The lost Gotha of New Farm Park

The lost Gotha of New Farm Park is lost in two senses. Firstly, because I'm fairly sure that it no longer exists. Secondly, because I'm quite sure that it never existed.

Chris O'Regan pointed out on Twitter that 'there used to be a captured German plane in New Farm Park' in Brisbane. This was easy to confirm in Trove; it was offered to Brisbane as a war trophy in 1921:

The Brisbane City Council yesterday agreed to accept a captured German aeroplane offered by the Australian War Museum. Authority was given for the erection of a shelter at a cost of £50, in New Farm Park, on a site to be fixed by the chairman of the Parks Committee and the superintendent of parks. 1

But the shelter evidently didn't offer much protection from the elements, because by March 1930 the aeroplane was in poor condition and 'badly in need of reconditioning':

The chairman (Alderman E. Lanham) stated that no financial provision had been made for the work, and while there was some sentiment attached to the capture of the machine it was not a proposal upon which the council was prepared to spend a big sum at present. The committee had agreed to defer the question of repairs until an inspection had been made by the parks superintendent (Mr. H. Moore) and himself. 2

The aeroplane was offered to the Queensland Museum -- home to another, unique, war trophy, A7V Mephisto -- which unfortunately had 'no accomodation' for the machine. 3 Dismantling began the following January, at which point the Queensland branch of the Australian Flying Corps Association offered to maintain it. The council agreed, but on condition that it was moved elsewhere. 4 In June, it was announced that the association had 'offered to recondition the machine and place it in a conspicuous position on the Archerfield Aerodrome', then Brisbane's major (and very new) airport. 5 In May 1932 it was said to be 'at present being reconditioned by the [Queensland] Aero Club' -- so not the Australian Flying Corps Association -- 'preparatory to its being mounted at Archerfield aerodrome'. 6 I can't find any trace of the aeroplane after that. I suspect it was never placed into any 'conspicuous position' but instead the reconditioning stretched out until it was eventually scrapped, perhaps in 1939 when the RAAF moved in.

But what was this aeroplane? In 1930, it was described as 'a German Gotha souvenir aeroplane', which suggests that it was one of the kinds of bombers which attacked London and the southeast coast of England from the summer of 1917. 7 This would be an ususually large and impressive war trophy -- the Gotha V was 23.7 metres from wingtip to wingtip -- and a tantalisingly rare one: no Gothas now survive. It would not have been a unique one, however. Southend, in Essex, was given a Gotha in 1919. 8 That one doesn't seem to have lasted long, however; it was 'in place on the Western Esplanade' in June but was being 'dismantled' in February 1920. 9 But at least there was an obvious connection there: Southend had been bombed by Gothas on 12 August 1917. Brisbane had not been bombed by Gothas, or indeed anyone at all, why it should be given one is not immediately obvious.

The answer is, of course, that Brisbane's Gotha was not a Gotha at all. Nor was it a 'Halbeistader' (sic; Halberstädter) as was also claimed. 10 Instead it was an Albatros, as accounts of its ceremonial unveiling in 1922 reveal (as, incidentally, do the Queensland Heritage Register entry for New Farm Park and even the Wikipedia page, if I'd thought to check!):

A 5.9 inch howitzer, captured east of Amiens, by a Queensland battalion -- the 26th -- and a two-seater German Albatross, had been presented to the city of Brisbane as war trophies. In New Farm Park the howitzer has been emplaced, and the 'plane stands in a hanger. This has been built to protect it from the weather, but it is open to the public gaze. 11

And here it is:

Telegraph (Brisbane), 12 August 1922, 10

Clearly no Gotha, though almost as rare; I think the only one in Australia now is the Albatros D.Va in the Australian War Memorial, one of only two survivors of the type. The caption given for this photo is 'CAPTURED GERMAN ALBATROSS 4908 AEROPLANE'. 12 The '4908' is a useful clue, because it matches part of a serial number on a Albatros C.Ib (a dual-control training variant) shipped to Australia as part of a group of fourteen trophies. It may have been forced down by an Australian pilot or landed behind Australian lines, like some of the other German aircraft it arrived with.

So if the Gotha of New Farm Park wasn't a Gotha, why was it called a Gotha? I don't think it's a hangover from the war; Gothas were never invoked in the 1918 mystery aeroplane panic, for example. Nor does it seem likely that it's a journalistic error: three different Brisbane newspapers said it was a Gotha. Conceivably, it could have been a misinterpretation of the speech given by the Governor of Queesnland, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Matthew Nathan, when unveiling the Albatros and the howitzer, in which he reminisced about his experiences during the war:

he was in the country when a squadron of 10 Gothas came over to bombard Margate, Sandgate, and Dover. As he watched them he saw some distance behind a tiny speck which turned out to be one of our flying men, who, seeing the squadron, gave chase. At the time there was hardly a soul to be seen, although he knew the whole countryside was thick with troops. When the tiny speck drew close and brought down a Gotha in flames the countryside was ringing with cheers. (Hear, hear.) 13

But that would make it an unusually influential speech, especially after eight years. The 'Gotha' could also be a cinematic influence. All of those references came in 1930, early on in the aviation cinema boom. Wings was one of the first and most spectacular films of these films; and one of its most spectacular scenes featured a Martin NBS-1 acting in the role of a Gotha. Wings made it to Brisbane by September 1928; it seems to have had about a 6 week run, which is respectable but not quite a blockbuster. I'm sure other Gothas followed in the aviation film boom started by Wings (one was in Hell's Angels, but that didn't reach Brisbane until 1931) but it still seems a bit unlikely that they could have turned the Gotha into a byword for German warplanes in general; something similar happened with 'Taube' did (for different reasons) early in the war, but, well, there was a war on. So the Gotha of New Farm Park retains a little mystery, even if it wasn't real.

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  1. Telegraph (Brisbane), 21 December 1921, 8.[]
  2. Brisbane Courier, 26 March 1930, 14.[]
  3. Brisbane Courier, 1 October 1930, 14.[]
  4. Telegraph (Brisbane), 21 January 1931, 8.[]
  5. Telegraph (Brisbane), 6 June 1931, 9.[]
  6. Brisbane Courier, 26 May 1932, 14.[]
  7. Brisbane Courier, 26 March 1930, 14.[]
  8. Essex Newsman (Chelmsford), 22 February 1918, 3.[]
  9. Flight, 19 June 1919, 817; Globe (London), 24 February 1920, 3.[]
  10. Brisbane Courier, 1 October 1930, 14.[]
  11. Daily Mail (Brisbane), 12 August 1922, 6.[]
  12. Telegraph (Brisbane), 12 August 1922, 10.[]
  13. The Week (Brisbane), 18 August 1922, 43. This was presumably in 1917, though I can't find any raid in which all three places were all bombed; perhaps the big raid of 25 May 1917 which was the only time Sandgate was bombed, but the only Gotha shot down was over the Channel. Perhaps Nathan's memory was just faulty.[]

2 thoughts on “The lost Gotha of New Farm Park

  1. Mark

    Actually Albatros C.Ib 4908/18 (vide 'Australia's First Museum' (Colin Owers)
    , Air Enthusiast, No.47.

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