Richard Bennett, Curator, Army Museum of Western Australia with Martin O’Meara’s V.C.
This morning in Fremantle, at the Army Museum of Western Australia, a short ceremony took place to farewell the Victoria Cross of Martin O’Meara, who was the only Irish born winner of the V.C. in Australian service in World War 1. The medal is making a journey back to Ireland on loan to the National Museum of Ireland for 12 months. This is the first time any V.C. in public ownership in Australia has been permitted to leave the country. A truly remarkable co-operation between the two countries!
The Tipperary man won the Victoria Cross because of his astonishing acts of bravery over a number of days at the height of fighting at Pozières, France, in August 1916, saving the lives of 20 men. Martin had emigrated to Australia around 1912 and there he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces in 1915 and ended up in France. He was awarded the V.C. by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 21, July 1917. He subsequently visited his family briefly in Tipperary before returning to the front.
The war never ended for Martin, as following his return from service in 1918, he spent the rest of his life in mental hospitals, with much of it in straitjackets. His torment ended with his death some 17 years later in 1935.
Marty Kavanagh, Honorary Consul of Ireland with Maj. Henry Fijolek and Neil Daley of the War Museum at the Museum in Fremantle.
This historic event, happening just 102 years after the King honoured him, is yet another fascinating chapter in the story of Martin O’Meara. It will be on display in the National Museum of Ireland by the end of this week and a truly significant homecoming is guaranteed.
These images were taken by my friend Leith Landauer this morning. Leith, fascinated by this Irishman, researched and shared and promoted Martin’s story over the years. It is very fitting that she too is making her way back to Ireland, having attended the leaving in Fremantle she will be here for the welcome in Dublin and to see it proudly displayed at Collins Barracks.
My earlier posts on Martin’s story can be seen here and here
On Anzac Day on 25 April last, and I went along to the annual Anzac Dawn Service in Grangegorman Military Cemetery in Dublin hosted by the Australian Embassy in Ireland.
The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) troops first landed on the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula, in Turkey on 25 April 1915. This was the first significant military action undertaken by ANZACs. They suffered heavy casualties in a campaign that overall cost the lives of 131,000, with 11,488 being ANZAC. On this date each year Australia and New Zealand remember all those who died in the service of their countries in all wars and in peacetime. This remembrance traditionally takes place at dawn.
It was an early rise to be at Grangegorman Military Cemetery by 6.20. A.M. The weather forecast promised low temperatures and rain, but it turned out to be a relatively balmy, dry morning! On arrival, we were presented with a programme and a sprig of Rosemary. Rosemary grows wild all over Gallipoli, it is a symbol of remembrance. and is traditionally worn for Anzac Day.
An introduction was given by the Australian Ambassador Mr Richard Andrews. The service was lead by Father Séamus Madigan, the head chaplain of the Irish Defence Forces. The newly arrived New Zealand Ambassador, Mr Brad Burgess, remembered those brutally murdered in Christchurch, and read from Homecoming – Te Hokinga Mai by New Zealand poet, Vincent O’Sullivan. (His father was born in Tralee Co.Kerry) Atatürk’s Epilogue was read by the Turkish Ambassador to Ireland, Mr Levent Murat Burhan. Such poignant words, penned by the former Field Marshall who masterminded the Ottoman Turkish victory at Gallipoli. (He later went on to become the first President of the Republic of Turkey.)
Wreaths were laid by the Ambassadors, Representatives of the Australian and New Zealand Defence Forces and members of the Diplomatic Corps and others. It was hard to keep a dry eye as the harpist, Ms Anne Tuite, played the air of ‘The Green Fields of France‘ during the wreath laying.
Ten WW1 ANZACs are buried here in Grangegorman Military Cemetery. Astonishingly, six of them were returning from leave in Ireland aboard the mailboat, RMS Leinster, when she was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat on October 10 1918. The remainder were either on leave and became ill, or on medical leave here and died in hospital.
