IT WAS Sergeant Herb Pomeroy’s 31st birthday, and at the end of a day training recruits at the Kapooka army base, the engineer instructor should have been going home to his wife and four children to celebrate.
But at 2.45pm that day – May 21, 1945 – Sergeant Pomeroy, along with 25 others, was killed by an explosion in a dugout during training involving detonators.
Instead of celebrating that night, Sergeant Pomeroy’s wife, Dot, and her children were mourning the death of a much-loved husband and father.
The tragedy remains the worst military training accident in Australia’s history, killing 24 trainee engineers (sappers), Sergeant Pomeroy and another sergeant, Ronald Linthorne.
Sergeant Pomeroy had four children: Frank (aged 5), Barry (4), Les (3) and Maureen (10 months) when he died.
The four siblings on Wednesday attended a memorial service near Kapooka to mark the 69th anniversary of the disaster.
The occasion was special to them not only because their father was being honoured, but because it was also his 100th birthday.
“That is why we were so keen to be there,” Barry Pomeroy said.
Sergeant Pomeroy’s family has been to several of the annual commemorative services since they began more than a decade ago.
Mr Pomeroy said his family moved from Wagga soon after the death of Sergeant Pomeroy and his only memory of the place and his father was of walking with his parents over the Wollundry Lagoon bridge onthe main street and looking down to the water where he saw turtles.
He said his elder brother, Frank, remembered being “dinked” to school by his father on a bike from Beckwith Street where the family boarded with a police officer.
The family moved back to Port Melbourne soon after the tragedy.
Barry Pomeroy said his father had served in the Middle East and New Guinea during World War II before being posted to Kapooka as an instructor.
“He wanted to go back to New Guinea with his mates, but I think the army thought ‘the war is nearly over and he has a wife and four kids so we’ll make him an instructor’,” Mr Pomeroy said.
He said little was said in the family about Sergeant Pomeroy’s death for many years for fear of upsetting their mother.
“We would have liked to have known more, but we thought it would be too hard on Mum, so we did not ask her,” Mr Pomeroy said.
About 15 years ago, Barry Pomeroy started writing to officials about the Kapooka explosion and eventually found a file in Melbourne, which he accessed.
“I took a lot of copies for my brothers and sister,” he said.
The file provided no real answers as to the cause of the explosion.
“The upshot is, I think no one knows what happened,” Mr Pomeroy said.
REMEMBERING: Barry Pomeroy (far left) at the Kapooka tragedy memorial site in 2012 with his sister Maureen and brothers Les (second left) and Frank.
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