A medal of bravery, awarded to an Irish-born Australian soldier, is to be put on display in Dublin.
Martin O’Meara, from Lorrha in Co Tipperary, is understood to be the only Irish-born Australian soldier to be awarded a Victorian Cross for his service in the First World War.
To mark Anzac Day, Ireland’s Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan announced that O’Meara’s Victoria Cross was to be loaned to the National Museum of Ireland. It will go on display at the Collins Barracks later this year.
O’Meara arrived in Western Australia in 1912 and signed up to the Australian Imperial Force on August 19, 1915.
After training in Egypt in early 1916 O,Meara and his battalion moved to the Western Front in France where it fought on the Somme.
Between August 9 and 12, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the battallion mounted an attack on German positions at Mouquet Farm near Pozières. Devastating German artillery fire caused heavy casualties.
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'.
O’Meara braved intense artillery and machine gun fire to retrieve wounded soldiers from ‘No Man’s Land’ over a period of four days. He is estimated to have saved at least 20 Australian lives.
For his gallantry he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
The London Gazette of September 8, 1916 reported that he carried bombs and ammunition to the trenches as they were being heavily shelled.
“He showed throughout an utter contempt of danger, and undoubtedly saved many lives,” it reported.
He was wounded three times during the war and promoted to the rank of sergeant. In November 1918 he returned to Australia and was discharged from the AIF in Perth in November 1919
Traumatised by the horrors of what he had witnessed, O’Meara spent the rest of his life in military hospitals, suffering from what official records call ‘chronic mania’.
He had returned to Ireland once before his death. The residents of his hometown Lorrha had raised money to recognise him, which he donated towards the restoration of the town’s abbey.
In 1929, an Armistice Day dinner was held by the Governor of Western Australia to honour those from the state who had received a VC. O’Meara’s declining condition meant that he could not attend. He died in Claremont Mental Hospital, Perth, on December 20, 1935 at 50 years of age.