The 16th Battalion prepares for Bullecourt

On the evening of 7 April 1917, the 16th Australian Infantry Battalion (part of the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade which was, in turn, part of the 4th Australian Division) moved into sunken roads to the north and east of Noreuil, only a few kilometres from the Hindenburg Line, with A Company moving into outpost lines to relieve other units in the railway cutting area just south of the Hindenburg Line.

At this time a Private, Martin O’Meara VC, Australia’s Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War, was a member of the 16th Battalion’s Scouting Section.

The Allied forces were pursuing the German forces towards the Hindenburg Line, and the next moves would be a series of attacks on the Hindenburg Line itself.

On 8 April 1917, the 4th Division headquarters ordered that ‘strong patrols suitably supported’ would be sent out on 9 April 1917 to determine the strength of German forces on the Hindenburg Line.’ The 4th Brigade war diary later recorded that ‘Strong patrols are being sent out by the 4th and 12th Aust. Infantry Brigades tonight to ascertain if the HINDENBURG Line is held.’

The area south-east of Bullecourt where 4th Brigade  patrols were carried out on 9 April 1917 (taken in 2015)

These patrols set off from the forward positions held by 4th Division units; the 16th Battalion was located along the railway line to the southeast of Bullecourt at this time. At 9.00pm that night, a special patrol was mounted to reconnoitre the German lines. It consisted of Captain Albert Jacka VC of the 14th Battalion, and Lieutenants Frank Wadge and Henry Bradley of the 16th Battalion. The 16th Battalion’s war diary records that:

They got as far as the enemy’s wire and found that it was badly smashed in some places but in others it was still intact. They also reported that the garrison of the Hindenburg Line was very strong and that there were no signs of probable evacuation. They reported that there was considerable enemy movement in front of his own lines in the shape of strong patrols.

Although that particular patrol was described as an ‘officers’ patrol’, several ‘other ranks’ participated. As a battalion scout, it is possible that Martin O’Meara participated in this patrol, or one of the other similar patrols described earlier. He was certainly involved in some action on 9 April 1917 as he wounded in action that day with wounds to his face. He was evacuated to the Australian 4th Field Ambulance which had been operating just west of Bapaume but had recently moved and established a dressing station some three kilometres north-east, near the village of Favreuil, at 9.00am on 8 April. Favreuil was located some nine kilometres from the village of Bullecourt. Interestingly, the medical staff of the 4th Field Ambulance at this time included Major James Bentley, who Martin O’Meara would later encounter as a civilian medical officer at the Claremont Mental Hospital in Perth, after his return to Western Australia in 1918.