9, 1900, one of about a dozen children of William, a bureaucrat, and, Ellen (Rowe), whose father had come to St. John’s to be the organist at the Anglican Cathedral.

He was underage when he enlisted in 1916, but likely had his parent’s support, as the patriotic family already had two sons in the Regiment, Ronald and Edward.

Albert Martin’s Regiment number was 3274. He was wounded and taken prisoner at Monchy-le-Preux in April, 1917, during the Battle of Arras. He had shrapnel in his hip, which was never removed.

As there were no antibiotics, it was more dangerous to operate than to leave it alone.

Katie said her father rarely talked about the war.

“Like most [of the veterans] he would never tell the bad stuff, only the funny stuff.”

But once, when she was a teenager, she came home and, as teenagers do, said, “I’m starved.”

He said, “How dare you say that, you were never hungry.”

They were both upset, and Katie went to her room.

“My mother came to my room and explained.

“When he came home from the war he was 5 foot 11, and 96 pounds (44 kilograms).

“And that’s after a month in hospital in London. That’s starving.”

All three Martin brothers survived the war.

Albert died in St. John’s on Oct. 28, 1978, of complications from a broken hip.

After his death his wife and daughter moved back to St. John’s.

Martin kept busy volunteering with the St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital Auxiliary, the Catholic Women’s League, the IODE, the Newfoundland Symphony Guild and NONIA.

She also played cards and mah-jong, and until very recently was independent.

And she was always an ardent Newfoundlander: She once argued with Statistics Canada about completing the long census form; she had listed her birthplace as “Newfoundland,” and received a call that it should properly be cited as “Canada.”

But Martin would have none of that.

Newfoundland was not part of Canada in 1921, she argued, and won.

Martin has also had a cousin in the regiment, Thomas Smyth.

He, like her husband, had been a German POW, emerging from that trial with tuberculosis, and he died soon after the war.

Martin had his photo and some other artifacts, which she saved and gave to the Memorial Archives.

“You go around this province and in almost every community of any size there is some memorial, perhaps a plaque on a church wall, or a cenotaph, and that is not covered in weeds, it is cared for,” Riggs said.

“That link has never been severed.”

Martin leaves her daughter and four stepchildren.

Editor's note: An Aug. 18, 2012, obituary of Loretta Mary Martin (Smyth) incorrectly said she was the last living link to the Newfoundland Regiment. In fact, there are at least two other surviving widows.

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories