Today marks the 99th anniversary of Sergeant Martin O’Meara, Australia’s only Irish-born VC of the First World War, being hospitalised in Western Australia following a mental breakdown. O’Meara had arrived back in Western Australia on the troopship Arawa a week or so earlier, but had been in quarantine at Woodman’s Point Quarantine Station due to concerns about possible flu cases on that ship.
On 13 November 1918, he was transferred to the 24th Australian Auxiliary Hospital (‘Stromness’), a thirty-bed army facility for the mentally ill located on the corner of St Leonard’s Street and Monument Street at Mosman Park in suburban Perth. Stromness had been established by the Australian Government to accommodate returned soldiers with mental problems who were being accommodated (unsatisfactorily) in the Western Australian Government’s mental health system.
It had earlier been described as ‘a well built stone house with nine good lofty rooms … It is an ideal place for mentally afflicted cases.’ Stromness was under the command of Captain (later Major) J. Theo Anderson, who was also the Western Australian Government’s Inspector-General of the Insane under the Lunacy Act 1903. Anderson travelled to Stromness from the nearby Claremont Hospital for the Insane on a regular basis to attend to the patients.
In December 1918 Captain Anderson reported that ‘this patient is suffering from Delusional Insanity, with hallucinations of hearing and sight, is extremely homicidal and suicidal, and requires to be kept in restraint’.
The West Australian newspaper reported on 14 November 1918 that ‘arrangements which were made to tender a civic reception to Sergeant O’Meara V.C. and other returned Anzacs unfortunately have to be postponed owing to the serious indisposition of the V.C. winner’.
On 17 November 1918 the Sunday Times newspaper reported that Martin O’Meara had returned to Perth ‘but is unfortunately ill’, but did not elaborate on the nature of his illness.
Martin O’Meara remained in mental hospitals in Western Australia for the rest of his life, and passed away at the Claremont Mental Hospital in December 1935.
He is buried at Perth’s Karakatta Cemetery.
His story is told in my biography The most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen, which was published in 2016.