War trophy mystery solved

A First World War German machine gun was unveiled outside of Ipswich city at the Bundamba Anzac Memorial Park back on Anzac Day in 1923. Twenty years later it went missing and I’ve now traced it and it’s not a happy story which I revealed on West Bremer Radio.

There was controversy from the start. As the Great War fired it last shots, war trophies were arriving back in Australia and there were concerns about the fairness of allocating the spoils. The Esk Shire council complained about what others were getting. Nearby towns like Linville got a machine gun and Goondiwindi a trench mortar. Documents at the Australian War Memorial reveal that Bundamba got a German Light Machine Gun on a bipod stand – serial No. 3943.

It had been captured in the closing stages of the war by the 15th Australian Infantry Battalion which was made up mostly of Queenslanders – and that’s why it came to Bundamba, honouring the local men who captured it.

A German light machine gun like the one at Bundamba

But come the Second World War, the old German trophies were being rounded up by authorities. The public reasoning was because they were unsafe or could be used by the Volunteer Defence Corps, but there was also a secret more sinister reason; they might fall into the hands of the ‘German Fifth Column’. This was the name given to clandestine Third Reich sympathisers around the world which included the First World War German veterans who originally fired the guns.

The Ipswich Council minutes in 1943 give a clue as to what happened next because there were a number of meetings about the guns. The local Returned Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen Imperial League of Australia raised the safety issue and said that something had to be done. Bundamba’s gun was then taken probably to the council’s Thorn Street depot and scrapped in support of the war effort.

If the gun had survived, today it would be a valued memento like the one still at Linville. It’s quite possible that the Bundamba gun ended up as steel in one of the army barges built in Brisbane by Chinese labourers that the Americans brought over during World War Two. The barges were used in the war effort against the Japanese in the Pacific.

While Bundamba’s gun has been gone for almost eighty years, its intention to honour the men who captured it remains. The memorial park there includes an honour stone and cenotaph bearing the names of eighty-four men from the district who enlisted. I’ve identified three who served in the 15th Battalion and who may have played a role in capturing the war trophy.

There was Tom Barclay who lived at Bergins Hill which is just a stone’s throw from the memorial. He survived the bloody battles of Messines, Ypres, Somme, Passchendaele, Polygon Wood where he was gassed, and Villiers Brettoneaux where he was wounded during a night patrol when a German through a bomb at him. After the war he struggled with the effects of alcohol and never married.

Then there was little Barney Everding who was just 5’2” tall, he was in Belgium when got shrapnel in his legs and abdomen. His brother Christe was killed by the Germans at Passchendaele. Barney and Christe may have been fighting against cousins because their father had renounced his German citizenship just two years before war was declared.   

The man who was most likely there when the machine gun got captured was Fred Shanks who was another miner from Bundamba. He was gassed just a month before his battalion got rested for the final time. Fred had troubles with authority his whole life, and alcohol got the better of him which hurt those around him.

We now know where the Bundamba German machine gun came from and went to, but it was never a happy story.


Photo credits:
Bundamba Memorial Park – my own
Maxim MG 08-15 light machine gun (1915) – Royal Armouries
Thomas Barclay – The Queenslander, 1916, State Library of Queensland
BA Everding – The Queenslander, 1917, State Library of Queensland

Fred Shanks WW1 court martial – National Archives of Australia

One comment

  1. Reaally good, most interesting. I  like the way it’s presented .Sent from the Samsung tablet lovingly given by Harold, Jacqueline, Harold, and Murray


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