Tank for the memories
Richard (Dick) Caplick (1893 – 1987) is best remembered as a pioneer and one of the great great characters of Eumundi, where his statue still stands.
Dick was the sixth of 11 children and spent most of his life in Eumundi. Throughout his life, he worked at timber-getting, scrub falling and sleeper cutting.
He also worked in the butter factory and at growing bananas.
Although of German descent, he was ready to enlist in World War I. Australia was his family’s home and the family had no loyalty to Germany at that time.
Dick trained as a machine gunner and as part of the 26th Battalion was sent to the Somme region in 1918. He could still recall, as recently as the 1980s, the remarkable involvement of his battalion with the capture of a German tank.
Tanks were a new development in war weaponry and first developed by the British and then the French. Germany caught up with this new technology when they saw what tanks could do and first used them on the Somme in 1916.
At the village of Villers-Bretonneux, the Battalion was able to push the Germans back and recover a disabled tank named Mephisto.
The commanding officer of the 26th Battalion, Lt Col Robinson, and his men decided to take the tank back to Queensland. The soldiers helped drag the abandoned tank behind allied lines in July 1918. They had a great souvenir of the war and scratched their names in the side of the tank.
They would not have realised then that the Mephisto (meaning demon) would be the only German World War I tank, of a batch of 21, to survive. The name was given by the original German crew who decorated the tank with fiery images.
Mephisto, weighing 33 tonnes and eight metres long, was known as “the moving fortress” and is the only surviving German A7V Sturmpanzerwagen tank in the world. It needed a crew of 18 men. Some referred to it as a mobile pill box, armed with one 57mm gun and six or seven machine guns.
Inside, it was extremely hot, crowded and uncomfortable. Its top speed was eight miles per hour at best. It is believed it was part of the first German tank vs British tank battle in 1918.
Although it was enormously heavy and cumbersome, arrangements were made to ship the tank to Queensland.
After being put on a barge to England, it was loaded on to a ship bound for Melbourne and then transported to Brisbane.
In June 1919, two council steam rollers towed it to the Queensland Museum which was then at Bowen Hills. Many residents can still recall seeing it out in the weather and then, with a canopy for protection.
It was relocated to the new Queensland Museum in South Brisbane which opened in 1986. When the devastating 2011 flood inundated the ground floor of the museum, Mephisto was also flooded. Military historians around the world were shocked and it was moved to the Ipswich Railway Workshops for restoration.
In 2015, with Australia-wide events and displays commemorating the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli, the restored tank was made available for display at the Australian War Memorial at Canberra.
In June this year, it was returned to the Ipswich Railway Workshops where it is on display but will be returned to the Queensland Museum at South Bank as is it one of the best-known objects in the Queensland State Collection.