Tales of Eumundi gunner’s souvenir coup
IT'S July 1918 and the Battle of the Somme is raging in war-torn northern France. Machine gunner Dick Caplick, of Eumundi, is there with the 26th Battalion and he is about to take part in one of the most audacious examples of "souveniring" by Aussie diggers during the four years of war.
His commanding officer, Major James Robinson, has set his heart on capturing a German tank and taking it back to Queensland.
Before he died in 1987, Private Caplick recalled how the Germans had been pushed back to a point where one of their new tanks had fallen into a trench. The tank was Mephisto, a 30-tonne monster and one of only 20 German tanks produced for the First World War.
He was in a squad of 12 soldiers picked to capture the tank which was stranded in the battle zone and in full view of the German lines.
For two nights, Dick Caplick and his mates were sent out to lay the groundwork for the tank's retrieval and on the third night, supported by an artillery bombardment, Mephisto was "rescued." It was coupled to a British tank and moved 5km back past the Australian line.
Startled German troops woke up next morning to find it had vanished. From there Mephisto, named after the evil spirit Mephistopheles, was taken to Dunkirk, put on a barge to England, shipped to Brisbane in 1919 and is now on display at Queensland Museum.
Dick was 94 when he died at Eumundi in 1987.
His grandson, Raymond Weh, and his wife, Marie, live at Eerwah Vale. Marie remembers a "lovely old man with some great life stories. When he spoke of the tank, he said that at the time he didn't appreciate the magnitude of capturing it and the importance the Australian Government would place on it.
"We often offered to take him to Brisbane to see the tank but he wasn't really interested," Marie said.
Dick had a high reputation as an expert tree feller in the Eumundi district before enlisting on March 1916 when he was 23. He continued fighting in France after "rescuing" Mephisto and was wounded by fragments of a shell burst.
"It was bitterly cold and the Aussies were using German prisoners of war to carry the injured back to the field hospital. Pops was obviously wounded and a soldier took off his coat and put it over him. Of course, being German it was a German greatcoat," Marie said.
"At the field hospital, the staff were keeping the German solders last until the diggers were treated. Eventually, they got to Pop and when they took the coat off they realised it was an Australian digger and one of them yelled, 'It's a bloody Aussie'.
"He said he got first class treatment because they felt so guilty at leaving him to the to the last. Pop wasn't the type to yell out, 'Take me first'. He came back with a shell fragment in his jaw and one in his shoulder and he carried them to the end. He always used to say he brought a bit of the war back with him, like a memento."
After the war he married and was granted a soldier's settlement at Eerwah where he grew bananas. Later he moved to 69 Memorial Dr in Eumundi and actively beautified the town. "He was keen on planting trees, mainly because, as he said, he had knocked over a few when he was a young tree feller," Marie said.