Wing Commander Derek Dudley Martin OBE
Born at Cheam July 4th 1920. Died April 4th 2014
Wing Commander Derek Martin, was the last surviving founder member of the Guinea Pig Club, formed by Second World War airmen who had undergone reconstructive surgery by the pioneering plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe.
He joined the RAF in 1938 and trained as a pilot before joining a Sunderland squadron.
He flew patrols over the Atlantic and survived a crash at Oban in September 1940.
In 1941 Martin was the 21-year-old captain of a Sunderland flying boat with No 210 Squadron.
On March 14 he was ordered at short notice to head into the Atlantic to search for a U-boat.
Returning after a 12-hour sortie, he began his descent towards Oban in total darkness.
The weather had deteriorated, visibility was poor and the sea was flat calm – making it very difficult to judge the height as the Sunderland prepared to land.
The aircraft hit the water and broke up.
Four of the crew were killed and the remaining seven injured – Martin the most severely of all.
His scalp was torn off and one eye was hanging from its socket .
The rescue crew, thinking he was dead, covered him with a blanket.
After three weeks in a local hospital, he was transferred to the Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead and came under the care of McIndoe, undergoing many operations and months of pain and discomfort.
Martin and a number of his disfigured colleagues decided to form a drinking club and, since they considered themselves ‘guinea pigs’, they called themselves the Guinea Pig Club.
Martin explained that membership was restricted to those who had suffered ‘disfiguring injuries from being boiled, mashed, or fried by enemy fire’.
He remained in hospital at East Grinstead for a year before returning to flying duties as an instructor.
He later commanded a Sunderland Ferry Unit at Pembroke Dock at the height of the Battle of the Atlantic.
In 1944 he left for the Far East and served as the chief of staff of a joint-Service planning team, preparing for an amphibious landing to reoccupy Malaya and Singapore.
In the event, the war against Japan ended before the operation could be mounted.
Martin then moved to Far East Air Force Headquarters in Singapore as staff officer in charge of maritime operations in South-East Asia, covering an area from India to Japan.
For his services he was appointed OBE.
On return to Britain he served in the Air Ministry and, while returning from a party in a taxi with several fellow adventurous spirits, decided to form the RAF Gliding and Soaring Association.
Martin remained a keen supporter, and patron, for the rest of his life.
Later he commanded an RAF flying station and flew the Meteor jet fighter before specialising in air signals and electronics.
He was the senior intelligence officer at HQ Signals Command before taking up an appointment with the Inspectorate of Radio Services.
He retired from the RAF in 1973.
In retirement Martin gave strong support to numerous ex-Service organisations, including the Guinea Pig Club, the Aircrew Association and the No 210 Squadron Association.
He remained passionate about the Sunderland flying boat, arranging for one of the last surviving aircraft to land on the Thames on August 6th 1982 and moor near Tower Bridge for a few weeks before it was flown to join a collection in America.
Martin was also patron of the Pembroke Dock Sunderland Trust, backing efforts to recover a sunken Sunderland.
Parts of the aircraft, which he had flown in 1940, are on display at the Pembroke Dock Flying Boat Centre, which Martin opened in 2009.
Derek Martin married, in 1950, Maimie Perry. She died in 1989, and he married his second wife, Betty, in 2005. She survives him with a stepdaughter from his first marriage.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.