C-47 ‘CANAL CREEK’ CRASH MEMORIAL CEREMONY (6th December, 2003) REPORT
On the morning of December 19th, 1943,
a USSAF C-47 S/N 43-30742 Transport Aircraft crashed en-route from
Townsville to Brisbane (Queensland, Australia). It was scheduled to
make a short stopover at Rockhampton (approx ½ way).
All 31 souls onboard perished in this
incident. The ‘passenger’ complement was a mix of US and Australian
personnel. Still today (60-years on) this is Australia’s 2nd worst
From substantial research undertaken
by Yeppoon historian, Mary O’Brien, it would appear that this aircraft
– a reasonably new one – suffered an engine fire while overflying an
area of fairly rough terrain, some 60klms north of Rockhampton.
Rockhampton is approx 750-klms south of Townsville.
The location of the crash, on the
remote and isolated Canal Creek Cattle Station (Ranch) approx 50-klms
north of Rockhampton would suggest the pilot had selected a ‘clay pan’
in preparation for an emergency/forced landing. However witness reports
indicate that while on decent, an explosion occurred and the burning
wing parted from the aircraft. The plane did reach the lightly
treed flat plain – but was already doomed due to its uncontrollable,
Of the US personnel onboard there were
3 men from the 345/499th Bomb Group – all Flight Crew Members of
Capt Orlen N LOVERIN – a Highly
1st Lt George K SNYDER – a Navigator,
2nd Lt William B GRAHAM – a Co-Pilot.
Due to the dedication and intense
research undertaken by Mary, she was able to arrange a very fitting
(the first ever) commemoration service on the exact site. Some 55
people were able to attend this service, held at 10.00 am on Saturday
6th of December 2003.
Many of those 55 attendees were
relatives of the Australians killed. There were 14 from one family
alone – all travelling vast distances to be present. Included in that
party was Mrs Edith Styles, the sister of one of those who perished, Mr
William TIBBS, an Australian Salvation Army Chaplin.
Fittingly – the Saturdays Service was
conducted by a serving Salvation Army Officer, Mr Graham Ivers. Another
guest of honour was Mr Frank Rumpf. Frank was a worker on the property
at the time and witnessed the approaching aircraft – obviously in
trouble. Along with 3 other people from the property, they were
the first ones on the scene – a couple of klms from the station
homestead. Frank still holds photos he took of the wreckage – probably
the only visual record still in existence today.
It was indeed a moving experience to
see Mrs Styles and Mr Rumpf, chatting to each other about their
respective experiences – sharing such precious details about the event.
As is so (sadly) typical with these war time incidents – the relatives
were never told the real or full story, of what happened to their loved
ones. On this occasion – 60 years later – Mrs Styles was finally able
to get a very rare, first hand account – one that differed to what she
had known for those 60 intervening years.
After the service concluded, we were
able to walk the immediate area and inspect items of wreckage that are
still very desrenable/identifiable today. Including, an albeit smaller
than original, depression in the ground – the impact crater.
The morning concluded with all those
present joining in a traditional Australian ‘Smoko’ – ‘a morning tea’ –
held under the shade of the tree line – on the bank of a ‘flowing’
Canal Creek. The whole day was blessed by the arrival (the previous
afternoon) of a heavy rainstorm – the first in many, many months.
Apart from other relatives and
friends, we were graced with the presence of the Mayor of the
Livingstone Shire Council, Mr Bill Ludwig; Members of the Yeppoon area
RSL (Returned Serviceman’s League); and a US WW2 Veteran, Mr Jack
Fleming. Jack did a sterling job (duty - I think he would call
it) – as the US Flag bearer on the day. Again, another moving part of
the ceremony (for me at least) – was to see this 85yo Veteran –
hold that flag aloft for the duration of the ceremony. These guys are
made of very special stuff.
Interestingly (or should that be -
fittingly), the attending Mayor and one of the RSL contingent, an ex
Vietnam Veteran – are both of Australian/American heritage, direct
descendants of that WW2 influence. This long-lived, War born
Australian/American association - which was very relevant to/in
this particular incident and the ceremony - in the very fact that
this fateful flight carried both US and Australian Service men and
This relationship was typified in a
passage read by the M/C, Mr Col Benson – a passage from a story (the
memories) supplied to me by Mr Tal Epps.
“When the movie
began - the curtain opened - and the Australian National Anthem
was played, - then the American National Anthem – and then - a message
flashed on the screen. ‘WE WISH TO WELCOME OUR AMERICAN COUSINS’ --
this message - at that moment in my life - caused a warm glow to come
flooding over me. The message didn’t say:- “friends”, or – “good
neighbours”, - it said:- “cousins”, I took that to mean we were
"Family". This warm glow for Australia, and more directly, for it’s
people, still remains with me today”.
Of course – Tal would know – as he is
one who ‘put his mouth where his money is’ – and married our Ruth. And
yes – both National Anthems were again sung at the commencement of
Saturday’s Service. But this time – the American Anthem lead ahead of
the Australian Anthem, albeit our new one.
Our Master of Ceremonies for the
occasion – was Mr Col Benson. Col is an ex RAAF and Vietnam Veteran,
and is one of those credited with seeing Australia’s worst air disaster
permanently commemorated. The June 1943 USAAF B-17 (“Miss Every Morning
Fix It”) crash at Bakers Creek near Mackay Queensland. Mackay is
situated ½ way between Townsville and Rockhampton. 40 US lives
were lost in this incident.
So you can appreciate that this part
of our country, the 750-klms of coastline, from Townsville – south to
Rockhampton, has the horrific record of hosting 4 out of the top 5 of
Australians worst aviation events. 3 of those occurring in the period –
June thru December 1943.
1) USAAF B17,
S/N 40-2072, Bakers Creek, Mackay, 14th June 1943 – 40 killed.
2) USAAF C47,
S/N 43-30742, Canal Creek, Rockhampton, 19th December 1943 – 31 killed.
(Trans Australian Airlines) F29 Fokker Friendship, in to the sea just
off Mackay, 10th June 1960 – 29 killed.
relevant to comparison.
5) USAAF C47,
S/N 41-7733, into the sea just off Townsville, 7th August 1943 – 27
killed. (19 from 345/500th & 1 from 345/499th).
Through Mary O’Brien’s efforts – I
have no doubt that she will be successful (before too long) in having a
permenant memorial established to commemorate ‘The Canal Creek
As per my separate message, the wheels
are rolling – to see a memorial erected – to commemorate the tragic
loss of the 27 American lives in the crash of the C47 – into Cleveland
Bay off Townsville – 7th August 1943 – (No 5 above).
It was indeed a pleasure and a great
honour to have travelled the 1,500-klms, to be part of Saturdays
Ceremony – and to have been able to place a rose – (one for each soul)
– in memory of those 3 men from the 345/499th.
13th December 2003