Those buried here are
2nd Lt Henry Thomas Doyle aged 27 from Otahuhu, New Zealand, died at sinking of RMS Leinster Oct 1918.
Lance Crpl Peter Freitas, an Australian from Guildford, Sydney who served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, died at sinking of RMS Leinster.
Pte John Quinn of Wellington, New Zealand died from illness 6 Nov 1918.
Pte George Bardon aged 26 from Tablelands, Queensland, became ill when visiting relatives in Dublin and died 13 October 2018.
Pte Joseph Thomas Barnes, 37, Peyneham, South Australia, returning from convalescent leave in Ireland, died on RMS Leinster.
Pte Charles Michael Byrne of Nagambie, in the Goulburn Valley in Victoria died of pneumonia 4 November 1918.
Pte Edwin Johnson Carter Warrnambool, Victoria, returning from convalescent leave, died at sinking of RMS Leinster 10 October 1918.
Pte Joseph Gratton, who had visited a cousin in Ireland died at sinking of RMS Leinster.
Pte Arthur Andrew Murphy, became ill while visiting Ireland and died 2 June 1918.
Pte Michael Ernest Smith, from Cobar had enlisted in Sydney, was wounded at the Battle of the Somme was returning from convalescent leave and died on board the RMS Leinster.
A beautiful installation for Anzac Day came from Rostrevor Men’s Shed and Kilbroney Parish Church who brought along their perspex soldiers, originally used for their Ghost Tommy project. These bore the names of other ANZACs buried elsewhere in Ireland.
Here too was a tribute to Nurse Winifred Starling, who was aboard the RMS Leinster when it was torpedoed. Winifred was lost at sea.
Later at the National Museum of Ireland we assembled for a series of talks to mark Anzac Day.
Lynn Scarff, Director of the National Museum of Ireland quoted from the song ‘The Foggy Dew’ ‘Twas better to die ‘neath an Irish sky Than at Suvla or Sud el Bar .
The slaughter of Irish at Gallipoli, where the sea ‘ran red with blood of Irishmen’ caused many at home to question involvement with the British army. All Irishmen were volunteers in the Army. Then came the rising in 1916 and subsequent executions which consolidated opposition to the British. Meanwhile in Australia and New Zealand some 6,000 Irish born, or men of Irish descent volunteered for service in the forces. One of whom was Martin O’Meara from Lorrha in Co Tipperary who was awarded a Victoria Cross for bravery. I have written about his tragic story here and here.
The Irish Minister for Justice and Equality, Mr Charlie Flanagan made the dramatic announcement that the Australian Government had enacted legislation that would for the first time ever, allow for an Australian Victoria Cross in public ownership, to leave the country on loan, and that it would be coming to Ireland in the very near future for a period of 12 months. It will be put on public display in the National Museum as part of the Soldiers and Chiefs exhibition, with Martin’s British War Medal which is in the possession of a family member in England.I am excited to be able to see Martin’s V.C. again, having seen it at close hand in its home in the Army Museum of Western Australia, in Fremantle.
I was thrilled to get this photo of the grave of Martin O’Meara in Karrakatta, in Western Australia, with the programme for this event placed on it, and a small branch of a native gum tree placed there by my friend Leith Landeur, a guide at King’s Park in Perth which contains the State War Memorial, who has done so much to raise awareness of Martin O’Meara in Western Australia.
Robert Fleming, Curator at the National Army Museum in London had a fascinating presentation on the Australian Irish connection. 7 million people in Australia claim Irish or partial Irish descent. Not just convicts, but voluntary immigrants have risen to the top of political and business and every facet of life in Australia. He explored the way in which Irish immigrants influenced the emergence of Australian nationalism. While up to 30% of the AIF volunteers were from UK or Ireland, an estimated 6,000 – 6,500 were Irish or of Irish descent, as were 30 women who served as nurses.
