So, if you can give me your name, where and when you were born?
My name is Gerald Martin and I was born in Scotland in 1930 which makes me just coming up to 87.
Can you tell me about your family, what did your father do?
My father was an ear, Nose and Throat consultant at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, had been in the First World War, had won a medal then but by the Second World War he was of course over the top. My mother was a nurse, we were brought up in Scotland. That’s it.
What was it like growing up in Scotland?
Well, I grew up to the age of 9 in Scotland, I went to a school in Scotland outside Edinburgh but then from 9,10, 11, to 12 I was in America so I came back to Scotland and immediately went away to school to a boarding school in Scotland. But to me it was just home. I loved it and most of my life was spent with my grandparents in Inverness and farming in Inverness and doing holidays in Inverness so I loved it.
Can you remember the build up to war, what was the feeling like?
I was at a boarding school outside Edinburgh and in the summer holiday we went to my grandfathers in Inverness and there we went to church which we usually did and there we heard that war had been declared and from my point of view it was one of the first things I understood it had begun as I was only 9 and I began to understand what war was so that was the beginning of it and then when I went back to school outside Edinburgh I remember distinctly that we had a Heinkel aeroplane, German flying very low over the school having previously dropped a bomb in the Forth Bridge, which didn’t hit the Forth Bridge and at the same time my father went to hospitals outside Edinburgh to work and he had a bomb dropped just behind his car from another plane but that is the only war time that I knew really in Scotland.
What was like moving over to America? As a child the changes you saw from life in Scotland?
We were very lucky in that we weren’t evacuated to America, we went out with a lot of evacuees but in fact we were going to visit a great aunt of mine so that made our entrance into America a lot easier. The crossing was very difficult in that it was a packed ship with a lot of refugees coming from Germany and Holland. When we got to New York we were met by friends of my Aunts so that introduced us more easily and the other thing was that we always read the Geographic paper and it used to have advertisements for American cars so my brother and I knew American cars in New York and it was all great fun.
Did you ever worry about what might happen or was it sort of you were over there and at that point America wasn’t involved in the war…?
I think that we were excited, we had to cross my brother and I because he was 4 years older, I was 9 and he was 13 and we had to cross America by train all on our own, that was exciting but again we were met by friends in Los Angeles so it made life easier so it was all exciting.
How was the build up to war different in America.
In America, ridiculous. In the Hawaiian Islands they believed completely that they were safe that they could never be attacked that they could never have anything to do with war that they were just hidden in the ground not understanding and if you look at history you will see that time and time again they were warned and told that war was likely to come and they were likely to get bombed and by that time I was getting on for 11 and I was worried then because I thought this was the way I started in Scotland is it going to start here.
What were your day to day living conditions like over there?
Oh, very good, I was very lucky my Great Aunt lived in a lovely house overlooking the whole of Honolulu, the schools I went to there was the school President Obama went to. So, it was a very good school and I was very happy until Pearl Harbour.
What was the differences in the food?
Completely and utterly different from Scotland, that’s for sure. Very much more fancy fruits, we dug pineapples, sugar, pineapples, coffee all were like in the garden, all the fruits that now you can get in supermarkets they were all in our garden and because it was warm we tended to eat light things. Oh, it was fine.
You mentioned Pearl Harbour, can you tell me a little bit about that.
First of all, in retrospect anyone who had anything to do with the services had been told time and time again that war was likely to become and Japan was likely to attack but nobody paid any interest whatsoever, on the morning of the Sunday I was at my aunt’s house and she had a flat place on the roof that I used to go out and sit on, sitting on the roof I saw one plane, just one aeroplane and it was dropping what I thought must be flour bombs, you know dropping a big thing down on Honolulu and I ran in and said to my aunt, ‘There is a plane out there dropping’, and she said ‘Oh nonsense’. And because we lived up a valley near Honolulu we didn’t really hear or see what was going on in Pearl Harbour but later that Sunday morning I bicycled down into Honolulu to meet my friends there and then we saw all the flames and the fire in the distance and I actually have a paper that I bought in Honolulu at that time which says ‘War Has Been Declared’ and we cycled out to a friend of mine who lived in the hills above Pearly Harbour and we saw the whole of Pearl Harbour on fire we saw all the sinking ships, we saw through the binoculars looking down on the harbour it was just… terrible and I was only 11 but I was old enough and had enough experience particularly having travelled to realise that this was more than frightening, this was just terrible.
I was deeply disturbed because everything was on fire, it was fire more than anything and smoke because the bombers had left by the time I got there. There was still a few stragglers going but mainly the bombing was over but now the terrible fires, so the water covered with oil was just burning everywhere and even at that age I was frightened very much so and then being Sunday I was a Cub Scout and we met our Scout teacher in the evening and we went naturally to meet him would be about 5 o’clock, 4 o’clock and he took us to the, not to the military hospital but to the hospital in Honolulu where there were people who had been wounded, burnt, people who were dying or hanging all around and sulphur drugs, an antibiotic had just come into knowledge and it was a powder and with our cub master we went round powdering all the people who… it seemed funny that an 11 year old was asked to do this but I was the son of a doctor and he had said we must learn because this is the beginning of war and we can help so we had to powder all these people and that was the day of Pearl Harbour.
