Tuesday, August 5, 2008

[Image] "...a brave, dashing and resourceful soldier." - Morshead.

VX27678 Pvt. Morris J. O'Connell M.M.
2/23rd Infantry Battalion.

1st January, 1942, Palestine.

At the time that this photo was taken on New Year's Day in 1942, Pvt. Morris O'Connell was taking a break from competing in the Hockey tournament of the 9th Division Sporting Day.

Pvt. O'Connell was awarded the Military Medal (MM) for bravery in the field at Tobruk. The final sentence on the citation for the award, written by Morshead himself, called Pvt. O'Connell a "...brave, dashing and resourceful soldier". Further investigations into Pvt. O'Connell reveal a soldier with a few more disciplinary issues than the citation would have you believe, but in true Australian fashion some of the bravest soldiers in battle are often the most defiant outside of it. In any case you judge for yourself.

Pvt. O'Connell's citation for the Military Medal reads;

"The Commander-in-Chief, Middle East has approved the immediate award of the Military Medal to VX27678 Pvt. M.J. O'Connell of the 2/23rd Inf. AIF."

"Pvt. O'Connell was a member of a party that carried out a raid successfully against enemy forces of unknown strength west of Tobruk on April 22nd, 1941. He took part in the capture of the first enemy post and then dashed ahead on his own."

"Jumping into a sangar he threw a Mills Bomb (hand grenade), killed several of the enemy and captured an officer and seven other ranks."

"During the withdrawal of the patrol he escorted his prisoners back to the perimeter, a distance of 3,000 yards, in the face of intensive artillery, mortar and machine gun fire. A brave, dashing and resourceful soldier".

Looking at Pvt. O'Connell's service record at the National Archive's website one can see a few disciplinary issues. Before embarking to the Middle East, Pvt. O'Connell faced a Board of Enquiry when the Army truck that he was driving crashed into a private bus when he was on leave and not supposed to be in control of an Army vehicle. He sustained a rather bruised buttock and was fined.

In Tobruk in March of 1941, a mere 12 weeks before his MM, Pvt O'Connell was charged with two offenses.
  1. "Failing to appear at a place of parade appointed by a commanding officer" for which he was fined 10 shillings and 7 days pay.
  2. "Conduct prejudicial to a Commanding Officer's Military Discipline" for which this offence cost him a fine of 20 shillings.

In spite of his reported disciplinary issues Pvt. O'Connell showed all of his commanding officers that they were wrong about him and proved himself a soldier when it mattered most, when with his mates and under fire.

It was whilst Pvt. O'Connell MM was with his mates and under fire at Tel el Eisa on the night of 22nd July, 1942 that he was killed in action. He is buried at the El Alamein War Cemetery. He is memorialised on the Roll of Honour here;


At the time of his death, like too many of the men killed at Alamein, Pvt. Morris Joseph O'Connell was 23 years old.

image 022764 Australian War Memorial

Pvt. O'Connell's entire digitised service record can be viewed at the National Archives Website. See the link in the sidebar on the right under "Research Links".

[Image] 2/13th Mortar support at Tel el Eisa

Tel el Eisa, Egypt, 1st August, 1942.

A two pounder gets sent on its way.

NX16706 Pvt. Leslie S. Myers of the 2/13th Infantry battalion drops another two pound mortar shell into his launcher in support of the 9th Division advance at Tel el Eisa (The Hill of Jesus).

You can see what appear to be vehicles of some description on the horizon. Whatever they are they are above ground level and in this case a very valid target. You can see also a plume of smoke in the distance in the direction of fire of Pvt. Myers’ mortar. There also appears to be another dug in position several hundred yards in front of Pvt. Myers’ position. As he is firing live rounds in that direction my guess is that’s where Gerry calls home.

This photo taken not far above ground level can give you an appreciation of just how dangerous it would be to be caught in the open of the desert during a shell attack. Your only hope would appear to be to keep moving forward.

Pvt. Myers seems to have quite a bit about the top of his weapons pit. A Lee-Enfield .303 rests on the sandbags behind him as too does his cigarettes and matches. He looks like he has more mortar ammo to his right within easy reach and he is wearing the commonwealth Tin Hat with hessian cover.

To his left is what looks like a binoculars case. Makes sense that the guy with the mortar would have field glasses to spot targets with and to accurately gauge the range on enemy positions. Empty tins of bully beef can be seen in the foreground of the photo below. In the bottom photo Pvt. Myers looks like he has some kind of rangefinder or telescope.

images 0941967 and 041968 Australian War Memorial.