Following extraordinary acts of bravery at the Battle of Pozières in WWI, Sgt. Martin O'Meara was awarded a Victoria Cross. Eighty years after his death, the cross will be the first to leave Australia and be displayed for a year in Ireland.
The Victoria Cross awarded to Sgt. Martin O'Meara, an Irishman who fought with the Australian forces in WWI, is on display in Dublin at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks from now through July 2020.
This marks the first time that a Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry "in the presence of the enemy" given to members of the British Armed Forces, has been loaned by Australia for exhibition abroad.
Col. Sue Graham - Defence Attache Australian Embassy in Dublin & Major Henry Fijolek, manager of the army museum of Western Australia attended at the installation of Sgt. Martin O'Meara's Victoria Cross- on loan for 12 months. https://t.co/VHgpbzsSRS pic.twitter.com/GcfV1xGlK3— National Museum of Ireland (@NMIreland) July 26, 2019
The loan comes following a December 2018 change in Australia's heritage legislation, which now allows cultural artifacts to be temporarily exported for exhibition.
O'Meara was born in Lorrha, County Tipperary on November 6, 1885. According to a website dedicated to his life and legacy, O'Meara arrived in South Australia in 1912 and made his way west working different laborer jobs, eventually landing near the town of Collie, where he began working as a railway sleeper cutter.
He joined the Australian Imperial Forces on August 19, 1915, and was assigned to Western Australia’s 12th Reinforcements, leaving for Egpyt in December 1915 to join the 16th Infantry Battalion.
With the 16th Battalion, he entered the Western Front in France in the summer of 1916, and from there joined the Battle of Pozières, which saw an exceptionally high number of Australian casualties and fatalities.
“Sergeant O’Meara is one of around 6,000 Irish-born Anzacs who served with the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War,” said Australia’s defense minister Linda Reynolds, per Nova.ie:
“He was awarded the Victoria Cross following his acts of bravery and courage at Pozières in France on 9-12 August 1916. During four days at the height of battle, Sergeant O’Meara repeatedly went out and brought in wounded soldiers under intense artillery and machine-gun fire. His heroic actions undoubtedly saved many lives. He also volunteered to carry up ammunition and bombs through a heavy barrage to a portion of the trenches, which was being heavily shelled at the time.”
O'Meara was credited with saving the lives of over 25 wounded men by carrying them to safety from the No Man's Land between the Australian and German positions. O'Meara himself would be wounded three times before the war was over.
For his bravery, he was presented with the Victoria Cross by King George V in London in July 1917.
O'Meara returned to his adopted home of Australia in November 1918 to help with recruitment efforts until WWI's conclusion. Once back, he began experiencing severe mental illness symptoms following his harrowing experiences as a service member. From January 1919 until the end of his life, December 20, 1935, at age 50, he was confined to psychiatric hospitals.
His story was largely forgotten until an amateur Perth historian named Ian Loftus began digging deeper into O'Meara's life, in hopes of giving him the recognition he deserved. In addition to information about his accomplishments, Loftus also discovered distressing information about his later years, including that he was largely confined to a straight jacket for the last 17 years of his life. Perth Playwright Martin O'Neill also wrote a play about his life, called Under Any Old Gum Tree.
O'Meara's Victoria Cross is part of the permanent collection at the Army Museum of Western Australia and is on loan to the National Museum of Ireland for one year.
“Martin’s story is one of both heroism and tragedy. To date, it has been largely unknown here in Ireland but it is a story that deserves to be told," Martin Andrews, the Australian Ambassador to Ireland, said.
"It reminds us of the deep relationship Australia and Ireland share. Martin O’Meara’s courage and his willingness to risk his life for his mates symbolize the huge contribution to modern Australia’s culture and values made by incredible individuals who left Ireland for our shores. The tragedy of the later part of his life also reminds us of the horrors of war, and of the need to work continually to prevent such horrors ever occurring again."