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O'Meara, Martin (1885–1935)

by Richard E. Reid

This article was published:

Martin O'Meara (1885-1935), by unknown photographer

Martin O'Meara (1885-1935), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, H12763

Martin O'Meara (1885-1935), sleeper-cutter and soldier, was born on 6 November 1885 in the parish of Lorrha, Tipperary, Ireland, son of Michael O'Meara, labourer, and his wife Margaret, née Connor. He arrived in Western Australia as a youth, having worked his passage as a stoker.

Giving his occupation as sleeper-hewer, he joined the Australian Imperial Force in Perth on 19 August 1915 and left Australia with the 12th Reinforcements for the 16th Battalion in December. After training in Egypt in early 1916 the battalion moved to the Western Front in France where it fought on the Somme. On 9-12 August the 16th mounted an attack on German positions at Mouquet Farm near Pozières. Devastating German artillery fire caused heavy casualties, an entry in the battalion war diary on 12 August stating laconically that 'the trench as a trench had ceased to exist'.

During this period O'Meara, then acting as a stretcher-bearer, behaved in a manner which led one officer to describe him as 'the most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen'. He was credited with having saved the lives of over twenty-five wounded men by carrying them in from no man's land 'under conditions that are undescribable'. Even after the battalion was relieved its commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel E. Drake-Brockman, saw O'Meara returning to the front line through the bombardment to rescue two wounded comrades despite having himself 'reached a position of comparative safety'. At other times he had, on his own initiative, brought up much-needed supplies of grenades, ammunition and food. For these actions O'Meara was awarded the Victoria Cross.

O'Meara spent the rest of the war with the 16th Battalion; he was wounded three times and promoted sergeant. In November 1918 he returned to Australia and was discharged from the A.I.F. in Perth in November 1919. His war experiences caused a complete breakdown in his health for he spent the rest of his life in military hospitals, suffering from chronic mania. He was too ill to attend a special Armistice Day dinner in 1929 given by the governor of Western Australia for the State's V.C. winners. He died in Claremont Mental Hospital, Perth, on 20 December 1935. His death certificate gave his occupation as 'returned soldier'. He was buried with full military honours in Karrakatta Catholic cemetery by Fr John Fahey. The mourners included three V.C. winners, C. Sadlier, J. Woods and Thomas Axford. Senator Sir George Pearce was a pallbearer.

In 1917 O'Meara had revisited his native Ireland where money was raised as a testimonial to him from Lorrha and neighbouring parishes; he left it to the parish for restoring historic Lorrha Abbey. That task being beyond this sum, it was instead applied to repairs of the existing parish church. In 1986 his V.C. was donated to the West Australian Army Museum.

Little is known about O'Meara personally but one officer of the 16th described him at Mouquet Farm as 'always cheerful and optimistic', willing 'to volunteer for any job'. He was unmarried.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916 (Syd, 1929)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1939
  • News (Perth), 23 Dec 1935
  • war diary, 16th Battalion AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • recommendations for Honours and Awards, 4th Division, AIF, 16 August 1916, Private Martin O'Meara (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Richard E. Reid, 'O'Meara, Martin (1885–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 26 January 2022.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2022

Martin O'Meara (1885-1935), by unknown photographer

Martin O'Meara (1885-1935), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, H12763