Who was Martin O’Meara?
Originally from a small farm near Lorrha in County Tipperary, Ireland, Martin O’Meara travelled to South Australia in 1912 (where he was involved primarily in railway construction work at Port Augusta and south of Adelaide) and then to Western Australia in 1914 where he worked as a farm labourer near Pinjarra and a woodcutter and sleeper hewer near Collie.
He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Collie in August 1915, trained at Blackboy Hill and Belmont near Perth, and sailed from Fremantle in December 1915.He arrived in Egypt in January 1916 and trained ear Cairo and then served with the 4th Machine Gun Company and the 16th Battalion in Egypt (mainly along the Suez Canal) before moving with the 16th Battalion to the Western Front in early June 1916.
Martin joined the 16th Battalion’s Scouting Section in late June 1916 and spent the rest of his wartime service as a sniper, observer and scout.
Initially serving in the Bois Grenier sector in northern France, the 16th Battalion moved south to the Somme area in July 1916 where it was involved in two significant attacks on Mouquet Farm near Pozieres in August 1916.
Martin won the Victoria Cross for bravery at Mouquet Farm between 9-12 August 1916.
He was wounded in action three times: in 1916 (at Mouquet Farm) and in 1917 (at Bullecourt in France and Messines in Belgium) and returned to Australia, against his wishes, in early November 1918 to promote AIF recruitment.
He held the rank of sergeant when he returned to Australia.
Sadly, he was hospitalized shortly after arriving back in Western Australia and spent the rest of his life in several mental hospitals in Perth, Western Australia. He died in December 1935 and was buried at Karrakatta Cemetery in Perth.
Why is he important?
Martin O’Meara is unique: he was Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War, and his story pulls together the themes of:
- the role played by Irish Australians during the First World War;
- the fate and treatment of returned servicemen with mental illnesses;
- the role played by scouts, observers and snipers; and
- the history of the 16th Battalion, of which he was a member.
Photographs of Martin O’Meara
Relatively few photographs of Martin O’Meara exist. Most of those known to exist are shown here. A very small amount of newsreel footage of Martin being presented with his Victoria Cross by the King at Buckingham Palace exists as well.
I recently published a biography of Martin O’Meara.