The Most Fearless and Gallant Soldier I Have Ever Seen.
The Story of Martin O’Meara
The Lamp, 2016-2017, Journal of the Lorrha & Dorrha Historical Society, page 51
The above is the title of the first full length biography of Martin O’Meara, ‘Australia’a only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War’. Written by Ian Loftus, an Australian journalist, and published by himself, it fills many of the gaps in the life of arguably the most famous Lorrha man who ever lived.
The basic facts of Martin O’Meara’s life are clear. Born in Lissernane, Lorrha of farming stock he left Ireland circa 1911, first to Liverpool, later to Australia, where he worked in the timber business. Following the outbreak of World War 1, he enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force, was shipped to France, fought with extraordinary bravery on the Western Front, won a Victoria Cross, eventually got back to Australia in November 1918, was hospitalised in a mental institution soon after and died there in 1935, following which he was buried with full military honours at Karrakatta Cemetery near Perth.
The book is a fine example of investigative journalism. The author, as anyone who has researched the life of O’Meara will have found out, had vey little to go on when researching his subject. The amount of information on his early life is minimal excepting his baptismal record and the 1901 census. There is no information on his voyage to Australia. There is little information on his work life in Australia. He left little or nothing from his years in the army behind him with the exception of a badge and the Victoria Cross. Probably the most information available on him comes from the hospital records of the last sixteen years of his life in Claremont Hospital.
And, in spite of this paucity of source material, Ian Loftus has put together a very credible account of his life in a publication of over 270 pages. In the context of what was available on the subject, he has written a comprehensive account of the life of Martin O’Meara, and his family, the people of Lorrha and others farther afield, who believe in the great personal qualities of the Victoria Cross winner, will be happy with the result.
There are many things that stand out in the account. I was delighted with the details of O’Meara’s life in south and west Australia that were discovered by the author through a diligent search of contemporary newspapers and documents. There is a lot of information on the role of scouting in which O’Meara was involved on the Western Front. He uses quotes from officers to describe O’Meara ‘s actions: ‘I saw O’Meara on a number of occasions attending to or bringing in wounded men from the area over which the Battalion had advanced to and from No Man’s Land. I estimate that the number of men rescued by him is not less than 20.’ And: ‘I saw O’Meara on many occasions on the 10-11-12th Aug. searching the ground for wounded to whom he rendered first aid and whom he subsequently brought in or assisted to bring in.’
The author has also sourced a lot of information on O’Meara’s relationship with Mary Murphy of Kilmacow. He also quotes from an interview which O’Meara gave after receiving the Victoria Cross, revealing the modesty of the man: ‘I am lucky, while others have gone unrewarded, because either their deeds were not seen, or their officers had fallen before they could make a recommendation.’ The author reproduces the grainy newsreel of the presentation of the Victoria Cross by King Ceorge V on July 21, 1917, one of twenty-four presented that day. According to the account Martin spoke briefly to the King ‘before saluting him and then marching away’.
There’s a detailed account of O’Meara’s involvement in the war and a lengthy presentation of medical reports from his time in Claremont Hospital. Some of the latter make sad reading. He was no sooner back on Australian soil than he suffered a serious mental breakdown which was probably the result of the traumatic conditions he experienced during the war. The result was a deterioration in his behaviour which led to him being placed in a straight jacket in the evenings and he remained in it until 11 o’clock the next day.
The author has a chapter on the two wills that Martin made during his life and how their differences were resolved. There is a chapter entitled ‘Remembering Martin O’Meara’ on how he is remembered in Australia and Ireland. There is also a collection of all the extant photographs of the man reproduced in an appendix.
This book would make a great Christmas gift for and is available to purchase by clicking here. It is also available from the Army Museum of Western Australia at Fremantle, the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, and from Boffins, Perth’s best specialist bookshop. The book can also be purchased directly from me – I have a small stock myself – and I welcome inquiries – feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org