Following the day of Pearl Harbour, I think I’m right in saying a third of the population in Hawaii itself in Oahu were Japanese, we had 2 Japanese maids, my Aunt had 2 Japanese maids, Natzuko and Sudako who had been with her for 15 years. We had Japanese friends at school, were the Japanese on our side or were they not on our side and the first thing we heard were that the whole lot of them had been dragged off and put in a prison. They were perfectly normal ordinary people but the next thing was we heard that the water was poisoned and you mustn’t drink the water and the next we heard was that they had dropped a whole lot of bombs not in the airfields and around the harbour necessary but to do harm in the ground and so that the fear of all this went on then we understood that there were no planes. It was really rather silly now come to think of it because at night they started having blackout straight away, absolutely everything had to be completely and utterly black out but on the big island of Hawaii there was a volcano erupting and the sky was actually lit up, I mean we could see it 100 miles away, all the red so the Japanese didn’t have much trouble if they wanted to come and…. and everyone was, they just didn’t understand, they couldn’t believe that this was war and I think my brother and I were more sensitive to it. Moore realising that that was it, more appreciating that you wouldn’t be able to phone abroad, you wouldn’t be able to send letters abroad that you wouldn’t be able to get a boat abroad, that all this. Whereas they were rushing around madly trying to find a way out of Hawaii. Does that help?
Yes, at what point was the decision made to bring you home back to Scotland?
We wanted to get back as soon as Pearl Harbour was over, we thought we came out here to be safe, what on earth is the point of staying here because again the Americans thought my gosh they are going to bomb us all again and…. but there was no way, the ships that travelled between Hawaii and the United States, there just weren’t enough to take everyone so we were stuck there. We were enjoying school, we were with my aunt. So we merely wanted to go as soon as possible and when my brother was 16, 17 I think, he graduated from school and immediately wanted to go to college which would be back home in Britain but we couldn’t get back to Britain but we could get back to the United States to again friends of my aunts and he went to college and I went to a Quaker boarding school which was unusual but quite fun and it took us a year being there before we could get a boat back. After that year my brother was then old enough for the army so the British said come we will get you a boat because we want you for the army so he got a boat back and I was left but by some, I don’t quite know how it worked to be perfectly honest. But I got a job being a naval apprentice and I was only 13 at the time and as an apprentice I was put on board a carrier, a brand-new carrier that had just been built in America and was being shipped back with planes on board and so I got a carrier to get me back which was very nice.
How was it in coming back to Scotland from being in America, back to rationing…
That’s, I went back to boarding school just outside Edinburgh and that’s where I had been before and my first term I broke all the records for getting whacked by the headmaster for one reason or another and I had a pretty difficult time coming to terms but once that was over I was very happy to be back home and loved the school thereafter.
What was the feeling when war ended?
We marched, my school, we had cadets, a cadet body at school and we marched through Musselburgh which is just outside Edinburgh with bagpipes playing and it was great fun.
Can you tell me a little about your life after the war?
Yes, I was at school until I was 17 and qualified for university and went up to Edinburgh University to do medicine and spent the first 2 years doing medicine quite reasonably and my father died suddenly, unexpected and early and it knocked me sideways and I lost it and never did any work and they said you haven’t passed your exams and you will have to leave so I left university and was immediately taken up into National Service and sent of to the army, went through basic training and then luckily I was chosen as an officer and went through officer cadet and luckily I got this medal for that and went and joined the Tank Regiment and from the Tank Regiment I was sent out to Egypt in the middle east when Britain was trying to have a little battle with Egypt and following that my regiment was sent out to Hong Kong and I went out as a Tank commander and spent 10 months in Hong Kong loving it and came back and went back to Edinburgh and said words to the effect of ‘You know I’ve got over my father dying, I promise I can work’, and they set me some exams which I managed to pass and I became a doctor and having become a doctor I got married to a… it was 56 years ago and we started in Scotland in General Practice never meaning to leave Scotland as that was our home and we were both brought up there and out of the blue I had an invitation to go to Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire to do a job there which wasn’t just General Practice but also looking after a hospital. It was also doing all the maternity work and it was also looking after the veterinary corps which was also in Melton Mowbray and so I worked there for 40 years, yes 40 years I think then retired and by that time I had grandchildren and the grandchildren needed looking after so we moved into a smaller house so we could help out and we have been doing that ever since.
How do you think your experiences as a child shaped your experience as an adult?
I think they had much greater effect on me than I fully realized, I came through the whole of that 4 years in America and then the following early years at school I came through without apparently any upset, psychological upset but I think that it hit me slowly thereafter and I think that the fear that I had looking down on Pearl harbour I think the fear I had crossing 2 oceans and both times being chased apparently by submarines and on one occasion dropping bombs on submarines so called I think this disturbed me more than…. and then when my father died I think that just knocked me off.
And finally, do you have any words of advice for the future generations?
No, I don’t think that any generation can advise the following generation, there is so much that I want… I was very lucky in that we had 3 children and they developed well and followed the way we had been brought up to a very great extent but their children are completely different, they are young, they are into different things, they are into different ideas. I don’t think we can advise them because they live in a new world.
Thank you very much.