81 Years Since the Death of Martin O’Meara VC

Martin O’Meara, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War, died on 20 December 1935 at Perth’s Claremont Mental Hospital. He had been transferred to Claremont from the Lemnos Hospital in early November 1935.

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It seems that both his mental and physical health continued to deteriorate after he was admitted to Claremont, and he collapsed on 19 December 1935 and died the next day.

His death was certified by Dr Ernest Thompson, a doctor on the staff of Claremont, who had last seen O’Meara on 19 December 1935. The cause of his death, as described by Dr Thompson on the death certificate, was ‘pulmonary oedema’ with ‘chronic mania’ and ‘exhaustion’ being factors. A letter from the Mental Hospitals Department to the Repatriation Department of 8 January 1936 noted that:

On 19/12/35 he collapsed following a period of continued excitement and died on 20/12/35 from pulmonary oedema – 1 day, chronic mania and exhaustion – indefinite.

Martin O’Meara’s life story is told in my biography of him, published early this year. Click here for further information.

O’Meara VC honoured in Lorrha on this day in 1916

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. This watch is now missing.

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 at bookshops in Perth and Canberra, and online. 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.

Martin O’Meara VC arrives back in Australia on this day in 1918

Martin O’Meara arrived at Fremantle on the transport ship Arawa on the morning of 6 November 1918, but the possibility of influenza infection amongst the passengers resulted in Western Australia-bound passengers being transferred by boat on 7 November 1918 to the Woodman’s Point Quarantine Station, 9km south of Perth, for a seven-day quarantine period.

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The Arawa pictured at Melbourne in late 1918.

Martin O’Meara was returning to Australia at the request of the Government to assist with recruiting efforts. He hadn’t wanted to return, but seemed to have done so out of a sense of duty and obedience.

The admission registers for the quarantine station record that eight officers and 117 soldiers were admitted for ‘suspected influenza.’There had been an outbreak of influenza on board the Arawa during the voyage: ‘An epidemic of influenza broke out amongst the crew immediately after leaving England. Precautions were taken to prevent spread of disease, and although influenza broke out amongst the troops, it was quickly stamped out.’

The men were quarantined despite the AIF Medical Officers on board the Arawa advising that there were no longer any cases of influenza aboard.392 A contemporary newspaper report noted that five of the men were admitted to the quarantine station’s hospital, one with a suspected case of influenza and four with ‘other complaints’ on 7 November 1918, but that some of the men had already been discharged by 9 November 1919.

Martin O’Meara remained at Woodman Point until 13 November 1918. More information about what actually happened to Martin O’Meara during and after his time at Woodman Point is available in my biography of him.

The ANZAC Club and Buffet in London

On this day in 1916 the ANZAC Club and Buffet was re-opened at new premises in London by Andrew Fisher, Australia’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and a former Australian Prime Minister.

The ANZAC Club and Buffet had been established in 1915 to provide refreshments for the numerous AIF members who passed through London during the First World War. It had originally been located in Horseferry Road, where the AIF Administrative Headquarters was located.

At the ANZAC Club in London with Pte Jackson VC

The re-opening was also attended by Private Martin O’Meara (if the 16th Battalion) and Private Bill Jackson (of the 17th Battalion), recent Australian Victoria Cross recipients. The Australasian newspaper later reported that ‘There was a large attendance, including two V.C.’s – Private Jackson and Private O’Meara – who had a rapturous reception.’

Martin O’Meara and Bill Jackson were photographed together being served refreshments at the re-opening.

Bill Jackson had lost his right arm as a result of a wound received earlier in 1916, and the photograph seems staged to hide his right side and the absence of his arm.

Further information on the ANZAC Club and Buffet is available here and further information on Martin O’Meara VC, who is the subject of a biography that I recently published, is available here.

100 Years since Martin O’Meara’s VC is Announced

Today marks 100 years since Martin O’Meara’s Victoria Cross was announced.

