Ken recalls Stockton disaster
TODAY we celebrate the courage, endurance and sacrifice of the men and women who have carried arms for their country.
But Australia's ANZAC legend was born out of a military bungle.
Ken Dickson, who will attend Woolgoolga's Anzac Day service this morning, is a survivor of another failure of planning, the Stockton Bight disaster, a military training exercise in March 1954 that went horribly wrong.
The then 18-year-old Mr Dickson had been called up for national service in 1953 and was one of a group of 'nashos' sent on a latenight training exercise with army ducks and amphibious tracked landing craft near Newcastle in March 1954.
Heavily loaded with troops and supplies, but with no radios or any means of contact between the units, they were sent out through Newcastle Heads in convoy to Nelson Bay, 50km away.
The tank-like amphibious craft, with less than 300cm of freeboard, met heavy seas and Mr Dickson's craft had a mechanical problem which made its crew doubt they could reach Nelson Bay.
With no means of contact, no orders were given so some ducks attempted to return to shore, but were swamped and sank. Mr Dix- on, a non-swimmer, credits his own survival to his 24-year-old driver, who decided to stay out in open waters until daylight, when they saw Army ducks patrolling the shore.
They were a kilometre from the beach when a wave caught his ponderous metal craft, which nosedived and did not surface.
Mr Dickson, sitting on top of the craft, was washed into the water and heard his mate Blackie calling out for help as big seas swept them apart and waves dumped him repeatedly.
He lost consciousness after his feet touched bottom and pulled out of the water left for dead by rescuers, but regained consciousness four hours later. A hot cup of tea was all the medical treatment he received.
Mr Dickson said it was an enduring source of sorrow to him that Blackie's body was never recovered and he remains disgusted with the lack of a proper investigation and officers' attempts to get him to change his testimony about when and why Blackie was lost.
Three men died and a total of 10 army ducks and amphibiousb craft were sunk. Mr Dickson said none were recovered and remain today off Stockton Bight and Nelson Bay.