By CAM LUCADOU-WELLS
UNDER the wings of a gleaming Macchi MB326H naval-service jet is the start of an evolving war memorial at the Cranbourne RSL.
The Forgotten Warrior Memorial is dedicated to Australian servicepeople who were killed during training exercises outside of wartime.
No other such tribute exists in Australia – the names of several thousand such victims are not even listed at the National War Memorial, RSL sub-branch president John Wells said.
The monument will be dedicated at a public ceremony on 30 August, attended by surviving widows with a “shared grief”.
“We’ve had this huge cost of lives – men, women and children. They deserve better and as a society, we need to be better,” Mr Wells said.
“Those families have a grave somewhere, yes. But they don’t have a place to come together with other families who suffered the same sort of loss.”
Roz Fordham, whose first husband RAAF Flight Lieutenant Steve Carter is named on the memorial, says it was helpful to people who hadn’t had a place for “memory and reflection”.
Lt Carter had been killed as a pilot in a mid-air collision between two Macchis during Roulettes training in East Sale on 15 December, 1983.
Ms Fordham said the Roulettes had been practising for their air shows, a week before most personnel left for the Christmas break.
“They were all very experienced pilots, and I understand and believe that what happened was an accident. “I hope (the memorial) is helpful to all who have lost someone in the service of their country and who have not had a place for memory and reflection because the loss didn’t occur in wartime.”
The Macchi on display in Cranbourne took 10 years to be sourced in parts and restored by volunteers in a warehouse at Station Street. The memorial’s plaques state a quarter of the 97 Macchi training planes that went into national service since 1970 had crashed.
Named are each of the eight young pilots killed in the aircraft.
“They are all young men – people who were promoted once or twice. None of senior rank,” Mr Wells muses.
“No glory but tragedy in their deaths.”
The early RAN Macchis were state-of-the-art at the time, designed to fly close to the ground.
But some were fatally flawed – the wings fell off two of them, as Mr Wells puts it.
Some of the other fatalities were attributed to mental fatigue.
So far Mr Wells has collated about 300 names of the fallen trainees through newspaper archives.
They died in incidents like a collapsed jack, a truck roll-over, an unintentionally exploded grenade or a sunken submarine.
Some of the incidents such as those involving Black Hawk helicopters are still well known, other incidents sank without a trace.
“Training is a dangerous place to be,” Mr Wells said.
“Yet if you’re killed in action, your name is on a war memorial.
“If you die in training, there’s nothing.
“None would remember them except their own families.”
Mr Wells hopes the names of the missing fallen will be revealed as more bereaved families come forward.
“We’re looking to name all of these people, every single person we can.
“That’s why I say it’s the only memorial in Australia that will continue to evolve.”
The dedication ceremony is at Cranbourne RSL, 1475 South Gippsland Highway, Cranbourne, on 30 August, at 2pm.