Ballistics bringing the dead to life

20160310_160030 (2)It was the devil incarnate. Spitting burning death while imperviously reflecting hate. Mephisto was one of the chief demons of German mythology. On this day, however, it was a First World War tank leading the German offensive that threatened to win the war. The 30 tonne monolith, however, stopped and rolled into a shell crater. Today it’s the only surviving German tank from the war, and its cryptic conclusion may soon be explained.

Regimental quartermaster sergeant Frank Lorrain established a walking wounded dressing station on the main road from French village Villers-Bretonneux. Once the fighting started, he was kept busy. So too was Sapper Albert Cottier, the dispatch rider rushing instructions between command posts.

Sergeant Lindsay Malseed of the Australian Light Horse was attached to General Pompey Elliot’s 15th Brigade. Constantly under to heavy fire, he guided the attacking brigades, back and forth over the ground called Monument Wood. He was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry. He also got a close up look at Mephisto in battle conditions.

This was the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux that included the first tank-versus-tank battle in history. The Australians retook the ground, and Queenslanders claimed Mephisto as their prize. Today the world’s rarest tank – if it was a postage stamp it’d be priceless – is the property of the Queensland Museum, and is being studied by ballistic and forensic scientist Chris Little.

At the World Science Festival in Brisbane this week, he presented his proof of concept. He’s performing ground-breaking 3D laser scans of Mephisto inside and out, and its hundreds of battle scars. There’s a very large explosion on the roof, was it the Australians with a 3 inch mortar, or the Germans trying to blow up their own tank. Exactly what did kill the demon. He will forensically get the past to speak.

Lorrain, Cottier, and Malseed, are members of one extended family, and just a small representation of thousands of Australians who bore witness to Mephisto’s tumultuous last days back on 24th-25th April 1918. Chris Little may be able to breath life into their witness to tell us what really happened.

The stories of Lorrain, Cottier, and Malseed, are included in my new book out this year. Email to register your interest and receive a discount voucher when the book is released. An update on Chris Little’s project will be included at the World Science Festival in 2017.

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