Australia's worst training accident
Located a few hundred metres from the front gate of Blamey Barracks Kapooka, is a peaceful grove of some 26 Kurrajong trees. This serene area on the side of a country road is surrounded by rolling hills and open paddocks, a picnic table and a memorial stone rest amongst the mown grass.
However it stands in memory of the pain suffered by the Wagga Wagga community on the afternoon of 21st May 1945, when 26 soldiers were killed in an explosion here while training for the war in the Pacific, at what was then the Engineer Training Centre.
This event remains to this date the Australian Army’s largest loss of life in a training accident, and our nation’s largest mass military funeral on Australian soil.
The accident occurred at approximately 2.45pm, as the Sappers were seated in an underground bunker on a demolition range, receiving instruction on explosives. The exact cause of the explosion is still unknown; however 24 men were killed instantly with two dying in hospital some two hours later. Incredibly one man, Sapper Allan Bartlett survived the explosion and was found imbedded in the wall of the bunker.
The community mourns
Two days after the tragedy the 26 dead were buried at the Wagga Wagga war cemetery. An estimated crowd of 7,000 people attended the funeral, with the procession of vehicles, dignitaries and mourners taking some 45 minutes to pass.
Although at this time the grief of the tragedy was felt across the nation, it was largely forgotten over the years (other than by those in the local community whom it had greatly affected). In recent years an annual memorial service has been held on the 21st of May, at the site to remember this tragedy. The service brings together those from the local community and the relatives of those killed from interstate who still remember that tragic day.
The memorial site has been developed into a permanent community area with future plans for improvements to tell the story, so Australia never forgets.
Learn about ministry at ‘The Army Recruit Training Centre’ and the The Soldiers Chapel.
Kapooka Soldiers Chapel
The Chapel was officially opened on 31st October 1993 by LTGEN J.C Grey AO, Chief of the General Staff. Importantly, the Chapel was built by Army engineers; mainly 21 Construction Squadron. The right wing of the dove is the Catholic section of the Chapel, the left wing is the Anglican section and the body and…