Dr Jennifer Wellington, Australian born lecturer at the War Studies Centre at UCD told of the painful statistics of those killed and injured. She had some anecdotes about a ;pair of ANZACs in Dublin attending the jubilant Victory Parades and ended up carrying a Sinn Fein flag, for which they were subsequently court martialed, but acquitted. Some years earlier during the Easter Rising in 1916, five New Zealand soldiers assisted in the defence of Trinity College Dublin. One of the five was born in Australia, grew up in New Zealand and was wounded at Gallipoli.
The consequences of war for returning survivors were considerable with hospitalized shell shocked soldiers not included in statistics. About 1/5th of those coming home were shell shocked, with many suicides, much alcoholism. There are no stats for self harm or early deaths as a result of military service. War, she said, does not begin and end on the battlefield. (Martin O ‘Meara’s war went on for many tormented years after returning to Australia after his service)
Brenda Malone, Curator of Military History at the National Museum of Ireland looks forward to the arrival of Martin O’Meara’s V.C. by July. Personal memories and artifacts pertaining to the first world war were more challenging for the Museum to obtain than those associated with the rising for example. Hopefully the arrival of Martin O’Meara’s V.C. may entice others to share memorabilia of this very important part of our history
I was happy to seek out and meet a Lorrha man – Séamus King, who was so helpful to my friend Leith in putting Martin O’Meara’s story together for the State War Memorial and King’s Park. His publication ‘A Lorrha Miscellany’ had invaluable information on Martin.
Glad too to meet Gerard O’Meara, who has written a very considerable tome on ‘ Lorrha people and the great war’, launched in Lorrha by the Australian Ambassador, Mr. Richard Andrews. I look forward to getting a copy!
And I was delighted to meet Aileen and Australian who happened to be in Dublin on holiday and came along to the service. She was excited to see mention of her Queensland hometown, Tablelands as the hometown of Pte. George Bardon who is buried here.
It was a very special and enlightening day, highlighting the many positive connections between our countries. A theme that we will revisit when Martin O’Meara’s medal comes home.
One of the other Anzac graves is in my local town of Midleton. You can read about Ambrose Augustus Haley from Tasmania, here.
There is yet another link with Midleton and an Australian who served in Gallipoli here.
ANZAC commemorations in 2020 will be hosted by the Embassy of New Zealand, opened in Ireland late last year.
At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, fighting in World War 1 officially came to an end, in accordance with the Armistice between Germany and the Allies. On the anniversary of this event, men and women who gave their lives in conflicts are commemorated, and people all over the world wear poppies in remembrance of them.
The Irish Poppy Badge
The wearing of the Poppy in Ireland remains a contentious issue, although it has become more popular in recent years. Not so many years ago in this country, families of those who had gone to war were, often with good reason, reluctant to speak of their soldier sons, brothers, fathers, uncles. The story of their loved ones was buried- lost and unspoken for decades. However, there has been a gradual rehabilitation of those mostly young Irishmen who went off to fight in the British Army of World War 1, some 35,000 of whom never came home.
The tradition of wearing the Poppy began back at the end of World War 1. A Canadian Doctor, Lt.Col John McCrae, having witnessed the death of friends and colleagues in Ypres, penned the haunting and imaginative poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’ on May 3, 1915, the day after he officiated at the burial of his best friend.
In Flanders Field – the iconic poem by John McCrae
Lt-Col John McCrae and his dog Bonneau. Image Wikimedia Commons
John McCrae had noticed that poppies readily sprung up where the earth had been disturbed. May 1915 was a particularly warm month and it is thought that this facilitated the germination of thousands of poppies that had lain dormant in the ground until it was disturbed. As anyone driving along motorways in Ireland can testify, poppies will readily colonize any patch of poor ground, and so it was in the battlefields of Gallipoli, Belgium and France. Lands devastated and pock-marked by shelling, littered with the remains of human beings – total wastelands, described as ‘murdered nature’, by the American pilot, James McConnell who flew over Verdun – often produced blazing groups of red poppies.
