Stockton Bight tragedy commemorated

Soldiers from the 5th Combat Services Support Battalion (5CSSB), veterans, and community leaders assembled at Fort Scratchley near Newcastle to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the 1954 Stockton Bight disaster to honour the three soldiers who perished in the training exercise tragedy.

CAPTIONCommanding Officer 5th Combat Service Support Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Shaw, and Regimental Sergeant Major, Warrant Officer Class One Matthew Ryan, lay a wreath as part of the commemoration of the 1954 Stockton Bight Disaster.

The three soldiers who perished – Corporal N Moran, Trooper N Mornement and Private R Blackie – were members of the amphibious Citizen Military Forces units the 15th Northern Rivers Lancers (15NRL) and 16th Company, Royal Australian Army Service Corps (16 Coy RAASC).

At 2am on March 8, 1954, they were part of a contingent of 184 soldiers and 21 amphibious vehicles from the two units that departed Camp Shortland for an amphibious move to Mungo Brush near Myall Lakes to conduct their annual camp.

At about 3.15 am, the weather suddenly changed and the convoy encountered high winds and large seas, causing many of the amphibious vehicles to flounder.

By dawn the amphibious convoy was scattered 16km along Stockton, with several vehicles sunk, and many others under tow.

A funeral with full military honours was held two days later at Christ Church Cathedral Newcastle for Corporal Moran and Trooper Mornement.

Private Blackie’s body was never recovered.

CAPTIONA report in the Sydney Morning Herald on 9 March 1954 (source: trove.nla.gov.au).

The commemoration was organised by 16th Combat Service Support Team (16CSST) of 5 CSSB, which traces its lineage to the two units involved in the tragedy.

Officer Commanding 16CSST Major Jack Wachsmann said it was important to remember the sacrifice of those who lost their lives that night while in the service of their country, as well as those who were affected by the incident.

“We had nine wonderful veterans of the tragedy with us at the event – all in their early 90s -and it was extremely humbling to see what the commemoration meant to them,” Major Wachsmann said.

“To this day many are still troubled by the tragedy, but they and their families said this commemoration, in many ways, brought a sense of closure around it for them.”

Major Wachsmann said the tragedy brought out the best in the local community, with many helping with the rescue operation.

“There were many brave acts during the rescue, including by members of the Stockton Surf Life Saving Club [SLSC] who were woken during the night, and rushed to assist rescuing members from the surf,” Major Wachsmann said.

Bravery medals awarded during the rescue included a George Medal, British Empire Medal, and Queens Commendation for Brave Conduct.

Major Wachsmann said formally commemorating the tragedy was important not only in acknowledging the sacrifice of those who perished and were affected by it, but it also provided an important opportunity to reaffirm the Army’s strong connection to the local community.

“Our links to the local community are very important and we were glad to be joined by nine survivors and their families, and representatives from 16 Transport Association, Stockton Beach SLSC, Fort Scratchley Historical Society, and 1/15 Royal NSW Lancers to mark this tragedy,” he said.

CAPTIONSoldiers from the 5th Combat Service Support Battalion together with guests at the commemoration of the 1954 Stockton Bight Disaster held at Fort Scratchley.


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