It was a great privilege the other day to read through the pages of the diary kept by the 16th Battalion’s Private Frederick Tremlett during his First World War Service. The diary came to light when an elderly relative of Tremlett passed away recently.
Frederick Tremlett was a scout and worked closely with Martin O’Meara VC, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War.
Tremlett mentions O’Meara in the diary a couple of times.
Of most interest is the entry of 11 August 1918 in which Tremlett, O’Meara and another soldier bury a soldier called Morgan.
Private Arthur Morgan of the 16th Battalion scouts was killed in action on the afternoon of 8 August 1918, as told in my biography of O’Meara. Morgan was originally buried at Morcourt by his mates but was reinterred at the Heath War Cemetery after the war.
Arthur Morgan had been awarded the Military Medal earlier in 1918.
The treatment of returned servicemen in Western Australia’s mental health system was a topic of some discussion during the early 1902s. An army hospital, ‘Stromness’ at Mosman Park, housed some of the men but more severe cases were accommodated at the Claremont Mental Hospital.
In early 1924, following lobbying by the RSL together with critical coverage in several Perth newspapers, the returned servicemen at Claremont were moved from the main wards to another ward (known as X Block) on the hospital campus.
This group of men included Sgt Martin O’Meara VC, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War.
On 19 May 1924 representatives of the RSL visited the men at X Block and reported that had been an improvement in the men’s conditions since the move; they also made specific reference to Martin O’Meara’s condition:
We are glad to report that the improvement in certain individual cases has been excellent … a V.C. hero, who before the R.S.L. took action to have the change brought about was deemed to be in a hopeless condition and was addicted to violent outbreaks, is now enjoying the limit of freedom, and spends most of his days in the open grounds tending a garden. It is hoped that he will soon regain the full vigour of his health and be well enough to return home. (Daily News, 26 May 1924, p.2.)
O’Meara, however, did not return home; he was to spend more than ten more years in mental hospitals in Perth, at Claremont, and then at the newly-built Lemnos Hospital, and then back to Claremont in late 1935. He passed away at Claremont in December 1935 and was buried at the nearby Karrakatta Cemetery. His Victoria Cross medal is held by the Army Museum of Western Australia at Fremantle.
Martin O’Meara’s story is told in a biography, published in 2016.
Sergeant Martin O’Meara, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War, was a machine gunner in Egypt before serving on the Western Front as a scout with the 16th Battalion.
From 3-22 April 1916, whist serving with the 4th Machine Gun Company, he attended a machine gunners’ course at the Imperial School of Instruction at Zeitoun near Cairo. Those men selected to attend the machine gunners’ course were required to ‘have some aptitude for the work, be of good physique, keen and intelligent.’
The men trained on the Vickers machine gun, a water-cooled, tripod mounted weapon capable of firing some 450 rounds of .303 inch ammunition (the same as used by the infantry’s Lee Enfield rifles) per minute. The gun’s team consisted of one man firing, one man feeding the ammunition belt into the gun, and several other men who were responsible for carrying ammunition and supporting the gun’s movement. Martin O’Meara was one of 57 4th Machine Gun Company men who attended the three-week machine gun course, passing the course as a first-class machine gunner. He subsequently served with the 4th Machine Gun Company on Suez Canal defences.
Martin O’Meara returned to the 16th Battalion shortly before it sailed for France, and received his Victoria Cross for actions near the village of Pozieres during the first part of August 1916.
Martin O’Meara’s life is told in my biography of this brave man, which is available until midnight on 25 April at the special price of $18.75 – a discount of 25% off my normal retail price by clicking here. It’s also available from Amazon by clicking here.
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.’
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.
It was good to see the Irish tricolour flying proudly at Perth’s Kings Park the other day, when Irish Minister of State in the Department of Justice and Equality, David Stanton TD, visited the park.
Minister Stanton was in Perth for a short visit that included laying wreaths at Western Australia’s State War Memorial. He laid two wreaths: one at the Flame of Remembrance and another at a nearby memorial plaque for Martin O’Meara VC, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War. It was also good to have the Commanding Officer and the Regimental Sergeant Major of the 16th Battalion, the Royal Western Australian Regiment (16RWAR), attend the wreath laying. That battalion is the direct descendent of the 16th Infantry Battalion with which O’Meara served between 1915-1918.
Martin O’Meara, a Tipperaryman, was one of an estimated 6,000 Irish-born enlistees in the Australian forces during that war. A useful database of Irish-born Australian serviceman is hosted by the University of Sydney.
I was also privileged to meet Minister Stanton whilst he was here in Perth, and to present him with a copy of my biography of Martin O’Meara VC.
I’ve collected a wide range of interesting documents and publications over the years, and have now started scanning the more interesting ones and making them available as facsimile copies.
The first one I’ve made available is Homeward with the 13th Quota, a souvenir of the voyage from England to Australia of the troop transport ship HMAT China that was bringing Australian soldiers home in May-June 1919, after the end of the First World War. The original has been scanned and formatted to fit A5 size, but is otherwise a scan of the original in my collection. It contains an overview of the voyage as well as a list of the passengers and has historical and genealogical interest.
It’s available from my ‘print on demand’ printing supplier by clicking here.
During this week in 1919, Sergeant Martin O’Meara VC (Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross winner of WW1) was mid-way through his first week at Perth’s Claremont Mental Hospital and was showing himself to be a difficult patient. O’Meara had suffered a serious mental breakdown in November 1918, shortly after returning to Australia.
At around 2.15am on the night of 3-4 January 1919, his first night at Claremont, he escaped from his straight jacket and had to be restrained by the hospital attendants with the help of another patient. He was then medicated and slept for several hours. He escaped from his restraint again the following night and was ‘abusive and violent’ and was again medicated. He continued to break out of his straight jacket on the nights of 7 January, 9 January, 11 January, 12 January and 15 January 1919.
Martin O’Meara’s interesting life is detailed in my biography of him, The Most Fearless and Gallant Soldier I Have Ever Seen, which is now available from several places.