“The Trouble with Martin O’Meara”

Philippa Martyr and Sophie Davison recently wrote an interesting article on Martin O’Meara for the journal Australasian Psychiatry (see link here). They “examined all available primary sources relating to the case of Martin O’Meara” and “found that O’Meara’s symptoms are not consistent with a diagnosis of PTSD” but it “is more likely that O’Meara developed a form of schizoaffective disorder, or long-lasting trauma-induced psychosis, after World War I.”

It’s a well written article, but it’s likely that Philippa and Sophie will be derided by some for questioning the folk-mythology that every returned serviceman with a mental illness must have had PTSD… correlation is definitely not an indicator of cause/effect.

Of course, many returned servicemen did suffer PTSD symptoms after the First World War (and every subsequent conflict) and many of these men (and, now, women) have legitimate reason to criticize successive governments for their failure to provide adequate treatment.

Interestingly, the cause that was recorded when he was admitted to the Claremont Mental Hospital in January 1919 was “religion”.

Regarding O’Meara, there is absolutely no evidence (or even hint of evidence) suggesting that he was suffering any form of mental illness before he arrived back in Australia in November 1918. On the contrary, he was seen by the Australian Government as a model soldier and this resulted him being returned to Australia (reluctantly) in 1918 to assist with recruitment.

On the subject of folk-mythology, O’Meara Myths abound… there is the myth that he was a stretcher-bearer (he was actually a machine gunner and then a sniper/scout), the myth that he wanted to return to Australia (he did so reluctantly, and was possibly promoted to sergeant as an incentive to return on leave to assist with recruitment), the myth that he spent 17 years in a straight jacket (he was seldom restrained after the early 1920s and actually left hospital on excursions/day trips during the 1930s, including attending an ANZAC Day service), and the myth that he came to Australia as a stoker on a ship (this one could be true, but there is no evidence to confirm it).

My forthcoming biography of Martin O’Meara will tell his story, stripping back some of the mythology.

 

99 Years since the Battle of Mouquet Farm

This weekend marks the 99th anniversary of the start of what would later be know as the Battle for Mouquet Farm, and an appropriate time to reflect on the life of Martin O’Meara VC.

At the ANZAC Club in London with Pte Jackson VC
Martin (left) at the ANZAC Club in London with Pte Bill Jackson VC (right) – September 1916

Martin was Australia’s only Irish-born VC winner and was awarded the VC for bravery in rescuing men and transporting supplies whilst serving with the 16th Battalion – officially between 9-12 August 1916 but it seems likely that he was involved in the fighting on 8 August 1916 as well when a company of men from the 16th Battalion assisted the 15th Battalion in an overnight attack on a trench system known as Park Lane just north of the village of Pozieres.

citation

As a scout/observer/scout (not as a stretcher bearer, as some accounts of Martin’s life would have you believe), Martin would have been involved in patrolling No Man’s Land between the Australian and German positions and assisting the attacking Australians (initially the 15th Battalion and subsequently the 16th Battalion) as they moved forward. It is also possible that he was involved in sniping at enemy positions during this period.

The records available indicate that he encountered a number of wounded Australians (and British) men in No Man’s Land from 9 August 1916 onwards as some recalcitrant German machine gunners forced many Australians (and British) to move back to their original positions near the Brind’s Road trench system and leave some wounded men behind. He repeated these actions until 12 August 1916 when the 16th Battalion was withdrawn.

Martin returned to Australia in November 1918 and remained in mental hospitals here in Perth until his death in 1935. The cause of his mental illness remains unclear as he was never diagnosed with ‘shell shock’ during the war, although the war (generally) is a likely factor and there are several other factors that probably played a role.

My forthcoming book on Martin O’Meara VC will look at these issues in greater detail. but I am happy to share my learnings o flick me an email (see contact me) if you want my thoughts sooner rather than later.