Village shares link to history
WALKING through the small Tweed village of Tyalgum, few would realise its historical significance in the annals of history.
In fact, only some of the older residents know the village was once home to the man who shot down history’s greatest ever fighter pilot, the infamous Red Barron.
And the only reference to such an historical moment is a small cartoon painted on the side of the public toilets at the town’s showgrounds.
But with the 100-year anniversary of the Red Baron’s death approaching on April 21, several residents want this to change. Tyalgum farmer and aviation expert Hawk Bear said he wanted everyone to know about Sergeant Cedric Popkin, the Australian who shot down the Red Barron and later spent 10 years living as the postmaster in Tyalgum.
Manfred von Richthofen, aka The Red Baron, was Germany’s number one fighter pilot during World War I and became famous for officially shooting down 80 Allied planes in his scarlet-coloured aircraft.
He was aiming for 81 when Popkin shot him down.
“Popkin’s not known so much because most of the people who knew him are dead now, that’s one of the reasons we want to get it known, he did such an amazing thing it would be such a shame to see it lost in history,” Mr Bear said.
“He probably saved countless Allied lives by shooting down Richthofen because he was just knocking down the Allied planes like it was nothing.”
Sergeant Cedric Popkin was born in June 1890 in Sydney and worked as a carpenter before he married and moved to South Murwillumbah in 1913 where he found a job as a tobacconist. In 1916 he moved to Palmwoods, Queensland, where he enlisted in the AIF while the First World War was underway.
By April 1918, Popkin was ranked as a sergeant and stationed as a gunner in the Somme Valley, France.
On the night of April 21, 1918, von Richthofen was behind enemy lines when he first flew past Popkin, who fired 80 rounds from his anti-aircraft machine gun towards him but missed.
But when von Richthofen turned around and came past him again, Popkin again fired at him and managed to blast him with a fatal round that hit him in the ribs and came out of his chest.
With so many people shooting at von Richthofen, it was hard to determine who fired the fatal shot, however ballistic evidence and the angle and distance from which von Richthofen was struck has seen experts widely acknowledge that it was the Australian’s bullet that inflicted the fatal injury.
Popkin’s daughter Yolanda, who now lives in Banora Point, said her father never spoke about the Red Baron growing up.
“I have grown up knowing what Dad did all my life, he didn’t talk a lot about it, it was just a matter of fact thing he did,” she said.
“He only discussed it when people came and saw him and asked him, nine people out of 10 were often doubtful that he had done it, he just gave them a history book and said here’s the story, you make up your own mind.”
A few months after Popkin shot down the Baron, he was wounded by shrapnel and lost his right leg.
No longer able to serve, Popkin returned home and later moved to Tyalgum where he was a postmaster and builder for 10 years.
It is believed he built several houses in the village including the general store and the post office.
He later left Tyalgum to work as the postmaster in Cudgen around 1938 before he moved to Fingal Head. He died on the Tweed in 1968. Tyalgum local and historian Barry Butler said he wanted the community and children in Tyalgum to know about the hero who once lived there.
“My main aim is to let the younger people know, the kids at school and the other ones around here, about the history of Popkin so they know a lot of young men went and fought and died in the war so we could enjoy this beautiful place,” Mr Butler said.
“And we’ve got one guy who lived here, who shot down the Red Baron and was the postmaster here, and we haven’t done anything about it.”
Mr Butler and Mr Bear have since approached the Tyalgum RSL, which plans to dedicate a memorial plaque to Popkin in the near future.
MEMORIAL WALL: Tyalgum locals Hawk Bear and Barry Butler in front of a painting depicting the Red Baron at the showgrounds.
A photo of a young Cedric Popkin.
Baron Manfred Von Richthofen or the Red Baron, flies his plane.