On Main Street in the village of Hahndorf stands a stark reminder of the Great War – an artillery piece from the Western Front. During the war, strong anti-German views caused rifts in this South Australian community, which had been founded by German settlers in the late 1830s. Accusations of spying, plots to overthrow the government and constant taunting created unrest and some families anglicised their names to avoid trouble. Hahndorf was one of sixty-nine towns in South Australia that were renamed under the Nomenclature Act of 1917. It became Ambleside, named after the nearby railway station, until it reverted to its original name in 1935.
This particular artillery piece is not one of the original trophies allocated to Ambleside by the State Trophy Committee. In 1920 the town was allotted a heavy machine gun which had been captured by the 27th Battalion, but it was changed before despatch to a light machine gun taken by the same unit. The trustees appointed to care for it – Alfred von Doussa, Wilhelm Minkwitz and Private Leslie Walter Wilson, ex 5th Pioneer Battalion, AIF – signed an agreement ensuring its future display and preservation. A postal note for 8/- was sent to purchase the necessary brackets to mount the gun, which was duly despatched by rail to Ambleside Station. A further allocation of a heavy machine gun captured by the Australian Light Horse was made in July 1921. The Hon Secretary of the Ambleside Vigilance Association, A Dickson, advised that they were pleased ‘to accept another war trophy ... they will be lodged in the local Institute Hall in a conspicuous place’.
Local knowledge indicates that the trench mortar, believed to be the only one of its type in Australia, was acquired from the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, in about 1968. The Hahndorf RSL paid the transport cost. When the RSL branch disbanded in the late 1970s, the weapon was to be transferred to the Nairne RSL sub-branch, however the Hahndorf Lions Club intervened and undertook to care for it.
The Australian War Records Section officially started collecting weapons and equipment in May 1917, insisting that trophies captured by Australian troops should be made available to them. Depots were set up in Belgium, France and England to record full details of the weapons and to arrange the shipping. Weapons were disabled to prevent future use before being distributed by State Trophy Committees. Towns such as Ambleside, with a population between 300 and 3000, were allocated a machine gun.
Allotment of 1914–1918 War trophies, Ambleside SA – AWM194 S60
War trophies, First World War:http://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/war_trophies/?query=war+trophies
‘The Old Cannon’ quoted from We're Not Heroes: The Story Behind the Hahndorf Country Fire Service 1949–2006, Moya Stevens and Trevor Gauld, Hahndorf, 2007: http://hahndorf.wikispot.org/Interesting_Items
25 cm Schwerer Minenwerfer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/25_cm_schwerer_Minenwerfer