Lives Remembered

Alfie Martin: World War II veteran who penned book about escape from Nazi-occupied Europe

Alfie Martin pictured at Belfast City Hall at an event marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Picture by Hugh Russell

"Bail out!"

The last words heard by Alfie Martin on his stricken Halifax bomber - and the title of the book he later wrote - triggered a remarkable story of escape in Nazi-occupied Europe during the Second World War.

Having parachuted out of the burning plane in April 1943, the Belfast man landed in fields on the French-Belgian border and wandered for days before being found by a 12-year-old boy.

His family fed the airman and he ventured on before finding refuge in a barn for six weeks and making contact with the Resistance.

Alfie then embarked on a dangerous journey across France and Spain to Gibraltar complete his escape.

It involved secretive trips over mountains and through rivers, with his red hair dyed black as part of a disguise.

Decades later he still had Christmas cards from the boy who found him, and he put his memories to paper in honour of those who risked their lives - and in some cases lost them - to rescue men like him.

At an event at Belfast City Hall in 2015 marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, he also made an appeal for politicians to realise the 'peace on our time' he and other veterans had fought for.

“Please council, will you do your best to fulfil the peace, which we deserve, and create an understanding between individuals, which is so necessary. There is no difference between us – why should there be?”

Alfie, who lived in Dunmurry and was a long-time member of Dunmurry Golf Club, was born in Finaghy in 1920 and went to Friends' School in Lisburn before becoming a junior clerk with the Liverpool & London & Globe Insurance Company in Belfast's Wellington Place.

Forbidden by his mother from signing up with the RAF reserve, in January 1939 he joined a Territorial Army company of the Royal Engineers and was stationed at Kilroot, maintaining coastal searchlights, when the war began.

He volunteered for flying duties and was 23 and working as an observer in 102 Squadron of the RAF when his plane's fuselage was hit while making a six-hour journey through enemy territory from a raid on a factory in Czechoslovakia. All but the rear gunner escaped.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his exploits.

Alfie Martin died aged 97 on December 20 in the Somme Nursing Home in east Belfast.

Predeceased by his wife Barbara, he is survived by daughters Julie and Sheila.

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Lives Remembered