Remembering Terry Hayes DFC

I was saddened to hear of the passing this week of Terry Hayes DFC, formerly of the Australian Army Aviation Corps. A decorated helicopter pilot from the Vietnam conflict, Terry’s efforts in 1972 are largely unknown.

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A RAAF Caribou aircraft carrying three crew and 26 passengers had disappeared whilst flying between Lae and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea on the afternoon of 28 August 1972. A search operation was started late that afternoon involving a range of RAAF, Army and civilian aircraft.

Lieutenant Terry Hayes from the  Army’s Lae-based 183rd Reconnaissance Flight had been involved, flying a Sioux helicopter, in the search for the missing Caribou since the morning of 29 August 1972. Hayes had previously flown Sioux helicopters in Vietnam and had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for safely landing after his helicopter had been shot down in November 1970.

On 31 August 1972 he was flying Army Sioux A1-640 and had taken off from Wau in Morobe province at 1.36pm to search the local area. After searching the area allotted to him, he had some fuel remaining and decided to do another search of the Korpera River valley area south of Wau. The Army aviators had been unhappy with the level of effort given to searching the Korpera River valley and Kudjeru Gap areas earlier in the week and decided to do a further search of the area.

The search was a slow process and conducted at a relatively low height above the jungle canopy. Hayes later recalled:

I was working my way down the river valley on the southern side of the gap.The gap is around 9,500 ft, and I was down to tree top level at about 8,000 ft, circling over the canopy using rotor wash to blow away the trees in order to see the ground, well below. 

At around 3.00pm that day Hayes spotted smoke near the banks of the Korpera River about 33 kilometres south-southwest of Wau. The smoke caught his attention and he flew closer to investigate, spotting two people. He later recalled:

The jungle canopy covered the terrain as far as the eye could see, with no breaks at all, never mind places to land. The first thing I saw was smoke drifting through the treetops, and on moving to that area, saw two boys in jungle green shorts and shirts, waving frantically.

One of the survivors, Patrick Gau, later recalled that Terry Hayes waved from his helicopter and threw red and yellow powder onto the foliage near where they were standing.

Unable to land because of the jungle and without any ability to rescue the boys, he radioed for support, and two Army Pilatus flew to the area. Hayes recalled that the first Porter probably arrived within fifteen minutes.  It then circled above Hayes’ Sioux helicopter to relay radio messages as the Sioux’s VHF radio was not effective in mountainous terrain.  The Porter relayed a message to the Rescue Co-ordination Centre:

A703 SIGHTING IN MIDDLE OF KUDGEROO OF SQ H TWO YOUNG FELLOWS IN ARMY ISSUE SHORTS ONE WAVING A RED FLAG AND ONE A BLUE SHIRT.

Another Pilatus Porter aircraft went in search of the RAAF Iroquois helicopters which were also involved in the search, as he had been unable to make radio contact with them. The Iroquois helicopters were each fitted with a winch and carried a crewman and were the only option available to rescue the survivors. The RAAF Iroquois subsequently arrived in the area and winched the survivors to safety. They were then able to guide the searchers to the Caribou crash site several kilometres away near a mountain ridge.

Hayes’ decision to persist in the search for the missing Caribou was undoubtedly the single factor that saw the survivors rescued and the crash site located.

The two RAAF Iroquois commanders were subsequently awarded the Air Force Cross (AFC) for their work in the rescue and recovery effort and several Army personnel were made Members of the Order of Australia (AM) for work in the rescue and recovery at the crash site. The contribution of Terry Hayes was largely forgotten.

O’Meara visits the grave of Willie Redmond MP

Today I was fortunate to have Tom Burke from Dublin send me a copy of a page from the visitors’ book kept at the grave of Irish nationalist MP Willie Redmond. Redmond had been elected to the House of Representatives and was aged 53 when he died on 7 June 1917 whilst serving as a Major with the Royal Irish Rifles. An Irish nationalist himself, Martin O’Meara, Australia’s only Irish-born VC of the First World War, visited the grave in February 1918 when his battalion was stationed nearby.

