The 210mm howitzer, commonly called the Krupp cannon, which sits adjacent to the Soldier’s Memorial Room of the former Isis Shire Council Chambers, is much more than a stark reminder of the weaponry used in the First World War.
While this gun is a permanent tribute to the fallen from the Isis District, it is also silent testament to the passion, dedication and unrelenting drive of Shire Clerk, Mr H Epps, and members of the local council.
This man and this group fought tenaciously to have a significant war trophy awarded to Childers.
Mr Epps commenced his trophy crusade in December 1918 with a letter to the Federal Parliament seeking a suitable allocation for Childers and was advised that war memorabilia was still being shipped back to Australia.
Childers was never meant to receive a war trophy of this magnitude. It simply wasn’t in the guidelines.
A machine gun and a trench mortar were considered appropriate for the small community when the Commonwealth’s collection of captured arms was being distributed across Australia.
Bundaberg Regional Council Divisional representative Cr Bill Trevor said the battle to secure the howitzer for Childers was an incredible feat against all odds.
“The Shire Clerk, magnificently supported by the local Federal Member Edward Corser, maintained a barrage of correspondence with the body allocating trophies.
“In original correspondence Mr Epps pointed out that some 360 men from the district had enlisted for service from a Childers population of 1500 and an Isis District population of around 4500. He claimed that 85 of the 360 volunteers failed to return.
“When Mr Epps received notification that Childers was to receive a machine gun or trench mortar his response was one of controlled outrage,” Cr Trevor said.
“On behalf of Council, Mr Epps wrote to the committee awarding the trophies berating them for a lack of appreciation of the contribution the district had made to the war effort both in manpower and also through financial support via War Loans.
“Support through the War Loans was an area in which the Isis District had achieved the highest recognition,” Cr Trevor said.
Written reports indicate that the debate between Council, the Federal Parliament and the Queensland Trophy Committee ensued for a protracted period of time.
Cr Trevor said that in March of 1921 Mr Epps was still appealing the need for a trophy more significant than a machine gun or mortar.
“Mr Epps, although totally committed to an outcome to appropriately recognise the war effort supplied by Childers and district, had a deeply personal reason for his passionate attachment to the project,” he said.
“Two of his sons, Robert and James had enlisted in 1916. Robert, 19, was wounded in France and returned to Australia. Lt. James Epps was killed in February 1917 just short of his 21st birthday. He is buried in northern France,” said Cr Trevor.
A breakthrough came in March 1922 with Mr Corser, MP advising Council that they would receive a field gun, the item for which they had been advocating. It is believed only two of these field guns were returned to Australia.
The howitzer was shipped to Childers in 1922. Other information indicates that a machine gun and mortar were also gifted to Childers. A replica of the machine gun now sits atop the memorial at Doolbi having been custom-built as a Childers Rotary Club project.
The whereabouts of the original machine gun and mortar remain a mystery.
Cr Trevor said Childers was extremely fortunate to receive the prized field gun. “Correspondence from the Australian War Museum, then in Melbourne, states that it “was a great pity that such a fine trophy should be sent to this township.”
“Even after it had been announced that Childers would receive this piece, forces were still at work to have it re-allocated to a larger city,” said Cr Trevor.
The 210mm howitzer was captured by Australian forces in 1916 after a bloody battle in Flanders.
“It is quite astounding to know the story behind this piece, a piece from the battlefield that remains a permanent reminder of that conflict from 1914 – 1918. Manufactured in Germany in 1916 it was transported to France before its capture and ultimate arrival in Childers some six years later,” said Cr Trevor.
“For many years the howitzer was exposed to the elements. Isis Shire Council, through a Federal Government Grant, was able to fund a cover for the piece which was significantly restored by members of the Rotary Club of Childers and other community groups. The restored piece was officially unveiled on December 11, 2001.”
Cr Trevor shared an interesting personal footnote regarding the cannon and how a small piece from it returned to France some 83 years after the weapon had been shipped to Australia.
“I led a delegation to Belgium in October 2001 and as part of an extensive itinerary we found ourselves at Villers-Bretonneux where we visited the war memorial and were guests of the Mayor of Villers-Bretonneux at a reception.
“We had with us a mounted fragment of the footplate which had been removed during the cannon restoration process. We presented that piece to the school museum in Villers-Bretonneux where it resides to this day with photographs and other information telling the story of its significance.”
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