This post on the death of Maurice Edward O’Neill needs to read in conjunction with Post 41: Pressed to enlist. Maurice O’Neill was one of the 3 O’Neill brothers from Woodside who were the target of anonymous letters to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative over the period April to June 1915. As far as ‘Patriot’ was concerned, not enough young men from Woodside had enlisted and the O’Neill boys typified this claimed lack of patriotism. The 3 brothers did in fact enlist – May/June 1915 – and they all served in 24 Battalion. Two brothers – Simon John O’Neill (1958) and Joseph Geoffrey O’Neill (2062) – survived the War but Maurice Edward O’Neill was killed in action (30/6/16).
Maurice O’Neill was born at Darriman. At the time he enlisted (18/6/1915) he was living at Woodside with his mother, Mrs Mary Jane Kerr. As a boy he attended the local state school. It appears that his father – William John Kerr – had died prior to his enlistment.
The O’Neill boys were Roman Catholic. Maurice gave his occupation as ‘labourer’. On his enlistment papers he noted that he had been in the Woodside Rifle Club for 3 years. At the time he enlisted he was 22 yo and single.
The initial medical was held at Yarram on 26/5/1915 and he was then given a railway warrant, dated 31/5/1915, to travel to Melbourne. The enlistment, including the additional medical examination, was not completed until 16/6/1915. He was posted to 24 Battalion and he embarked for overseas on 26/8/1915.
Private O’Neill served on Gallipoli from 11/11/1915 until the withdrawal. He was back in Alexandria in early January 1916. His battalion left Alexandria in March 1916 and was in France by the end of that month.
Private O’Neill was killed within 3 months of reaching the Western Front. He was killed in action on the night of 29-30 June 1916. He was in a raiding party on enemy trenches which set out at midnight (29/6/1916). The 24 Battalion was at Rue Marle, near Erquinghem. The battalion diary recorded the event. Private O’Neill would have been the ‘1 OR [other rank] killed’:
12 midnight. Battalion took part in combined Brigade raid on German trenches. 24 Btn party under Lts Carrick & Kerr penetrated German trenches. Killed about 20 and took 5 German prisoners. Lt Carrick went back twice for wounded. 1 OR killed. 2 wounded.
Private O’Neill’s body was returned with the raiding party and he was buried in … Ration Farm Cemetery near Bois Grenier 1 1/2 miles south of Armentieres.
The cable advising of his death was dated 11/7/1916 and details of his burial were forwarded in a letter to his mother dated 8/11/1916.
Two months after the death of her son, the mother wrote to the AIF asking for information on her son’s ‘money [deferred pay] and effects’. In the same letter she also sought information on one of her other sons – Simon John O’Neill – who had been wounded. Touchingly, but somewhat naively, she enquired,
I would like to know if he was sent to England or of he would be allowed to come home for a while till he recovers from his wounds.
Private O’Neill’s personal effects were returned in February 1917: Cards, Photos, Writing Pad, Leather Case, Turkish Bandolier.
When the mother completed the (National) Roll of Honour form she gave Woodside as the location with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. Maurice O’Neill’s name is recorded on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial and the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll, where he is also recorded as ‘killed’.