Sunday History Photo / Au

Submitted: Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 08:41
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On a crisp, clear May afternoon on May 21st 1945 Australia suffered its worst military training accident. An explosion at the Kapooka Army Base killed 26 men.
Trainee sappers (engineers) and Royal Australian Engineers Training Centre staff were conducting training in the preparation of hand charges when a massive explosion destroyed the dugout they were in, and killed 26 men.
One man survived - Sapper Allen Bartlett, who was profoundly deafened and badly injured after the force of the explosion imbedded him in the clay wall. One of the instructors killed was Sgt Herbert 'Jack' Pomeroy. It was his birthday.
One soldier, sergeant Tafe, saw smoke and debris filling the air above the dugout and raced towards it.


"A grisly scene confronted him," Mitchelhill-Green says. "Checking the mass of bodies for signs of life, he found sapper Allan Bartlett in an upright position, imbedded into the southwestern wall by the force of the blast. Miraculously, Bartlett was alive. Two other soldiers in the dugout were also alive, but they died within hours from horrific wounds.
One rescuer observed seven intact bodies seated against the wall with their arms folded. "They looked like men of 80, their faces ash grey," he said. The others were blown to bits. "Nineteen were identified by identity discs," says Rushbrook. "The remaining seven, being unrecognisable, were identified through personal possessions, including wedding rings, dental records and labelled clothing, including braces and civilian underwear. Pomeroy was identified by his engraved watch.

Having survived the explosion, Bartlett was able to give evidence to the subsequent military inquiry from his hospital bed, He described how (another instructor) corporal Cousins was holding a handful of detonators with blue fuses attached before the blast but was right on the other side from where the explosives were," says Mitchelhill-Green. Bartlett said he had turned to "saysomething to my mate" and the next thing he recalled he was being "dragged out of the hole".
The army was stunned by the carnage and released a short statement that day saying 26 men had been killed in an explosion and promised an immediate inquiry.



The funeral brought the town of Wagga Wagga to a standstill, with four semi trailers carrying the coffins of the soldiers through the town. About half the town's population lined the street to watch this part of the funeral - Australia's largest military funeral
For many years this event has been considered a 'forgotten tragedy', but a new memorial near the site of the explosion ensures families, the military and members of the public can pass by and remember what happened on May 21st 1945.


Until recently the site was marked by an inconspicuous plaque. The actual site of the bunker now lies on private land just across from the new memorial, and a change in boundary fencing means the memorial site is open to the community - previously it had been within the lines of the Kapooka Military Area.
Each year the memory of these soldiers will be honoured with a special service at the memorial site at 2.30pm - the time of the explosion.The immediate aftermath was nothing short of horrific. Fellow engineers close to the accident faced unimaginable scenes as they scrambled their way in to help their mates. Medical personnel feverishly, and mostly in vain, worked to save the wounded.
"We will remember them always."
Please watch this video, it is 30 minutes but worth the time .



Latest Book from Sherry Morris – Now Available

This was a timely release to coincide with the annual commemoration of this tragic event, which took the lives of twenty six men and which concluded with the largest funeral ever seen in Wagga Wagga.
This publication fulfils an important role in recording the details surrounding what still remains as Australia’s single largest military accident in terms of lives lost —



This is the first ever SHP that has put tears in my eyes during preparations.

LEST WE FORGET.

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Reply By: Member - ACD 1 - Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 11:30

Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 11:30
Thanks for bringing this to our attention Doug.

Perhaps one of your finest yet!

You're right - the video was worth watching. I tried to do it without the sound, because my wife was watching the news, but the music adds something special.

Well done

Cheers

Anthony
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Reply By: passionfruit - Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 12:18

Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 12:18
Like a lot of young men I went through Kapooka (1RTB) in the 70's and never knew anything about this until Doug put it up on Explore OZ-----------unbelievable.Glenn.
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Reply By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 12:56

Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 12:56
Doug,

Thank you so very much for that SHP episode. I had no knowledge of this sad event. Even though more than 27 thousand Australians perished in World War ll the death of 26 in one explosion, on home soil, and so close to cessation of hostilities is very sobering.

It would seem that no verdict of the cause was ever revealed, not even an expression of "probability"?

One scene of the video intrigued me. At '1:45' the photo captioned only "Diggers" of Lieutenants Reg Saunders and Tom "Diver" Derrick V.C. congratulating each other upon receiving their commissions. Tom is related to my family and I doubt that either of these Infantrymen were ever at Kapooka. But I guess that a good publicity shot is a 'good publicity shot'. Incidentally, Reg Saunders was the first Australian aboriginal person to receive a commission in our Defence Forces.
Cheers
Allan

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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 13:40

Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 13:40
Thanks Allan, it seems Reg did go to Kapooka , I found this report .

It was while Reg was serving in New Guinea that Harry was killed in action on the Kokoda Trail. It was also while he was in New Guinea that he was nominated for promotion to a commissioned rank – the first Aboriginal Australian to have reached this level of command in the Australian Army.

Reg was selected to return to Victoria and attend Officer Training School, at the Infantry Wing of the Officer Cadet Training Unit, Seymour. He graduated as a lieutenant in December, 1944

Seymour

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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 14:05

Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 14:05
Thanks Doug,

I have a copy of that photo and it is inscribed as being at Seymour, but I still see no link for either of them to Kapooka although Saunders may well have been there. Not that it is overly important.

Following their commissioning they both went to New Guinea where Tom was killed on 24 May 1945 whilst Reg fortunately survived the war.
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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 15:14

Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 15:14
Ok Allen, I did get crossed there, of Course Kapooka is at Wagga Wagga, it is Pukapunyal is at Seymour. I think I'll go and have a nanny nap....lol

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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 15:18

Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 15:18
Ah, thank God for that. I went over and over it, looking at maps and all.... thinking "what am I missing, Doug knows his stuff" and trying for a reply that would not make me look too stupid..........
With the weather here today a nanny nap may be a good idea for me too.
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Reply By: Ron N - Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 13:28

Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 13:28
Doug - Yes, I remember reading about this dreadful accident many years ago.
However, as with so many training accidents, they are often forgotten.

As an ex-military engineer (sapper) and veteran, who has also worked with explosives in civilian in civilian life, the event reminds one, that there's no mistakes to be made, when it comes to explosives.

I'm amazed that the Army couldn't find the cause of the accidental detonation.
No matter how large a blast, it 's amazing what evidence can be found afterwards, that greatly assists in identifying the cause and point of initiation.

As with so many explosives accidents, it often takes only a small mistake to create an explosion.
Dropping something onto a detonator that is lying next to, or on, the main explosive charge is a common accident that can be disastrous.

That's why detonators, det cord, fuse, and other initiation devices must always be stored separately to the main explosive.

What you don't know about explosives is what gets you killed - and the fact that the Kapooka bunker was full of trainees is probably the biggest single indicator of the possible cause of the accident.
Just one careless trainee with a lack of understanding as to the potential sources of ignition of the explosives, is all it would take.

Cheers, Ron.
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Reply By: Ivan68 - Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 14:12

Sunday, Jun 19, 2016 at 14:12
Thank you Doug, now hundreds more will know of this event.
As an ex Engineer (66-67) had no idea of such a tragedy.
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