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Army to remember 1954 Stockton Bight disaster at Fort Scratchley

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The 70th anniversary of the Stockton Bight disaster, which claimed at least three lives, will be commemorated at Fort Scratchley this weekend.

Reserve soldiers from the Newcastle-based 16th Combat Service Support Team (16 CSST) are hosting the special service from 12.45pm on Saturday 9 March to honour the memory of those who perished in the tragedy.

The event will comprise a luncheon and historical presentation, as well as the laying of wreaths.

LVTs enter the water at Stockton.

Amazingly, three survivors from that fateful day in 1954 are expected to be in attendance, too, through the 16th Transport Squadron Association.

At 2am on 8 March, seven decades ago, Citizen Military Forces (Reserve) soldiers from the 15th Northern Rivers Lancers (15 NRL) and 16th Company Royal Australian Army Service Corps (16 Coy RAASC) departed Camp Shortland for an amphibious move to Mungo Brush near Myall Lakes to conduct their annual camp.

The convoy consisted of 21 vehicles and 184 men.

The Government Weather Bureau forecast was for good conditions.

However, at approximately 3.15am, that all changed.

The procession encountered high winds and large seas, causing many vehicles to flounder.

By dawn, the convoy was scattered 16km along Stockton, several trucks were sunk, and numerous others were under tow.

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.

The day following the disaster, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) Eastern Command Lieutenant General (LTGEN) Woodward and the Commander of the 1st Armoured Brigade Brigadier Arnott visited the units.

The former commented that “he had rarely seen a unit with such high morale after such a disaster and certainly never in peacetime”.

A funeral with full military honours took place on 10 March 1954 at Christ Church Cathedral Newcastle for Corporal N. Moran and Trooper N. Mornement.

The body of the third victim, Private Blackie, was never recovered.

Bravery accolades awarded afterwards included a George Medal, British Empire Medal and Queens Commendation for Brave Conduct.

The 16th Company Royal Australian Army Service Corps (16 Coy RAASC) and 15th Northern River Lancers (15 NRL) were amphibious Citizen Military Force units based in Newcastle in 1954.

The current Reserve soldiers of the 16th Combat Service Support Team and 1st/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers can trace their lineage directly from these amphibious troops.

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