The Scouts own 70th anniversary service commemoration of the drowning of 13 cubs on the Clarence River at Graftons Memoial Park on Sunday. Younger brother of the oldest boy who drowned Barry Wilkes holds onto a photo of his brother Bobby then aged 10 at the time of the accident. Photo Debrah Novak / The Daily Examiner
The Scouts own 70th anniversary service commemoration of the drowning of 13 cubs on the Clarence River at Graftons Memoial Park on Sunday. Younger brother of the oldest boy who drowned Barry Wilkes holds onto a photo of his brother Bobby then aged 10 at the time of the accident. Photo Debrah Novak / The Daily Examiner Debrah Novak

Clarence River tragedy memorial highlights 70 year sorrow

SEVENTY years on from the drowning of 13 cub scouts as they returned from a Christmas party on Susan Island, the tragedy is still fresh in the memory of the families of the boys who died and survivors.

Yesterday nearly 100 people including survivors, families of the victims, scouts and dignitaries gathered in Memorial Park, Grafton, to commemorate the anniversary of the event on December 11, 1943.

For Macksville man Barry Wilkes, whose brother Bobby was the oldest boy to drown, the ceremony brought back many bitter memories.

"Bobby was the eldest son and my father's favourite and I could never fill his boots," Mr Wilkes said.

He said he could not imagine what must have happened when an afternoon storm hit the small punt crowded with 31 scouts and scout masters.

"Bobby was the last one found," he said. "They must have been practising tying knots because when his body was found it was tied to the boat."

One of the senior scouts that day, Rex Oxenford, 86, was there yesterday.

Mr Oxenford said many people believe the storm capsized the punt that day, but he said he and fellow senior scout Jimmy Doust actually turned it over to stop it sinking and give the boys in the river something to hang onto.

"To this day I believe if we hadn't done that there would have been a lot more boys drowned," he said.



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