Kapooka tragedy memorial service honours lives lost

Griffith resident Merv Hurst was just 19 when his brother was killed in the Kapooka Tragedy.

A World War II veteran himself, Mr Hurst said he was serving in New Guinea when he was told his brother Kevin had been blown up in a military training accident back home. 

Kevin Hurst was one of 26 sappers who lost their lives lost during an explosives training exercise in Wagga in 1945.

It remains the worst training disaster in Australian military history. 

Instructors were teaching trainees how to apply detonators to safety fuses when – for a reason that remains a mystery – there was a massive explosion.

Mr Hurst said the army kept the tragedy quiet for many years. 

“That’s army for you in those days,” he said. “They kept it quiet everywhere.”

Since the late 80s, the memorial service has been held every May 21 on a site built metres from where the tragedy occurred 72 years ago.

Now 92 years old, Mr Hurst said he had attended almost every service to lay a wreath for his brother. 

The lives lost during Wagga’s most devastating tragedy were commemorated again during the emotional service on Sunday afternoon. 

Mr Hurst’s family joined other victims’ relatives and friends in a crowd of more than 200 soldiers, residents, city leaders and military officials.

Looking at the new recruits, Sue McSpedden – Mr Hurst’s niece – said she thought, “oh my goodness, it could have been one of them”.

“You hope they’ve learned,” Ms McSpedden said. “That’s what you hope for – that out of every tragedy comes something good.”

Kapooka Commandant Colonel Mick Garraway said it was just as important to pause and remember those who died during training for the battlefield as those lost in combat. 

“They were integrated into the Wagga community, so the community felt the loss too,” Colonel Garraway said. “We will always remember them.”

Colonel Garraway said although safety procedures were stringent, the risk of harm could never be negated when working with machines, weapons, ammunition and explosives. 

Sergeant Beau Cox said soldiers needed to understand their history, to know where they came from and who came before. 

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