On 8 September 1916, whilst he was recovering from wounds at the 3rd London General Hospital at Wandsworth in London, the announcement was made that Private Martin O’Meara had been awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Pozières and Mouquet Farm the previous month. The announcement was made in the official London Gazette:

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.

Martin O'Meara at Wandsworth Hospital September 1916 (AWM)
Martin O’Meara at Wandsworth Hospital in September 1916 (AWM)

Shortly after the Victoria Cross was announced, O’Meara was photographed at Wandsworth by the press.

One particular photograph, obviously staged for the camera, shows O’Meara being congratulated by other patients.

Four other Australian Victoria Crosses were announced at the same time: to Lieutenant Arthur Blackburn (of the 10th Battalion for action at Pozières), Private Bill Jackson (of the 17th Battalion for action near Armentières), Private John Leak (of the 9th Battalion for action at Pozières), and Private Thomas Cooke (of the 8th Battalion, posthumously, for action at Pozières). My new biography of Martin O’Meara tells the story of his life from growing up in County Tipperary, Ireland, through to his death at 50 years of age in Perth, Western Australia.

The RAAF’s worst peacetime air disaster

Take time today to remember those killed in the RAAF’s worst peacetime air disaster, the crash of a 38 Squadron Caribou transport aircraft in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea on 28 August 1972.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Carrying three crew and 26 passengers, the aircraft went missing whilst flying between Lae and Port Moresby. Most of the passengers were high school cadets; there was also an Australian army officer (my father) and a cadet officer (a high school teacher) on board.

Despite a massive search, the Caribou was not found for several days due to the remote location and tall trees. Only four of the passengers survived, all cadets.

A remembrance service is held each year at De la Salle High School at Bomana, near Port Moresby, as most of those on board the aircraft had been students of the school. The laying of wreaths at a small memorial at the high school (see photo) follows the service.

 

 

On this day in 1916 O’Meara goes into action…

Today is the centenary of the actions near Pozières in France that saw Western Australian Irish-born infantryman Martin O’Meara receive a Victoria Cross. His actions are often associated with the 16th Battalion’s advance between Pozières and Mouquet Farm from 9-12 August 1916, but O’Meara was involved from 8 August onwards when parts of the 16th Battalion were under the operational control of the 15th Battalion.

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On 8 August 1916, at 6.00pm, the 16th Battalion’s A Company under Captain Ross Harwood moved off to support the 15th Battalion. The 15th Battalion was to mount an attack the line from the Brind’s Road (or Ovillers-Courcellete Road) trench line towards the 5th Avenue/Ration Trench/Park Lane trench system to the northwest of Pozières in the direction of Mouquet Farm, a distance of around 200 metres) that evening following an artillery barrage.

At 10.40pm on 8 August, the battalion headquarters received a message from the 4th Brigade headquarters asking about the position of A Company, and the battalion replied that A Company was under the control of the 15th Battalion in K Trench (which ran north-south to the west of Pozières) and that D Company was ready to move at short notice if required.

Martin O’Meara was working alongside the 16th Battalion’s A Company in support of the 15th Battalion overnight, as Captain Ross Harwood, commanding the 16th Battalion’s A Company, observed that:

On the night of the 8/9th I saw No.3970 Pte. O’Meara, M., out into “No Man’s Land” where it was being severely shelled and remove wounded men to places of safety where he rendered first aid and thence subsequently he assisted to carry them down to the Dressing Station. I personally saw him remove not less than 6 men mostly of the 15th Battalion A.I.F. and the Suffolk Battalion. One of the wounded whom I saw him remove in this is Lieut Fogarty of the 15th Battalion A.I.F.

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My new biography of Martin O’Meara VC is now available for purchase. It provides a comprehensive account of his life, from a lad in County Tipperary, through his time in Australia, his wartime service, his time in Perth after the war, to his sad death in a mental hospital in Perth, Western Australia, in 1935.

Click here for more information on the book.