Martin O’Meara’s VC is Gazetted…

Official notice that Private Martin O’Meara of the 16th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, had been awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery was published in the London Gazette on this day in 1917

O’Meara was the only Irish-born Australian soldier to receive the Victoria Cross during the First World War.

Notice of Victoria Cross awards to other Australians were also published the same day: Lieutenant Arthur Blackburn, Private William Jackson, Private John Leak, and Private Thomas Cook.

Martin O’Meara remained with the 16th Battalion until late August 1918 when he was transferred to London and then returned to Australia to participate in recruitment-related activities. The war ended shortly after he arrived at Fremantle, Western Australia.

O’Meara suffered a serious mental breakdown in November 1918 and spent the rest of his life in mental hospitals. He died in 1935.

His story is told in the biography The most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen.

Remarkably, the Victoria Cross recommendation from his Commanding Officer was made on 13 August 1916, less than a month before notice was gazetted. During that time the recommendation would have passed to the brigade commander, and then the divisional commander, and finally the corps commander before finally making it to the War Office in London. From there it would have been submitted to Buckingham Palace.

The RAAF’s worst peacetime air disaster

This coming week marks the 45th anniversary of the RAAF’s worst peacetime air disaster, the crash of a Caribou transport aircraft from 38 Squadron in Papua New Guinea’s Morobe province on 28 August 1972. With 29 on board (three RAAF crew and 26 passengers) the aircraft disappeared en-route from Lae to Port Moresby.

Most of the passengers were PNG high school cadets from the 35th Cadet Battalion, returning home from their annual cadet camp in Lae. They were accompanied by an Australian Army officer and a Cadet officer, also from Australia.

 

Despite an intensive search by RAAF, Army and civilian aircraft, the Caribou remain undiscovered for several days due to its remote location and extensive tree canopy.

A searching Army Sioux helicopter located several survivors who had walked from the crash site. RAAF Iroquois were called, and the survivors were able to lead crew to the crash site, which was near the crest of a ridge. The survivors were evacuated by helicopter that evening.

Only four of those onboard survived, all cadets. Excerpts from the official RAAF Inquiry (see picture) name those on board and describe their fate.

Army engineers were able to construct a temporary helipad near the crash site, and Iroquois helicopters ferried investigators and others in and out over the coming weeks. A cross was erected on the helipad before the site was abandoned.

A memorial service is held each year at de la Salle High School at Bomana, near Port Moresby, where most of the cadets were students.

 

 

 

 

On this day in 1916 and 1917

Martin O’Meara, Australia’s only Irish born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War was wounded in action three times in 1916 and 1917, with two of those occurrences being serious enough to require evacuation to England and subsequent hospitalisation.

Both evacuations occurred on 18 August, firstly on 18 August 1916 after he was wounded near Pozieres on 12 August 1916, and secondly on 18 August 1917 after being wounded near Messines.

He returned to the Western Front following both evacuations, and returned to Western Australia in November 1918.

Sadly, he suffered a serious mental breakdown from which he never recovered and died in Perth in December 1935. He story is told in biography The most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen, which was published in 2016.

Martin O’Meara VC starts rescuing the wounded…

Martin O’Meara, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War, started to rescue wounded men from No Man’s Land near Pozières on 9 August 1916.

O’Meara was a scout with the 16th Battalion, and was patrolling No Man’s Land in the early hours of 9 August 1916, following a disastrous attack on German positions by the 15th Battalion the previous night, when he encountered many seriously wounded Australian (from the 15th Battalion)  and British (from the Suffolk Regiment) men. He was able to removed a number of them to safety during the course of the day. The 16th Battalion attacked the same German positions that evening, with better results.

O’Meara remained with the 16th Battalion in the front line until 12 August 1916 when the unit was withdrawn, and was himself wounded on 12 August 1916.

