The Soldiers’ Mental Hospital Lemnos

The Soldiers’ Mental Hospital Lemnos (in the Perth suburb of Shenton Park) was opened on 12 July 1926. It was a collaborative venture between the Commonwealth and Western Australian Governments and was designed to provide a more comfortable environment that that at the Claremont Mental Hospital where many of its patients had been. Martin O’Meara VC, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War, was a patient at Lemnos between 1926 and 1935.

The Lemnos hospital consisted of three ward blocks together with administration and kitchen/dining room blocks. The more acute cases occupied the northernmost ward (Ward A) which had beds for 23 patients. This ward was more secure than the other two, with the same newspaper report noting that:

Here, it will be possible to exercise all necessary Control and Supervision over refractory patients. All the windows are chocked in such a manner that the patient may be confined there in safety and yet the window may be kept open for a space of about six inches. There is a day room attached to this, and to all other wards. A billiard table, handsome upholstered chairs, bookcases, and a cosy fireplace are provided while the bay windows are magnificently draped and the walls plentifully decorated with pictures.

Ward A was further divided into two dormitories, one with ten beds and another with twelve beds, and three single rooms ‘for special cases’. Martin O’Meara was one of the ‘special cases’.

Here are some photographs of Ward A, taken today:

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Martin O’Meara VC, along with twenty other patients from the Claremont Mental Hospital, was transferred to Lemnos on 20 September 1926, and remained there until December 1935 when he was transferred back to Claremont. The hospital buildings are now part of Shenton College.

On this day in 1935…

Sergeant Martin O’Meara VC, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War, was buried at Perth’s Karrakatta Cemetery on this day in 1935 – 80 years ago. O’Meara was awarded the VC for a series of acts of valour in the period 9-12 August 1916 during the 16th Infantry Battalion’s attacks on German positions near the village of Pozieres in France.

He had died on 20 December 1935. O’Meara had been in poor mental health since his return to Australia in 1918 and his physical health had been deteriorating for at least a month or so prior to his death.

Here are some photographs of O’Meara’s funeral taken from Perth newspapers of the time.

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Coincidently, tomorrow (22 December) represents the 100th anniversary of Martin O’Meara’s departure from Fremantle with the 12th Reinforcements of the 16th Infantry Battalion.

Martin O’Meara’s Port Augusta links

Click here for a link to a piece I provided to the Port Augusta newspaper The Transcontinental on Martin O’Meara VC’s Port Augusta links. Martin worked as a labourer on the construction of the railway line between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie in 1912-13 and some of the newspaper reporting of his time there provides quite an insight into the depth of his Roman Catholic faith, his belief in the Irish nationalist cause, and his identification as a member of the ‘working class’.

“From Lorrha to Lemnos” – Mary Durack Memorial Lecture

I was privileged to have the opportunity to deliver this year’s Mary Durack Memorial Lecture at Notre Dame University on Sunday 15 November, speaking on “From Lorrha to Lemnos – The Story of Martin O’Meara VC”. The lecture is held annually by the Australian Irish Heritage Association  and honours Western Australia’s pioneer Durack family.

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I spoke on the life of Martin O’Meara VC, Australia’s only Irish-born VC recipient of the First World War, providing an overview of O’Meara’s life and death. Although time allowed me to only touch briefly on most aspect of Martin O’Meara, my biography of O’Meara will be published in the first half of 2016 and will be much more comprehensive.

Where is Mrs Sing? The search for the long-lost wife of Billy Sing

An interest in any sort of history is an invitation to be distracted by things we encounter, and I was recently distracted 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, do a Google search and see what pops up) Sing had married Elizabeth Stewart 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 think I’ve tracked her down.

It seems that Elizabeth fell pregnant to another man 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, in 1922. 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 seems that the father of the boy was an Australian merchant seaman.

Sometime between 1923 and 1930 Elizabeth and her children moved from Scotland to Australia and she lived with the 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. Elizabeth and the seaman died during the 1970s and the 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 may have been solved, although some questions remain about Elizabeth’s early life in Scotland the circumstances around her leaving Scotland and travelling to Australia.

 

Newsreel Footage of O’Meara VC at Buckingham Palace in 1917

In researching my upcoming biography of Martin O’Meara VC, I’ve spent lots of time looking through archives (and the like) for scraps of evidence from which his life can be pieced together. The easy stuff has already been unearthed, and I’m now digging deeper for the more obscure stuff.

A search through old British Pathe newsreel footage from 1917 (now available on YouTube) revealed a gem of evidence… actual newsreel footage of O’Meara receiving his VC medal from the King at Buckingham Palace in July 1917. I believe that it’s O’Meara as only a few Australian’s were there getting VCs on the day that the footage was filmed in July 1917 and this one (go to the 21 second mark at this link) is the only one who fits his description, height, AIF colour patch etc. As he walks towards the camera after receiving his VC his dark eyes and mustache are apparent, and a head-and-shoulders picture published a day later in a London newspaper shows him looking almost identical.

Finding something like this makes all the hard work worthwhile….