99th Anniversary of Presentation of VC Medal to Martin O’Meara

Martin O’Meara, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War was presented with his VC medal by King George V in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace on this day in 1917.  He had travelled from the Western Front specifically for the event.

Martin O'Meara at Buckingham Palace
O’Meara at Buckingham Palace

The King presented 24 Victoria Crosses that day, including six to Australians: to Captain James Newland, Sergeant John Whittle (who was also presented with the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Corporal George Howell (who was also presented with the Military Medal), Private Jorgen Jensen, Private Bede Kenny, as well as Martin O’Meara.

The King also presented a further eight Victoria Crosses to the families of posthumous awardees, all British. 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.

Grainy newsreel footage shows Martin O’Meara speaking briefly with the King, before saluting him and then marching away. He did not remain long in London, and was later quoted as saying ‘Then after I had a look around the place I went back to France.’

On this day in 1918 …

On 12 July 1918, whilst his battalion was at Querrieu, Martin O’Meara (Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War) was detached to attend a training course at the 4th Army School of Scouting, Observation and Sniping (located at Bouchon some 20 kilometres north-west of Amiens).

sniper

The course syllabus for all ranks included scouting and patrolling by day and night, using cover, navigating by day and night using a prismatic compass, constructing posts for snipers and observers, observation in trenches and in the open, musketry at ranges of up to 500 metres and sniping using telescopic sights.

A school training manual specifically noted that the purpose of the school was ‘for the training of Instructors’; Martin O’Meara was at the School in order to equip him to train other men to be scouts, observers and snipers for the 16th Battalion. As the manual also stressed that ‘musketry is a test rather than instruction because the N.C.O.s and men who attend the Course are expected to be good shots before they are sent there’, we must assume that Martin O’Meara was ‘a good shot.’

Martin O’Meara’s life is detailed in my soon-to-be-published biography.