On 22 December 1943, in the depths of World War II, a fire broke out at Bowser railway yard near the Hume Highway. High temperatures and hot northerly winds combined to create a raging fire.
It quickly spread towards Tarrawingee (east of Wangaratta), with volunteers racing from across the area, including farmers and farmhands, factory workers, shop owners, teachers, workmates knocking off for the day from the Post Master General office and two 14-year-old schoolboys.
Tragically, the wind changed direction and the fire claimed the lives of 10 men, including the teenage schoolboys, in what was one of the greatest losses of firefighters in the line of duty in Victoria's history.
This fire and others during the 1943/44 fire season followed the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the 1939 bushfires and was the catalyst for the formation of the Country Fire Authority a year later in 1944.
In honour of the fallen firefighters, a memorial stone was built near where the incident occurred. CFA has continued to hold services at the memorial to commemorate their bravery.
Watch a video overview of the fire by Tarrawingee Brigade member Graeme Norman below.
Tarrawingee Fire Victims Memorial Stone.
1932 Ford V8 Wangaratta and District Tanker before the fire.
1932 Ford V8 Wangaratta and District Tanker after fire swapped through.
New fire truck for the brigade following the fire.
Fire trucks lined up along the Great Alpine Road.
CFA member giving a speech at a past memorial service.
Family and friends laying flowers at a past memorial service.
Attendees looking at the memorial stone at a past memorial service.
CFA members lined up around the memorial stone at a past memorial service.
CFA member Graeme Norman at a past memorial service.
80th Anniversary Service 2023
CFA will commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Tarrawingee fire with a service at the memorial stone, Great Alpine Road on Friday 22 December 2023.
The service will honour the sacrifice and memory of :
- Godfrey Spencer, 53, school teacher Wangaratta
- Andrew Joseph Guthrie, 45, farm manager, Tarrawingee
- John Wolstenholme Marks, 29, farmer, Markwood
- Arthur Willesley Wellington, 46, farmer, Markwood
- Theodore Luke Lea, 32, foreman Huttons Bacon Factory, Wangaratta
- Joseph Louis Ryan, 38, postal linesman, Wangaratta
- Edward Laurence Seymour, 33, telephone linesman, Wangaratta
- Norman John Robinson, 49, postal linesman, Wangaratta
- Kevin Dunkley, 14, schoolboy, Londrigan
- Henry Claude Hill, 14, schoolboy, East Wangaratta
May their legacy live on; their sacrifice is never forgotten.
The service will be livestreamed on CFA's YouTube channel. The live recording will be available after the event at the same link.
A memorial service program (PDF 966.3KB) is available for download. The program includes:
- The Order of Proceedings
- Information about the Tarrawingee fire and the aftermath
- The role of the Red Cross
- A biography about each of the fallen firefighters.
Wellbeing and support
As we mark the 80th anniversary of the Tarrawingee fire, people may experience different emotional, physical and psychological reactions.
Although many decades have passed, it’s important to remember that those people who were impacted by the fires on that day, and afterwards, as well as their descendants, may continue to need support.
If you or a loved one need extra support during this time, do not be afraid to speak up and reach out. There are many places you can go for help.
CFA has a Wellbeing Support Line which is available 24/7 for current and former CFA members and their families - phone 1800 959 232. Depending on the challenges you are experiencing, you can speak with your local doctor, or a mental health professional, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14
Page last updated: Wednesday, 20 December 2023 9:12:21 AM