A Cross to Ireland
For the first time in more than 60 years, a Victoria Cross medal will leave Australian shores to be loaned to an international museum.
The Victoria Cross awarded to Irish-born Anzac Sergeant Martin O’Meara will be displayed in the National Museum of Ireland until July 2020.
Sergeant O’Meara was awarded his Victoria Cross for his actions as a private with the Western Australian 16th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, at Pozieres in 1916, when over four days he repeatedly ventured into contested land to rescue wounded men and replenish ammunition stores, conduct reconnaissance and raid trenches to capture prisoners.
Following Sergeant O’Meara’s death in 1935, the 16th Battalion Association received Sergeant O’Meara’s Victoria Cross from his estate, and later presented it to the Australian Army to hold in perpetuity within its heritage collection.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said in “showing utter contempt for danger”, Sergeant O’Meara was “a true representation of the Anzac spirit”.
“More than 80 years after Sergeant O’Meara’s death, the Victoria Cross, a symbol of his service to his adopted nation, will return to his homeland,” Senator Reynolds said.
“Sergeant O’Meara is one of around 6000 Irish-born Anzacs who served with the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War.”
The loan of Sergeant O’Meara’s Victoria Cross from the Australian Army Museum of Western Australia is the first time in more than six decades that a Victoria Cross not in the possession of the recipient has been allowed to leave Australia.
Before a December 2018 amendment to the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986, Victoria Crosses not held by the recipient of the medal, such as Sergeant O’Meara’s, were not permitted to leave Australia for any reason.
The amendment allows temporary export for exhibition purposes, and the loan of O’Meara’s Victoria Cross is the first since the law was changed.
The only other Australian Victoria Cross not held by the recipient to be loaned internationally was for two weeks in 1956, when the medals of Major Frederick Tubb, VC, held at the Australian War Memorial, were displayed at Marlborough House, London, as Australia’s contribution to the Centenary of the Victoria Cross exhibition.
In addition to the Victoria Cross, Sergeant O’Meara was also awarded the Victory Medal, which is now held by a relative in the UK, and the British War Medal, the whereabouts of which is unknown.
Sergeant O’Meara’s Victory Medal, and a replica British War Medal, will also be displayed alongside his Victoria Cross in the National Museum of Ireland for 12 months.
“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,” Senator Reynolds said.
“His heroic actions undoubtedly saved many lives.”