Just five Royal Australian Air Force personnel were awarded the Military Medal in the 1939-45 War, O'Neil's being unique in combination with the Distinguished Flying Cross.
D.F.C. London Gazette 14.11.1944. Recommendation states 'Flying Officer O'Neil joined his present Squadron in November 1943 for his second term of operational duty. On at least three occasions his aircraft has been extensively damaged by enemy fire but by his oustanding skill and tenacity, he always succeeded in returning safely to base. In June 1944, he took part in an attack on ground targets in central Italy and although his aircraft had been badly hit by ground fire he continued his mission, leaving one truck in flames and four others damaged. His skill alone enabled him to cross 400 miles of sea, before his engine caught fire, forcing him to abandon his aircraft. This Officer has always shown outstanding coolness and courage'.
M.M. London Gazette 29.6.1943. 'This Airman effected a forced landing near Namman on 25 July 1942, owing to engine failure, but succeeded in making his way back to British lines. After making a low level attack on the enemy near Churgia on 13 January 1943, he was compelled to land many miles behind the enemy's lines. Despite machine-gun fire, he penetrated those lines and reached our forces four days later. Sergeant O'Neil displayed great courage and resource in evading capture and his report was useful to the military authorities'.
Flying Officer George Connor Watson O'Neil, D.F.C., M.M., was born at Vaucluse, New South Wales in October 1915 and joined the Royal Australian Air Force in January 1941. Qualifying for his 'Wings', after surviving accidents during training in Canada and the U.K., he was posted to the Middle East to join No. 450 Squadron in early 1942. In July of the latter year, following an unsuccessful run in with some 109's near El Alamein, he was compelled to bale out of his Kittyhawk over the sea. Without his Mae West or a dinghy, O'Neil stripped naked and swam one and half miles to shore. Back in action with 450 Squadron, and following a belly-landing among our troops when his engine blew up, the unfortunate O'Neil was compelled to make a crash-landing some 50 miles behind enemy lines after a strafing attack in Tripolitania. Suffering great privations and experiencing no end of hair-raising encounters, he walked the whole way back to Allied lines, latterly disguised as an Arab. In the final furlong, he had to cross the enemy's wire which was guarded by a machine-gun post, a sentry opening fire on him after just 500 yards. Dropping to the ground and coolly biding his time, he managed to cross to positions of the 51st Division at dusk, bringing with him valuable information regarding enemy positions. He was awarded the M.M. [O'Neil's own account of this spectacular 'Walk Back' can be found in The Desert Harassers, Memoirs of 450 (R.A.A.F.) Squadron, by Leonard L. Barton].
Commissioned in July 1943 and posted to No. 451 Squadron, O'Neil participated in numerous strafing sorties over Italy, once again succumbing to enemy fire in May 1944, when his Spitfire was hit in the main fuel tank. Luckily he nursed his aircraft all the way home to his airfield in Corsica, landing with just a gallon of fuel remaining. Again hit by ground fire over Italy in the following month, O'Neil was once more forced to bale out over the sea. On this occasion he was picked up by an A.S.R. Walrus after half an hour in his dinghy. Then came a final encounter with anti-aircraft fire which left his Spitfire with numerous holes and part of a propeller blade missing - the remarkably lucky O'Neil managed to touch down at Grosetto for some urgent repairs. On 1.7.1944, No. 451 Squadron's C.O. submitted a request for O'Neil to be taken off operations and returned to Australia, citing his extraordinary active service record: 'He has had several experiences which would have had a serious effect on the flying ability of one less capable than he... [but that]... if Flying Officer O'Neil is kept on operational flying any longer... it may have a serious effect on him'. So ended one of the toughest operational careers of the War.