b. 06/11/1885 Lorrha, County Tipperary, Ireland. d. 20/12/1935 Perth, Australia.
Martin O’Meara (1885-1935) was born on 6th November 1885 at Lorrha, Rathcabbin, County Tipperary, near Birr, King’s County (now County Offaly), Ireland. His father, Thomas, who hailed from Lissernane, was a labourer. His mother was Margaret nee Connors, and the couple had nine children, seven of whom lived past infancy. Only Thomas, John, Keogh and Alice are named, though there is believed to be a brother called Hugh. A brother and sister, whose names are not known, are known to have married and emigrated to the United States.
Martin was educated at Lorrha National School, Nenagh, County Tipperary. He worked as a tree feller in Ireland before moving to Liverpool for a time and then emigrated to South Australia in c. 1911, working his passage as a stoker. He worked initially at Pinjarra and moved to Collie, Western Australia where he worked at Bowling Pool Timber Mill as a sleeper layer. He never married.
Martin enlisted with the Australian Imperial Forces on 19th August 1915 at Blackboy Hill Camp, Greenmount, near Perth, Western Australia. He was described as 5ft 7in tall, weighing 140lbs, with dark complexion, brown eyes and brown hair and a Roman Catholic. His next of kin was listed as his sister, Alice O’Meara, of Rathcabbin. He embarked at Fremantle, Western Australia for the Middle East with the 12th Reinforcement Group aboard HMAT A31 Ajana on 22nd December 1915, arriving in Alexandria, Egypt. He moved to Tel el Kebir, where he joined 16th Battalion on 7th March 1916. The Battalion embarked at Alexandria for Marseilles, France on 1st June 1916.
Between 9th August and 12th August 1916 at (Mouquet Farm) Pozières, France, during four days of very heavy fighting, Private O'Meara repeatedly went out and brought in wounded officers and men from "No Man's Land" under intense artillery and machine-gun fire. He also volunteered and carried up ammunition and bombs through a heavy barrage to a portion of the trenches which was being heavily shelled at the time.
He was wounded on the 12th August 1916 (gunshot to the abdomen) and was admitted to 3rd Casualty Clearing Station at Puchevillers and moved to No 11 Stationary Hospital at Rouen on 16th August. Evacuated to England aboard HMHS St Andrew from Rouen on 18th August and admitted to 3rd London General Hospital next day. He was granted two weeks’ convalescent leave in Ireland, arriving there on 18th October. Lorrha and neighbouring parishes raised money for him, which he left for the restoration of Lorrha Abbey, but there was not enough so it was used to repair the parish church instead. He embarked at Folkestone, Kent for France on 4th December 1916 aboard SS Princess Victoria. On 3rd January 1917, he was admitted to 4th Australian Field Ambulance with a sprained ankle. He was wounded by shrapnel to the face on 9th April 1917 and admitted to hospital at Rouen. The wound was not serious and he re-joined the Battalion on 25th April, taking part in operations at Bullecourt and Messines. He was granted leave to be decorated with the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 21st July 1917.
On 8th August 1917, he was wounded with shrapnel to the buttock near Polygon Wood, near Ypres, and admitted to No 2 Canadian General Hospital before being evavcuated to England on 18th August and admitted to Bath War Hospital, Somerset. He transferred to 1st Convalescent Depot, Sutton Veny, Wiltshire on 19th November.
Martin returned to France on 10th January 1918 and rejoined the Battalion on 18th January, taking part in operations at Hebuterne and Villers Bretonneux. He was promoted to Corporal on 13th March and acting Sergeant on 22nd March before going to Second Army Musketry School the following day. He was promoted to Sergeant on 30th August and returned to England, posted to Codford Depot, Wiltshire on 1st September. He returned to Australia aboard HMNZT Arawa on 15th September, arriving in Fremantle on 10th November. There was a deliberate policy by the Australian Government to return VC recipients early. On 19th December 1918, Martin’s health was suffering severely with delusional insanity and he was reported as “suffering with hallucinations of hearing and sight, is extremely homicidal and suicidal, and requires to be kept in restraint.” He was admitted to Claremont Mental Hospital on 3rd January 1919.
He was formerly discharged from the Army at Perth, on 30th November 1919 and spent the rest of his life in mental hospitals. He was in Lemnos Hospital at Shenton Park from 1926-1935, but died at Claremont Mental Hospital, Perth on 20th December 1935, having never recovered from the chronic mania caused by his war experiences. His funeral, with full military honours, was conducted by Father John Fahey DSO. The mourners included three VCs – Clifford Sadlier, James Park Woods and Thomas Axford. He was buried in the Roman Catholic Section of Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth.
In addition to his VC, he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20, and Victory Medal 1914-19. His VC was presented to Major F Warner on behalf of the 16th Battalion (Cameron Highlanders) Citizens Military Forces by Thomas Axford VC at Crystal Park, Perth in 1940. It was donated to the Army Museum of Western Australia in 1986, where it is held in the Artillery Barracks in Fremantle.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ARMY MUSEUM OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA, FREMANTLE, AUSTRALIA.
BURIAL PLACE: KARRAKATTA CEMETERY, PERTH, AUSTRALIA.
Martin O'Meara's medal at the Army Museum of Western Australia, Fremantle, Australia.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
RC SECTION - H.A. PLOT 93.
Lorrha Memorial, Lorrha, County Tipperary
War Illustrated, 23rd September 1916
Meeting Albert Jacka VC
Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin (Nov 2016 - Aidan Kavanagh)
Courtesy of Ian Loftus