Vil­lage shares link to his­tory

Tweed Daily News - - LIFE - Rick Koenig rick.koenig@tweed­dai­lynews.com.au

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.

PHOTO: RICK KOENIG

MEMO­RIAL WALL: Tyal­gum lo­cals Hawk Bear and Barry But­ler in front of a paint­ing de­pict­ing the Red Baron at the show­grounds.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

A photo of a young Cedric Pop­kin.

Baron Man­fred Von Richthofen or the Red Baron, flies his plane.

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