Private James Wharton was with the 26th Battalion in France when it famously captured Mephisto, the first German tank to fall into Allied hands.
One of only 20 A70 tanks ever built, Mephisto is one of the most prized of all of Australia’s trophies of the Great War, and as the world’s only surviving example of Germany’s first tanks is also one of the Queensland Museum’s most prized exhibits.
It was captured by the mostly Queensland 26th battalion on July 14, 1918, two weeks before James Wharton was wounded in action in another operation to seize a portion of the German front line.
The gunshot wound James sustained to the left elbow was serious enough for him to be invalided to England and sidelined for the rest of the war.
James was the 28-year-old son of Henry and Alice Wharton of Canungra and a brother of Walter Wharton. A timber getter, he was one of many young men employed in the sawmilling industry which was central to the economic life of the Canungra community.
Enlisting on February 16, 1916, James joined the 14th reinforcements of the 26th Battalion. He left Brisbane on the Itonus on August 8, 1916 and arrived at Plymouth on October 18.
After further training on Salisbury Plain, James left England via Folkestone for France, arriving to the horrendous winter of 1916-17.
He joined his battalion on December 19, but by January 5 was sick in hospital with mumps.
Kept in isolation, James did not rejoin his unit until March 7. Two weeks later, he was back in hospital, where he remained until the end of the month.
James was with the battalion when it was involved in the second attempt to breach the Hindenburg Line defences around Bullecourt on May 3.
After being wounded in action on July 28, he was evacuated to England, where he remained until the end of the war. He embarked on the Ulysees on January 18, 1919 and arrived in Australia on March 4.
James Wharton never married. He spent the years after the war and until his death in 1955, at the age of 68, working at laboring jobs, moving between Canungra and north Queensland, where his brothers Walter and Stanley had established themselves with families of their own.
The 26th Battalion’s trophy, Mephisto, was taken from the Queensland Museum for restoration work after being inundated during the Brisbane floods of 2011.
It was expected to be returned to the museum the following year, but in June 2015 was taken to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It is scheduled to return to its home at the Queensland Museum in 2018.