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Musician recalls when bomb killed schoolboy

BLAST SURVIVOR: Pianist Kath McGrath is a survivor of the 1943 Goodna bomb blast at the former St Patrick’s Convent School.
BLAST SURVIVOR: Pianist Kath McGrath is a survivor of the 1943 Goodna bomb blast at the former St Patrick’s Convent School. Sarah Harvey

AN EXPLODING bomb could not stop Goodna's Kath McGrath from going on to become a professional musician of the highest rank.

Saturday, February 23, was the 70th anniversary of the bomb blast at Goodna's St Patrick's Convent School in 1943 that killed 12-year-old John Watson and injured seven other students in the scholarship class.

Watson and a friend had previously found unexploded munitions in a paddock. He was playing with the shell at school when it exploded. The Second World War was in progress and the US had a military camp at Redbank where the ordnance littered the landscape.

Ms McGrath, Clair McErlean, Andy McCarthy, Joe Coogan, Jim Guley, Vince Mangin and Roy Thompson were all injured.

Ms McGrath, who was 12 at the time, said she was "the lucky one".

"I was not badly hurt, just on the top of my arm and the top of my leg," she said.

"I can remember my father coming and he couldn't find me, because I had run to a church.

"He was so distressed, because he thought I'd been blown to pieces, I suppose.

"I was only in hospital overnight, but I had a buzzing in my ears for quite some time afterwards."

Ms McGrath recalled the lead-up to the explosion when Watson was playing with the shell he had found.

"He was standing on bitumen and threw it and said, 'Watch me make a big hole.' And he did,"

she said.

"But he'd done it earlier from up on a veranda when he threw it and it didn't go off."

Ms McGrath was living on Brisbane Rd and recalls soldiers coming into her mother's grocery shop where she worked weekends.

"The white Americans were in Wacol and the black Americans were in Goodna, because they didn't mix together. But I remember we met many lovely black Americans when they came into the shop," she said.

She knew the fatally wounded Watson well and now lives next door to where he once lived. Ms McGrath, now 82, and McCarthy are thought to be the only students surviving from the blast.

"What happened hasn't stopped me from getting ahead," she said.

"I'm a musician. It has been my career."

Ms McGrath was musical director of Disney on Parade twice, toured with the Sound of Music and worked on radio stations such as 4KQ where she used to play and audition people for talent quests.

Until two years ago she played at the Tattersalls Club in Brisbane and spent 11 years as musical director with the Ipswich seniors.

"Music has been my life," she said.

Americans need to come clean on facts of blast: Paul Tully

COUNCILLOR Paul Tully says it is time for the US government to come clean about the facts surrounding the bomb explosion at Goodna in 1943.

The explosion killed 12-year-old John Watson and injured seven other students at the former St Patrick's Convent School, now the site of St Francis Xavier School. The US had a military camp at Redbank at the time and unexploded ordnance littered the area - and still does.

Cr Tully said during the coronial inquiry the magistrate put "a suppression order on some of the evidence which could have implicated the Americans in a more significant way".

"I'll be seeking the release of those papers under the Right to Information Act," he said.

"The Americans demanded that some of the records be kept secret. They used to leave unexploded mortar around the area and it is time for them to recognise that they did the wrong thing. Roy Thompson from Redbank Plains went to America while he was alive seeking compensation, but they fobbed him off."

Topics:  bomb blast, goodna, history


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