He was the son of Daniel and Johanna O’Brien – his father was a teacher at Birdhill’s Boys School, Limerick and it appears Michael intended to follow in his fathers footsteps and become a teacher himself.
In 1914 Michael arrived in England and shortly after began teacher training at Heath Hayes School on Wimblebury Road (formerly Five Ways Board School).
When conscription was introduced, Michael applied for exemption on the grounds that he wanted to complete his teacher training. (It was possible to claim exemption from military conscription, as long as each man met the necessary criteria such as: work which had national importance, business obligations or ill health).
The local tribunal refused his application, so Michael decided to take his case to a central tribunal and this time he was granted exemption – however there is a twist to this story!
At a local Education Committee meeting, it was stated that Michael had merely been ‘making a point’ when he applied for exemption and it appears that shortly after Michael enlisted with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves.
He served on-board H.M.S Edlington but was reported as ‘accidentally drowned’ on 15th March 1917. The Royal Navy Casualty website shows no other fatalities on that day and at the time of writing no further information has been found about the incident.
Michaels body was never recovered for burial but he is commemorated in the Heath Hayes War Memorial and on the Plymouth Naval Memorial in Devon.