99 Years since Sgt Martin O’Meara VC admitted to a mental hospital

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.

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.