This week’s historical article is part two of the story of Sapper Michael Freeman’s funeral on June 5, 1946. This week's photo shows the cortege passing along tree-lined Keppel Street and turning left into Stewart Street on its way to the Bathurst Cemetery.
The cortege was preceded by an army jeep with floral tributes and an army troop truck carrying the 12 pallbearers.
The Italian prisoners of war from the Bathurst Army Camp on Limekilns Road made a large V-shaped wreath of greenery which was placed at the Military Cemetery. Their card read: “Michael Freeman from your Italian friends. For the kindness and understanding shown to us.”
Officers at the Bathurst Army Camp would not comment as to why the 10-pound mortar bomb which killed Sapper Freeman and four others - another sapper, a sergeant and two Italian prisoners of war - at the camp had exploded. They stated that it may never be known. One unofficial report thought the mortar bomb had been fired but didn’t explode, so it was a “dud”. Others thought a rake used by one of the Italians may have hit it, but it was also possible a piece of wood had hit the bomb. It was also surmised that the bomb fell off the back of a truck and lay hidden for a long time until disturbed by one of the work party. It could also have been a souvenir hidden by one of the soldiers there and forgotten. An idea put forward later was that an Italian prisoner might have found the bomb on the mortar range while out rabbiting and brought it back.
Officers from the camp called upon Sapper Freeman's wife, Mrs U. Freeman of Russell Street, to inform her about the tragedy. Sapper Freeman had been in charge of the Italians and had been sitting on a log just after morning tea when the bomb exploded. Sapper ‘Mick’ Freeman’s death shocked Bathurst as he was described as “one of the best-known and most liked and respected citizens”.
He was a member of an old pioneer family with a long record of local service. He had served five years in the army and was awaiting discharge. He was a member of the Royal Australian Engineers stationed at the Bathurst camp. Sapper Freeman had been born at "Rainville", O’Connell and had spent his early life on the land at "Westbourne", Eglinton.
The mortar bomb explosion was the worst incident at the camp in the six years of its operation. The camp was in use continually throughout the war and housed forces bound for Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces. They were in Bathurst to train and the last had moved out just a month before the explosion, otherwise injuries might have been greater. A few hundred men remained to do clearing-up work. It was being cleared as the camp might have been used as temporary buildings for the new Teachers' Training College.
The high military officers from Sydney examined records on the history of the use of mortar bombs at the camp. Mortar bombs had been used extensively at the camp in field firing practice up to the previous September. In the time leading up to the explosion, the only occasions when the bombs were used was at demonstration shoots, mainly at the Bathurst Rifle Range near Mount Panorama.
There was a single cortege for both the soldiers and the Italian prisoners. The Australian was laid to rest in the Bathurst Military Cemetery on Wednesday, June 5, 1946, and the two Italians were laid to rest in the Catholic portion of the general cemetery. The bodies were moved from Stan McGuinn’s funeral parlour.
Bathurst RSL Sub Branch president Mr A. E. Elliott represented both the RSL and Red Cross. Poppies were dropped in all three graves as the Last Post was played by Mr A. Slater standing near the flagpole, which was at half-mast.
The service was performed by Father C.C. Sullivan, assisted by Father Dunne and Dr John McMahon.