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Rear Admiral Sir David James MARTIN KCMG AO RAN
Commanded H.M.A. Ships Queenborough – Torrens – Supply – Melbourne
Chief of Naval Personnel 1982-1984
Flag Officer Naval Support Command 1984-1988
Governor of New South Wales 1989-1990

A Man of Courage and Devotion

David James Martin was born on 15 April 1933 at Darling Point, Sydney, the only child of Sydney-born parents William Harold Martin, Naval officer, and his wife Isla Estelle, née Murray.  His father was killed in action on 1 March 1942 when the cruiser HMAS Perth was sunk at the battle of Sunda Strait. 

David was educated at Scots College, Sydney, and in 1947 entered the Royal Australian Naval College, Flinders Naval Depot, Westernport, Victoria, as a Cadet Midshipman.  He was studious and an excellent sportsman, becoming Cadet Captain of his division and captaining the rugby union first XV in his final year (1950).

After training in Britain with the Royal Navy, Martin served (1951-52) in the aircraft carrier, HMAS Sydney, during the Korean War.  In 1953 he undertook further training in Britain and was promoted to Sub Lieutenant. 

Returning to Australia in 1954, he joined the aircraft carrier HMAS Vengeance the following year as an Officer of the Watch.  The ship sailed to Britain to pay off, and the ship's company transferred to the new aircraft carrier, HMAS Melbourne.  Promoted to Lieutenant in 1955, he was posted the following year to HMAS Torrens, a shore establishment in Adelaide.

On 5 January 1957 Martin married Suzanne Millear at All Saints Church of England, Willaura, Victoria.  Later that year he returned to England where, after attending specialist gunnery training, he undertook exchange service with the Royal Navy in the destroyer, HMS Battleaxe participating in the Cyprus Emergency, and the Iceland emergency (also known as the "Cod Wars"), in 1959–1960. 

He joined the destroyer, HMAS Voyager, in 1962 as Gunnery Officer and next year was promoted to Lieutenant Commander.  Martin left the ship in August - six months before it sank in a collision with HMAS Melbourne on 10 February 1964 - to become weapons adviser on the naval staff at Australia House, London. 

In 1966 he trained at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, before returning home to take up an appointment as Executive Officer in the destroyer, HMAS Vampire.  Later that year he gave evidence at the second royal commission into the loss of the Voyager.  Promoted to Commander in 1967, he was appointed in July as Executive Officer of the Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay, Australian Capital Territory.  There he made a significant impression on a cohort of young officers.

In 1969 Martin took command of the training frigate HMAS Queenborough, and the following year he was appointed Fleet Operations Officer, responsible for the movements and activities of all Australian naval units.  In 1972 he attended the Joint Services Staff College, Weston Creek, Canberra, and in December was promoted to Captain.  He then became Director of Naval Reserves and Cadets.  Although it was a low profile position, he approached it with vigour and imagination.

In 1974 Martin returned to sea as Commanding Officer of the destroyer escort, HMAS Torrens, and Commander of the Third Destroyer Squadron.  During a successful command, Torrens escorted HMY Britannia from Norfolk Island to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, in February during Queen Elizabeth II’s tour of the South-West Pacific.  From 1975 to 1977 he worked as director, capability review, within the force development and analysis section, Department of Defence, which assessed future force structure options.  This civilian-dominated section generally viewed its uniformed members with suspicion but Martin demonstrated an excellent ability to get on with a diverse range of people.  He subsequently served for seven months as Deputy Chief of Navy Materiel.

By this time Martin was being prepared for flag rank.  From 1978 he served briefly as Commanding Officer of the tanker, HMAS Supply, before being promoted to Commodore in January 1979 and assuming command of HMAS Melbourne.  As a Commanding Officer, Martin was again well liked.

In 1980 he went to Britain once more, this time as a student at the prestigious Royal College of Defence Studies, London.  On returning to Australia in 1981 he was appointed Director-General of Naval Manpower, Canberra, a difficult role in which he excelled.  He served as a councillor of the Australian Naval Institute and as president of the Navy Ski Club.  Martin was promoted to Rear Admiral and appointed Chief of Naval Personnel in April 1982.  This was a particularly demanding job as the Navy had downsized after the government’s decision not to replace HMAS Melbourne.  Adding to his burden, he was diagnosed with emphysema.

In 1984 Martin became Flag Officer, Naval Support Command, Sydney, the Navy’s fourth most senior position.  In addition to the heavy administrative load, the job entailed a substantial social dimension, the pinnacle of which was his organisation of the shore-based activities of the RAN's 75th birthday celebrations.  With his communication skills and experience, he was ideally suited to this post and did much to rebuild the Navy's post-carrier standing and morale.  In 1985 he was appointed AO.....

.....for his contributions as Chief of Naval Personnel.

Martin, who retired from the Navy in February 1988, possessed a ready smile and a sparkle of the eye that left a lasting impression on many he met.  He was one of the most admired and respected naval officers of his era and his rapport with sailors was exceptional.  Later in 1988 Martin received the New South Wales Father of the Year Award and in August he accepted the Government’s offer to become the State’s 34th Governor.  Sworn in on 20 January 1989, he was the first RAN officer to hold the position.  In December he was appointed KCMG.

