Martin O'Meara

Victoria Cross returns to heroic Irish-Australian's homeland

A Victoria Cross medal awarded to an Irish-Australian soldier will be put on display at Dublin’s National Museum of Ireland.

The medal has been returned to the homeland of its Irish-born recipient Sergeant Martin O’Meara for 12 months, marking the first time an Australian VC has been loaned to an international museum in over 60 years.

The Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said O’Meara’s heroic actions in France during the First World War “undoubtedly saved many lives”.

“Showing utter contempt for danger, Sergeant O’Meara is a true representation of the ANZAC spirit,” Minister Reynolds said.

Changes made to Australian legislation surrounding cultural heritage in 2018 have allowed for the temporary export of the treasured artefact.

The Head of Museums at Australian Army Headquarters, Neil Dailey (centre left) holds the Victoria Cross with Marty Kavanagh, Honorary Consul of Ireland Western Australia along with the Australian Army Museum of Western Australia’s Manager, Major Henry Fijolek (left) and Mrs Leith Landauer during the official ceremony of the loaning Sergeant Martin O’Meara's Victoria Cross to Ireland at the Australian Army Museum of Western Australia in Fremantle.

The Head of Museums at Australian Army Headquarters, Neil Dailey (centre left) holds the Victoria Cross with Marty Kavanagh, Honorary Consul of Ireland Western Australia along with the Australian Army Museum of Western Australia’s Manager, Major Henry Fijolek (left) and Mrs Leith Landauer during the official ceremony of the loaning Sergeant Martin O’Meara's Victoria Cross to Ireland at the Australian Army Museum of Western Australia in Fremantle.

Just four years after arriving in Australia in 1912, O’Meara joined the Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front.

O’Meara faced a barrage of German artillery and machine gun fire while he retrieved his wounded fellow soldiers from No Man’s Land over a four day period during the Battle of the Somme, his bravery rewarded with the Victoria Cross.

Read More: War hero’s Victoria Cross to be displayed in Ireland

The medal, awarded by King George V at Buckingham Palace in 1917, has been housed at the Army Museum of Western Australia.

O’Meara was promoted to the rank of Sergeant before returning to Australia in 1918, spending much of the rest of his life in mental hospitals haunted by what he had seen during the war.

Martin O’Meara was congratulated by fellow wounded patients following the announcement of his Victoria Cross. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

Martin O’Meara was congratulated by fellow wounded patients following the announcement of his Victoria Cross. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

He was celebrated as a hero during a visit to Ireland when the residents of his hometown of Lorrha raised funds to recognise his courage.

In yet another display of his character, O’Meara donated the funds towards the town’s historic Abbey.

More than 80 years after his death, the returned soldier will once again be honoured in his home-country when the symbol of his service and gallantry goes on display.

War hero's Victoria Cross to be displayed in Ireland

Martin O’Meara was described by one officer as 'the most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen'.

Martin O’Meara was described by one officer as 'the most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen'.

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.