Poppy Field on the Somme. Picture from the BBC.
Moina Belle Michael, (1869 – 1944) an American teacher,was so inspired by McCrea’s poem that in 1918 she set about having the Flanders Field Poppy recognized as a symbol of remembrance of those who had lost their lives in the war.
Moina Michael Commemorative Stamp
Moina achieved her ambition and on September 29 1920, the American Legion agreed to use the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy as a national symbol of remembrance of those who did not return from war or who returned with physical or mental scars.
Moina Michael autobiography,’The Miracle Flower. The story of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy’ Published in 1941. Image from Amazon.com
Another remarkable woman, Madame Anna Guérin, on a visit to the USA in 1920 was inspired by the efforts of Moina Michael and saw the potential for raising funds by making and selling paper poppies to help French orphaned children and the war torn regions of France. She founded the ‘American and French Children’s League’ through which she organized French women, children and war veterans to make artificial poppies out of cloth. Anna sent thousands of poppies to be sold in America and then brought her campaign to all the countries that took part in the war. Canada adopted the poppy symbol in 1921 and in that year Anna herself went to London to meet Field Marshall Earl Douglas Haig, founder and head of the British Legion who agreed to adopt the poppy as a symbol of the legion and the first British fund-raising poppy appeal was held in the run up to November 11 1921.
The Tipperary Annual Remembrance takes place each September to honour Irish fallen,in all conflicts. The inscriptions on the arch are of Irish who have died in service in the uniforms of other countries
The poppy is now recognized as a symbol of remembrance in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., Canada, South Africa, Singapore, Thailand, Germany, Poland, Russia, France, Belgium, India, China, Ireland, Israel and Pakistan and its symbolism has evolved from one commemorating lives lost or destroyed in World War 1, to one of remembrance for all those who gave their lives in all conflicts.
Notwithstanding the general acceptance of the Poppy as a universal symbol of remembrance, there are many in Ireland who see it as nothing more than an emblem of British imperialism. Just a couple of years ago I was berated in public for wearing a poppy on my coat. ‘Are you a Brit?’ challenged a work colleague (who happened to be wearing a Liverpool Football Club jersey and is a daily reader of an English tabloid newspaper). I have never understood how men who signed up to join the army often simply as a means of getting paid employment to help support a large family at home, became ostracised because of a ‘green’ discourse in Ireland after Independence. Nor have I understood why that ‘green’ discourse led to families being fearful of honouring their lost loved ones. All down the centuries,Irish men have traditionally fought in armies and wars across the world, as evidenced in the Soldiers and Chiefs exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland. Even in 1926, some 40,000 people gathered in Dublin to honour the dead on Armistice day. There is a magnificent image of crowds of people gathered for the occasion in the blog of Come Here to Me. which can be seen here . This post looks at remembering the dead and the republican response to it. Looking back at this story now, it looks very much like the commemoration of Armistice Day was, as we say here in the mid west , ‘bate out of us’ by men with guns.
The sacrifice made by our people is part of our heritage, so why will we not join with other nations across the world on November 11 to recognize them? Are we not sophisticated and independent enough to do this? In 2011 I posted about Fr Gleeson and the iconic image of him on horseback giving a last blessing to the Munster Fusiliers here just hours before they were killed and wounded in their hundreds.
The Blessing of the Munsters by Fr Gleeson on horseback, by Mattania
Fr Gleeson kept a diary, now in the National Museum of Ireland. that captures the horrors of war. In it he wrote
“Spent all night trying to console, aid and remove the wounded. It was ghastly to see them lying there in the cold, cheerless outhouses, on bare stretchers with no blankets to cover their freezing limbs. … Hundreds lying out in cold air all night at Windy Corner. No ambulances coming. They come at last. – at daylight.” (May 10th ,1915) These words are now engraved on one of the slabs that lime the entrance to the Peace Park at Messines that commemorates the joint action of the 16th (Irish) and the 36th (Ulster) Divisions in June 1917.