His Governorship was marked by less formality, but retained the pomp and ceremony.  Handsome and charismatic, Sir David became hugely popular and was dubbed the people’s governor by the media. 

During his time as Governor of NSW, Sir David Martin witnessed many young people caught in the destructive world of drugs, alcohol, homelessness and abuse.  Whenever he met them, he sought to encourage them to develop their undiscovered potential so they may better their lives.

In a speech to the Australia Day Council of New South Wales, Sir David expressed his concern for the young people of Australia.

“…All those youngsters living away from their homes, in the back streets, the tunnels and the gutters, existing on a diet of drugs, violence, sickness and disease, cold, hopelessness and loneliness.  That’s a big mess to clean, but we shouldn’t have let it get so fouled up.  Every one of us has to try harder to bring all children up properly and prepare them to inherit Australia from us.  These children are our most important assets for Australia’s future, yet we are carelessly squandering those assets….”

Martin’s sense of humanity, his deep concern for the less fortunate and his awareness of the need to provide practical ways to help improve their circumstances were recognised in the establishment of the Sir David Martin Foundation, ( which assists disadvantaged youth in NSW.


In 1990 David was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer caused by asbestos, to which he was exposed during his Naval career.  He engendered much respect and sympathy when seen struggling for breath during the final days of his service as Governor.  In a public announcement in August, he revealed his condition and impending resignation.

In early August 1990, Sir David, accompanied by his wife Suzanne, announced his retirement

On 7 August 1990 he and Lady Martin left Government House intending to retire in Sydney.  Survived by his wife, and their two daughters and son, he died at Darlinghurst three days later, on 10 August, aged 57, and, after a State funeral, was cremated.

State Funeral for Rear Admiral Sir David James Martin KCMG AO RAN

At his funeral the Premier of New South Wales Nick Greiner noted:

With the sad passing last week of Sir David Martin, Australia lost one of its most distinguished citizens.  After a proud career of public service with the Royal Australian Navy, Sir David made the Office of Governor of New South Wales extremely accessible.

After his death, Woollahra Council named the former site of HMAS Rushcutter in Rushcutters Bay as the "Sir David Martin Reserve" in his honour.

Sir David Martin Reserve, Rushcutters Bay


An Anzac reflection by Sir David Martin's son - Captain Will Martin RAN
April 24, 2020 - Sydney Morning Herald

When I was a little boy aged eight, my dad encouraged me to join him at an event that remains etched in my mind.  “It’s a very important event and you’re now old enough to experience it,” he told me.

The event was the Anzac Day dawn service in Martin Place.  The year was 1972, when Australia still had a handful of troops in Vietnam.  But I was oblivious to all that.  I was just a kid hanging out with his father.

Sir David Martin with his son Will.

The morning was clear but cool and my mother had sent me off in one of those big coats that had wooden toggles instead of buttons.  Most people seemed to be smoking.  Very old men with jangly medals were helped from cars.

I proudly held Dad’s hand.  He was my hero, a dashing Navy officer who had been Captain of a very impressive warship.  He was in uniform, wearing his medals.  I watched fascinated by the strange ritual of people saluting one another.

The service meandered along; people read poems and sang songs.  Then everything went eerily quiet ... until another man in uniform started playing what I assumed was a trumpet.  Something changed.

Dad’s grip on my hand tightened, just enough for me to look up and see tears slipping down his cheeks.  The foundations of my young life shifted.  My invincible, fearless warship captain father had been brought to tears by two notes on what I now know was a bugle.

I was confused.  It took me several years to join the dots.  I think I knew in 1972 that Dad’s father had been killed in a sea battle but I hadn’t realised that Dad himself had been a little boy of eight when his mother had received an awful telegram:  “With deep regret I have to inform you your husband, Commander William Harold Martin RAN, is missing as a result of enemy action.  Minister for the Navy and the Naval Board desire to express to you their sincere sympathy.”

It was March 1942 and Dad’s father was MIA, people said, “missing in action”.  My dad wrote optimistic letters to his missing father for the rest of the war.  He wrote near the end of the war: “Dear Daddy, I hope you are quite well.  We have been keeping the house and garden in order – both jobs are tedious!”  He signed off: “I’m itching to see you after these three and a half years.  I’ve been looking after mummy for you.  Love David.”

Soon after the war ended, his mother received further correspondence from the authorities:  “Exhaustive investigations have been conducted and with deep regret I must inform you that no hope can now be held that your husband has survived the war.”

The boy, my dad, had lost his father, a zealous young second-in-command of HMAS Perth, one of Australia’s most famous fighting ships, in the Battle of Sunda Strait, off Indonesia.  The Japanese invasion force had sunk the Perth.  William “Pincher” Martin, like 357 of his 680 shipmates, had “no grave but the cruel sea, no flowers lay at his head, a rusting hulk is his tombstone, afast on the ocean bed”.  Perhaps it was these words, from the Naval Ode, that were on Dad’s mind as he wept quietly with me at dawn in 1972.

The greatest 'Leader in Service'

"My Father, was a remarkable leader in all facets of his life.  But it was his innate want during 41 years in the Navy and 18 months in public life, to serve downwards, rather than look upwards, that made him standout."      Will Martin - August 2020.

Royal Australian Navy
Sydney Morning Herald
Waterline Leadership
Sir David Martin Foundation