So who was Martin O’Meara?
Martin O’Meara was born on 6 November 1885 in the parish of Lorrha, County Tipperary, Ireland, the son of Michael O'Meara, labourer, and his wife Margaret (née Connor). He was educated at the Lorrha National School and was involved in the timber industry as a young man.
Martin is believed to have left Ireland in 1912 and travelled to South Australia, and then on to Western Australia in 1914. Martin first worked in the Pinjarra area and then made his way south to the town of Collie in search of employment. And it wasn’t too long before he found work cutting railway sleepers in the virgin jarrah forest east of Collie.
Being a sleeper cutter in those days was physically demanding and highly dangerous work; however Martin loved the outdoors along with the camaraderie he shared with his fellow sleeper cutters.
But it was the Great War that saw Martin, on the 19 August 1915 enlist with several of his sleeper cutter mates in the Australian Imperial Forces.
Martin left Australia in December 1915 with the 12th Reinforcements to join the 16th Battalion in the Middle East. After training in Egypt in early 1916, the battalion then moved to the Western Front in France where it fought on the Western Front.
On 9-12 August 1916 the 16th Battalion mounted several attacks on German positions near Mouquet Farm northwest of Pozières. However, devastating German artillery fire caused heavy casualties amongst the 16th, with an entry in the 16th Battalion’s War Diary (12 August 1916) stating laconically that 'the trench as a trench had ceased to exist'.
During this period O'Meara, who was operating in No Man’s Land between the Australian and German positions, behaved in a manner which led one of his officer to describe him as: 'the most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen'.
O’Meara was credited with having saved the lives of over twenty-five wounded men by carrying them-in from No Man’s Land under the most indescribable conditions.
Even after the battalion was relieved its commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Edmund Drake-Brockman, saw O'Meara returning to the front line through a massive bombardment to rescue two more wounded soldiers despite (it was claimed) having himself 'reached a position of comparative safety'. At other times he had, on his own initiative, brought up much-needed supplies of ammunition and food. And it was for these actions, that Martin O'Meara was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Martin spent the rest of the war with the 16th Battalion and was wounded three times, firstly near Mouquet Farm in 1916 and later at Messines and near Bullecourt in 1917. He travelled to London in July 1917 where he was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V.
He, reluctantly, left the 16th Battalion in France in August 1918 at the direction of the Australian Government, who wanted Victoria Cross recipients to return to Australia to assist in recruitment of new soldiers. In November 1918, Martin returned to Perth, Western Australia, but was hospitalized shortly after arriving. His experiences during the war caused him to have a complete mental breakdown.
He was discharged from the AIF in November 1919.
Sadly Martin would then spend the rest of his life in mental hospitals, suffering from (what was described at the time as) Chronic Mania and he was unable to attend a special Armistice Day dinner in 1929 given by the Governor of Western Australia to honour the WA’s V.C. recipients.
Having spent from 1926 to 1935 at the Lemnos Hospital in Shenton Park, Western Australia, Martin passed away at the nearby Claremont Mental Hospital on 20 December 1935.
Martin was buried with full military honours in Karrakatta Catholic cemetery by Fr John Fahey DSO (himself a former AIF Chaplain). Mourners at his funeral included three VC recipients: C. Sadlier, J. Woods and Thomas Axford. Western Australian Senator and former wartime Defence Minister, Sir George Pearce was one of his pallbearers.
In 1986 his VC was donated to the West Australian Army Museum. Martin had visited his native Ireland in 1916 where money was raised as a testimonial to him from Lorrha and neighbouring parishes; he left the money gathered to the parish for restoration work on the historic Lorrha Abbey.
Ian Loftus, Perth, Western Australia