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Martin O'Connor

Martin O’Connor

Martin O’Connor (1888 – 1921) joined the Royal Flying Corps in September, 1912, having been recruited from the Grenadier Guards. He became an Air Mechanic 1st Class, with the Regiment number 1085. His medal card can be found at the National Archives. He was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. To be awarded this medal, an individual must have “good, faithful, valuable and meritorious service, with conduct judged to be irreproachable throughout”. He was also mentioned in despatches.

Martin O'Connor on active service in Lealvillers, France, 1916

Martin O’Connor on active service in Lealvillers, France, 1916

Martin O’Connor’s birth was registered in Dudley in March 1888. His father, also Martin O’Connor, was the licensee of the Horse & Jockey public house in Bilston Street, and Martin was the only brother of William O’Connor.  Both brothers attended St. Mary & St John’s Catholic church & school on Snow Hill, Wolverhampton. Martin left Wolverhampton to go to London to join the Grenadier Guards. He was followed later by his young brother who came to Wellington Barracks also to join the Guards as a boy soldier. William eventually became a musician as Drummer in the Guards band. The brothers both served in France and Flanders in the First World War.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Martin O’Connor died aged 34 at 6 Church Street, Wolverhampton, in June 1921, and the official coroner’s verdict was “Natural Causes”. But delving into the papers of the coroners inquest gives a fuller picture, and demonstrates the effect that the First World War had on the man. The inquest found that he “died from sudden heart failure, after being gassed while in the Army.” The witness statement provided by O’connor’s wife, Caroline, on 9 June 1921 explains:

He was a fitter, and was demobilized on Tuesday last. He has been all through the war, and was gassed badly. He had complained sometimes of pains at his heart.”

When O’Connor got up from his supper, he collapsed, and it is believed that he died instantly.

As an interesting aside, although Caroline describes herself as the wife of Martin O’Connor (“I have been married to deceased since last October”), there is a note in the papers from a Sergeant George Bowlby of Wolverhampton Police stating that this was, in fact, Caroline Edwards, and that “the deceased was a single man and lived in appartments [sic] at 6 Church Street, with Edwards, as man and wife.” The fact that there is no marriage registered in their names in the December quarter of 1920 would appear to corroborate this statement.