On 8 September 1916, whilst he was recovering in hospital in London, the announcement was made that  O’Meara had been awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions the previous month:

HIS MAJESTY THE King has been graciously pleased to award the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned soldier:-

No. 3970 Private MARTIN O’MEARA

For most conspicuous bravery. During four days of very heavy fighting he repeatedly went out and brought in wounded officers and men from “No Man’s Land” under intense artillery and machine gun fire. He also volunteered and carried up ammunition and bombs through a heavy barrage to a portion of the trenches, which was being shelled at this time. He showed throughout an utter contempt of danger, and undoubtedly saved many lives.

O’Meara returned to Australia in November 1918, but suffered a serious mental breakdown and spent the rest of his life in several mental hospitals in Perth. He died in 1935.

Martin O’Meara’s story is told in The Most Fearless and Gallant Soldier I Have Ever Seen, published in 2016.

Six Australians presented with VC medals at Buckingham Palace

On 21 July 1917, in the forecourt outside Buckingham Palace, King George V presented six Australian Victoria Cross recipients with their medals. The Australians were Captain James Newland (12th Battalion), Sergeant John Whittle (12th Battalion), Corporal George Howell (1st Battalion), Private Jorgen Jensen (50th Battalion), Private Bede Kenny (2nd Battalion) and Private Martin O’Meara (16th Battalion).

Martin O’Meara VC at Buckingham Palace.

The King also presented a number of  Victoria Crosses to non-Australian recipients.

The presentation ceremony started at 11.00am and lasted nearly one and a half hours, with the Times newspaper reporting that:

Each man’s name was called singly, and Colonel Clive Wigram read a summary of the record of services for which the V.C. was awarded. Perfect silence was maintained until the King had actually pinned on each decoration, shaken hands with the recipient, and said a few congratulatory words.

A couple of years ago , whilst researching my biography of Martin O’Meara VC, I stumbled across some old footage of him getting his VC from the King. Click here to have a look. O’Meara appears at about the 21 second mark.

 

 

 

 

 

Biography of Martin O’Meara VC now on sale at discounted price

We’re getting close to the 100th anniversary of Martin O’Meara VC’s presentation with his Victoria Cross medal by King George V at Buckingham Palace in London. O’Meara was presented with his medal on 21 July 1917.

He was Australian’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War, and received the award for bravery at Pozieres in August 1916. Born in Lorrha, County Tipperary, O’Meara travelled to Australia before the First World War. He enlisted at Collie, Western Australia, in 1915, and joined the 16th Infantry Battalion after training at Blackboy Hill near Perth.

O’Meara returned to Western Australia in November 1918 but suffered a serious mental breakdown shortly after his arrival. He spent the rest of his life in mental hospitals in Perth and died in December 1935. He is buried at Perth’s Karrakatta Cemetery,

To commemorate this anniversary I’ve taken 20% off the price of The most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen, my biography of Martin O’Meara VC.

Click here to purchase the book. 

It will be available at the discounted price until 21 July 2017.

 

The ‘Gallipoli Sniper’ gets married in 1917

Private Billy Sing, the ‘Gallipoli Sniper’, married Elizabeth Addison Stewart on this day in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1917. Billy was on leave from hospital in England when he visited Edinburgh and met Elizabeth, who was described on the marriage certificate as a ‘restaurant waitress’.

Billy returned to his unit, the 31st Infantry Battalion, shortly after the wedding and spent much of 1917 and 1918 on the Western Front. He returned to Australia in 1918 and took up land in central Queensland.

Elizabeth Sing remained in Edinburgh and subsequently had two children (a girl in 1919 and a boy in 1923), neither fathered by her husband. Travelling under a different name, she brought her children to Sydney in 1925 and died in Sydney in 1977 having spent her time in Australia living with (but not married to) an Australian merchant seaman who she’d met in Edinburgh in the early 1920s.

Sadly, Billy Sing had died in Brisbane in 1943.

Billy Sing’s story (but excluding material on Elizabeth’s fate after 1918) is told in John Hamilton’s biography Gallipoli Sniper.