Kapooka Tragedy service keeps soldiers’ story of sacrifice alive

Few remaining residents would recall Wagga’s most devastating tragedy.

Lest we forget: Soldiers prepare to commemorate the Kapooka tragedy of May 21,1945 this Sunday.

Lest we forget: Soldiers prepare to commemorate the Kapooka tragedy of May 21,1945 this Sunday.

It comes more than seven decades after an explosion killed 26 soldiers in training at Kapooka. 

But it is a tragedy the First Recruit Training Battalion’s commanding officer says won’t be forgotten. 

Lieutenant Colonel Roger McMurray’s words come ahead of an annual service, commemorating one of the army’s worst training accidents, 73 years on. 

Lt Col invited residents to the public service at the memorial site on Kapooka Rd, from 2pm this Sunday, to commemorate the service and sacrifice of the trainee engineers, who were blown to pieces on May 21, 1945. 

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

Lieutenant Colonel McMurray said local ties to the community had “made (the tragedy) real” at the time.

The crowds lining the streets during the mass funeral in photographs and newspaper articles, painted a picture of a small town in mourning.  

Unlike today, the total population would not have exceeded 10,000, yet about 7000 people attended the service. 

“People tend to accept losses during a conflict,” Lt Col McMurray said. “But when there is and incident so close to home, it is really felt.” 

Lt Col McMurray said the accident was a timely reminder dedication to duty did not only occur when soldiers were overseas and deployed in operations. 

“It also occurs in training,” he said. “That is important to remember.” 

There is no cause to have death in training.

Roger McMurray

Since the late ‘80s, the annual commemorative service has been held on a site built meters from where the tragedy occurred.

Lt Col McMurray said while safety procedures were stringent, the risk of harm could never be 100 per cent negated when working with machines, weapons, ammunition and explosives. 

It follows two training deaths across Australia last year. 

“The risk of injury and death, unfortunately they are very real,” Lt Col McMurray said. “We have to do everything we possibly can to make sure that does not occur.”

He said the aim was to minimise the risk as much as possible.

“We need to look at what is the best means to conduct training that is high risk,” Lt Col McMurray said. 

“There is no cause to have death in training.

“That is never an acceptable outcome.”