AN EXPLOSION that killed 26 soldiers in training at Kapooka on May 21,1945, broke Wagga’s heart, but surprisingly faded into the background before too many years passed.
But recently, an annual commemorative service conducted by the Army Recruit Training Centre at a memorial near the explosion site has revived the story of the soldiers and their sacrifice.
This year’s service will be held on at 2pm on Sunday and Kapooka’s Commandant, Colonel Mick Garraway, has issued an open invitation to the public to attend the service on the Kapooka-San Isidore road.
“It’s important for us just to pause and remember those lives lost,” Colonel Garraway said.
“We traditionally do well in remembering war dead, but we often don’t do as well in remembering those who died in training.”
He said training accidents were not deliberately forgotten, but they tended to fade in memory, as opposed to those who died in more dramatic circumstances on the battlefield.
Colonel Garraway said Sunday’s service would be about “taking time to pause and remember that great loss that we had in 1945”.
The Commandant said the tragedy was a very emotional time in Wagga’s history.
“If you look at the photographs and read the newspapers at the time it was a very tragic event for the town of Wagga, particularly because a lot of the training the guys did at the time they also did at the wagga beach and at other locations around Wagga, as well” he said.
“The camp at the time was very integrated into the Wagga community, so the community felt the loss just as much as the defence force did.”
The exact cause of the explosion in a dugout is still a mystery.
“The circumstances that directly contributed to the accident were never resolved at the time,” Colonel Garraway said.
“The investigation was not able to find one particular factor, but probably among the factors were there were so many of them in the bunker at the same time and a lot of the (explosives) components were assembled in a manner that probably would normally not be done with that amount of men in the bunker at the same time, so there were some procedural errors made by a number of people.”
About 7000 people attended the mass funeral in Wagga for the victims on May 23, 1945.
The procession took about 45 minutes to pass mourners standing by the side of the road.
The memorial site is just a few hundred metres from the front gate of Kapooka and features a pictorial history of the area and 26 Kurrajong trees planted in memory of the tragedy’s victims.
Colonel Garraway said that because the memorial site was a public place outside the Kapooka gates there were no security requirements for people to meet to attend the service.
“The public is very welcome,” he said.