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.
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.
The Soldiers Chapel Kapooka
Ministry at ‘The Army Recruit Training Centre’
Military training at Kapooka is demanding not just physically and intellectually, but emotionally and spiritually. The Chaplaincy team at Kapooka are charged with the task of caring for the emotional and spiritual well being of the recruits during their 80 day period of training. As well as Pastoral Care, the Chaplaincy team of four full time Chaplains, provide Character Development sessions which every recruit attends. These comprise two full day sessions during the course of their training in which we encourage the recruits to begin to reflect on their values and their beliefs. In group work and scenarios, we discuss how these values need to become for the recruits qualities that will be revealed in their behaviour and ethics as individuals, in their relationships and in community.
Every recruit has the opportunity to attend the chapel services held at the Soldiers Chapel complex every Sunday morning. The chapel complex comprises of Anglican, Catholic and Protestant wings and services are conducted in each of the wings concurrently and up to 300 recruits and their families can be found in each of the wings on Sunday mornings. The Chaplains strive to lead services of worship that are uplifting, contemporary and engaging. Through the sacraments and the Word the recruits are challenged, comforted and inspired.
Military service calls upon the recruits to consider the high ideals of sacrifice, respect, courage, teamwork, initiative, mateship and honour. It is the task of Chaplaincy to care for the recruits during their time with us and hopefully to help provide the grounding, through Army’s values, for their careers and their lives beyond the military.