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Martin O’Meara’s VC medal returning to Ireland

The Victoria Cross medal awarded to Martin O’Meara, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War, will be in Ireland within a few days. This is the first time the medal has been in Ireland since late 1917 when O’Meara briefly visited his family in Co. Tipperary.

The medal is owned by the Australian Government and is being lent to the National Museum of Ireland where it will be on public display.

Coincidentally, today is the 102nd anniversary of Martin O’Meara visiting Buckingham Palace to be presented with the medal by King George V. A few years ago, whilst researching my biography of Martin O’Meara, 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.

The Most Fearless and Gallant Solider I Have Ever Seen, the biography of Martin O’Meara VC, is available to order worldwide from a wide range of online outlets including Lulu, Amazon, Booktopia, Foyles, Waterstones, Angus & Robertson, Books Kinokuniya, WH Smith, FlipkartBooks-a-Million, Fishpond, Walmart, Alibris, Dubray Books, Book Depository, Powells, Wordery, Regimental Books and Barnes & Noble.

It’s also stocked at the Army Museum of Western Australia.

 

 

101 Years since Martin O’Meara VC honoured in his home town

On 24 November 1916 Private Martin O’Meara, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War, was honoured at a well-attended ceremony at Lorrha, his home village in County Tipperaary in Ireland. Except, however, that he wasn’t actually present to be honoured.

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The Kings County Chronicle reported that:

The little village of Lorrha in North Tipperary was en fete last Friday on the occasion of the presentation to Martin O’Meara, V.C., who hails from the district. By motor car, by brake, by side car, by cycle, and by foot came hundreds of people to testify their pride in the bravery displayed by the gallant North Tipperary man. A platform was erected in a ball alley by the side of a venerable old abbey. Gaily decorated poles with the Union Jack and the Shamrock added a bright appearance to the scene. Fortunately the weather was sunny and bright if a trifle windy.

The ceremony started at 1.00pm. The list of attendees included a broad cross section of the notable personalities from King’s County (no Offaly) and County Tipperary, as well as Meara’s brothers (presumably Thomas, Hugh and John O’Meara), his sister Alice, and his cousin John O’Meara (‘better known as Doctor’, according to the Kings County Chronicle) who made a brief speech.

Another newspaper account noted that ‘a very large gathering’ saw his sister Alice O’Meara presented with a ‘valuable gold watch.’ Alice received the watch on behalf of her brother who had left Ireland by this time and was in England.

We do not know exactly why Martin O’Meara did not attend the ceremony. It is possible that he did not want all the attention, or perhaps he was uncomfortable with being involved in what was, more or less, a recruitment rally for the British Army. He was a devout Roman Catholic and nationalist political views, even if he was not a Sinn Féin supporter.

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These factors in tandem suggest a tendency towards uneasiness about being publicly identified with the British Army.

Previous Irish Victoria Cross winners had been regarded with contempt by some of the more radical nationalists; Michael O’Leary VC, of County Cork, had addressed several meetings in Ireland during 1915 and received a mixed reception:
They brought Michael O’Leary, who had won the Victoria Cross, to one of their recruiting meetings but we gave them a bad reception by continuously boohing, shouting and singing rebel songs.

This story forms part of my biography of Martin O’Meara which is now available from various places. This biography provides an account of Martin O’Meara’s life from his birth in County Tipperary in 1885 to his death at the Claremont Mental Hospital in Perth, Western Australia, in 1935.99

A Christmas gift for those interested in the Victoria Cross

Looking for a Christmas gift for those interested in recipients of the Victoria Cross? Or perhaps somebody interested in Irish or Western Australian military history?

Here’s the updated list of the places where you can purchase my biography of Martin O’Meara VC, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War.

Amazon

Angus & Robertson Bookworld

Boffins

Bol (Netherlands)

Book Depository

Booktopia

Fishpond

Imprimatur Books

Lulu

Regimental Books

 

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.