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.

 

The 16th Battalion’s first Western Front death

The Australian 16th Battalion lost only one man during June 1916 when, on 23 June 1916, a very heavy thunderstorm passed over the area occupied by the battalion in northern France and a lightning strike killed Private Alfred Brooke.  Several other men were injured.

Brooke was buried at Erquinghem, a nearby town, on 24 June 1916. He was the first member of the 16th Battalion to die on the Western Front during the war.

Alfred Brooke was originally from New Zealand but had been living at Fremantle, Western Australia, when he enlisted. Efforts to track down his family history have been unsuccessful.

Where’s Mrs Sing? An update on the lost wife of the ‘Gallipoli Sniper’

An interest in any sort of history is an invitation to be distracted by things we encounter, and I was  distracted a few years ago after reading John Hamilton’s biography of Australia’s ‘Gallipoli Sniper’, Billy Sing (published by Pan Macmillan). A Queenslander of English and Chinese descent, Billy Sing was probably Australia’s most famous and successful snipers of the Gallipoli campaign.

As told by Hamilton and others Sing had married Elizabeth Stewart (see picture below) in Scotland in 1917 but the ultimate fate of his war bride was unknown. Some accounts suggest that she travelled back to Australia to be with him whilst other accounts suggest that she never left Scotland.

Not one to be deterred from a mystery, I got distracted and started looking for Mrs Elizabeth Sing. And I reckon I’ve tracked her down.

She didn’t travel to Australia to be with Billy. Elizabeth Sing fell pregnant to another man (whose identity is unknown) in Edinburgh at the same time that her husband was making arrangements for her to sail to Australia to be with him. She gave birth to a daughter in Scotland in September 1919 listing Billy as the father on the hospital records (although this was impossible as he’d left Britain more than a year earlier).

She remained in Scotland and fell pregnant, again. A son was born in May 1923. Although hospital information provided by Elizabeth suggest that Billy was the father, this was not possible as he had been in Queensland since late 1918 and she had remained in Scotland. It is possible that the father of the boy was a Maryborough (Queensland) born merchant seaman of Swedish descent, although I need to check shipping records more throughly to see if he was near Elizabeth around nine months before the son was born. It seems as though she may have lived in the London docks area just before coming to Australia.

In 1925 Elizabeth and her children moved from Scotland to Australia (she travelled under a third surname, neither Sing nor the seaman’s surname) and she lived with the above-mentioned Australian seaman in Sydney. Still married to Billy, she assumed the seaman’s surname (as did the children) and they lived as if they were married.

Both of Elizabeth’s children married and themselves had children, and descendants live in Wollongong, Sydney, and further afield. The descendants that I’ve managed to track down and engage are, sadly, not interested in the connection with Billy Sing nor Elizabeth’s Sing’s Scottish background.

Elizabeth and her de facto husband died in New South Wales during the 1970s and Elizabeth’s son and daughter died within the last decade or so. Billy Sing himself died in Brisbane in 1943.

It seems that the mystery of Mrs Sing is close to being solved.

Private Frederick Tremlett’s diary mentions O’Meara

It was a great privilege the other day to read through the pages of the diary kept by the 16th Battalion’s Private Frederick Tremlett during his First World War Service. The diary came to light when an elderly relative of Tremlett passed away recently.

Frederick Tremlett was a scout and worked closely with Martin O’Meara VC, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War.

Tremlett mentions O’Meara in the diary a couple of times.

Of most interest is the entry of 11 August 1918 in which Tremlett, O’Meara and another soldier bury a soldier called Morgan.

Private Arthur Morgan of the 16th Battalion scouts was killed in action on the afternoon of 8 August 1918, as told in my biography of O’Meara. Morgan was originally buried at Morcourt  by his mates but was reinterred at the Heath War Cemetery after the war.

Arthur Morgan had been awarded the Military Medal earlier in 1918.

Martin O’Meara VC’s condition improves … for a while.

The treatment of returned servicemen in Western Australia’s mental health system was a topic of some discussion during the early 1902s. An army hospital, ‘Stromness’ at Mosman Park, housed some of the men but more severe cases were accommodated at the Claremont Mental Hospital.

In early 1924, following lobbying by the RSL together with critical coverage in several Perth newspapers, the returned servicemen at Claremont were moved from the main wards to another ward (known as X Block) on the hospital campus.

This group of men included Sgt Martin O’Meara VC, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War.

On 19 May 1924 representatives of the RSL visited the men at X Block and reported that had been an improvement in the men’s conditions since the move; they also made specific reference to Martin O’Meara’s condition:

We are glad to report that the improvement in certain individual cases has been excellent … a V.C. hero, who before the R.S.L. took action to have the change brought about was deemed to be in a hopeless condition and was addicted to violent outbreaks, is now enjoying the limit of freedom, and spends most of his days in the open grounds tending a garden. It is hoped that he will soon regain the full vigour of his health and be well enough to return home. (Daily News, 26 May 1924, p.2.)

O’Meara, however, did not return home; he was to spend more than ten more years in mental hospitals in Perth, at Claremont, and then at the newly-built Lemnos Hospital, and then back to Claremont in late 1935. He passed away at Claremont in December 1935 and was buried at the nearby Karrakatta Cemetery. His Victoria Cross medal is held by the Army Museum of Western Australia at Fremantle.

Martin O’Meara’s story is told in a biography, published in 2016.