We must remember all of these Irishmen with pride – husbands, fathers, sons, uncles, lovers, neighbours, – not to glorify war but rather to acknowledge the horror and obscenity of it, in every generation.
We are the Dead……. Short days ago We lived,….. felt dawn,…… saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, …….and now we lie In Flanders fields.
We have news of another Bog Body found yesterday (11 August 2011) in Ireland by a worker harvesting peat.
The body was found in Cashel Bog in County Laois, and unlike many earlier bog body discoveries, this one was actually seen before it was ripped from the ground by the harvesting machine, so it has been possible to examine it where it lay. First indications are that it may be over 3,000 years old!
NMI and Bord na Mona workers examine the body in Laois. Picture RTE TV
There have been hundreds of bog bodies discovered in the peat wetlands of Europe over the last few centuries, about a hundred of which have been in Ireland. The cold, acidic and anaerobic conditions in peat bogs ‘pickles’ bodies so that they resemble brown coloured mummies. Skin and internal organs are preserved, but the bones are dissolved by the acid. The body discovered in Laois seems to have been placed in a leather bag. The legs are protruding and have been preserved, while the remainder of the body protected by the leather has not been preserved to the same extent, if at all.
It is estimated that about 1/6th of Ireland is covered in bog. As children, we were constantly warned about the dangers of ‘falling into a bog hole’ and often heard stories of people who vanished without trace,the assumption being that they had not heeded the warnings of parents!
When a bog body is discovered it is a truly unusual event. The question invariably arises as to how it got to be there in the first place. It is unlikely that someone whose head and torso is inside a leather bag was an errant traveller who fell in. That leaves the possibility that the bog was used as a burial-place. However, some of the human remains discovered have signs of torture and or execution, with evidence of hanging, strangulation, stabbing and bludgeoning. So were they people who had been put to death for crimes against society, were they murdered by vagabonds, or could they have been ritually sacrificed?
Clonycavan Man at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin. Picture Sven Shaw Commons.Wikimedia.org
In 2003 two bog body discoveries were made in Ireland: In February near Clonycavan on the Meath/Westmeath border and, just weeks later in May some 25 miles away, at Old Croghan in County Offaly. Known as Clonycavan Man and Old Croghan Man, neither body was intact. Both these bodies were subjected to an array of tests and analysis using modern medical imaging techniques, pathology and other scientific methods, and were carried out by an international group of experts. Radiocarbon dating showed that both had died about the same time, some 2,300 years ago. Clonycavan Man appears to have suffered a blow to the head that smashed open his skull, while Old Croghan Man showed signs of having been stabbed, beheaded and dismembered. Ropes made from hazel were threaded through his arms. Ned Kelly of the National Museum of Ireland, in researching locations of bog bodies found in Ireland reported that there were some 30 to 40 instances of such remains found on or near ancient borders or boundaries. This would indicate the likelihood of human sacrifice. ‘My belief is that these burials are offerings to the gods of fertility by kings to ensure a successful reign’ he told the BBC. ‘Bodies ‘ he said, ‘are placed in the borders immediately surrounding royal land or on tribal boundaries to ensure a good yield of corn and milk throughout the reign of the king’.
The results of the investigations into this latest discovery are eagerly awaited so that we might know how or why she or he died. In the meantime, we can say for sure that Cashel Man or Cashel Woman was someone’s child, may have had brothers and sisters and may have been a parent themselves. Who knows, he or she may well be one of our own family ancestors!
Kingship & Sacrifice is the title of an exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland that is centred on the theory of bog burials on political or royal boundaries and has exhibits from Ireland and beyond. It is in Dublin, Kildare Street and admission is free.