On the 6 September 1943, a US Army truck driven by Private Hugh James Copeland, a US Army negro soldier, collided with a Brisbane City Council Tram, whilst driving on the incorrect side of the road on Beaudesert Road at Moorooka, Brisbane .

Five women who worked at the Rocklea Munitions Factory died as a result of their injuries as follows:-

Revena May White, 26 years, single Wellington Rd., East Brisbane
Josephine Ann Ballantine, 24 years wife of Captain R.L. Ballantine AIF
Phyllis Ellen Florence Cooper, 29 years, Brisbane St., Bulimba
Heatherbel Jean O'Brien, 26 years, single, Raven St., West End
Margaret Florence "Peggy" Bryce, 20 years, single, of Young St., Milton

38 persons including the five who subsequently died were injured in this tragic accident.


Photo:- Brisbane Tramway Museum Society

Damaged Tram outside the Bullocks Building (Established 1939)


An inquest into the accident was conducted by Detective Senior Sergeant T.J. Lloyd of the Criminal Investigation Branch (C.I.B.) of Queensland Police. The City Coroner, Mr. J.J. Leahy, found that the deaths were due to injuries caused by severe burns for four of the victims and brain and skull injuries in the case of Margaret Bryce, when the US Army military truck collided with the tram and the tram was enveloped in flames. The Coroner stated as follows:-

'The gravity of Copeland's negligence, is emphasised by the fact, as the evidence discloses, that shortly before the collision he was driving on the wrong side of the road, and narrowly escaped colliding with an immediately preceding tram car by swinging from his course on to his correct driving side and then after he passed the tram swinging back again on to the inbound tram track in the face of the-oncoming tram with which he collided."

Detective B. McNicholl of Queensland Police stated:-

"I formed the opinion as the result of extensive inquiries, which involved interviewing 101 persons, that the collision was due to the recklessness and negligence of Copeland. I am inclined to think that he consumed four glasses of intoxicating' liquor . during the afternoon, and was probably under the influence of liquor. If he was not intoxicated, he was still negligent, and showed a wanton disregard for his own safety and thesafety of others."

"There was no doubt, that there was no traffic on the road way which would have obscured Copeland's view and prevented him from keeping a proper look out. Also, there was nothing to prevent Copeland from keeping to his correct side of the roadway, and as near as practicable to the footpath as stipulated by law."

"It was not raining, visibility was good, and it was daylight. U.S.A. Army signs were displayed on the road stating that army vehicles were not to exceed 25 miles per hour."

"I think that immediately the truck came to a standstill there was a sudden back fire from the engine of the truck. This was caused by the engine suddenly stopping, and the light from that extended from the petrol tank to the flowing petrol down along the tram line, and when it met the fire, which was already started as a result of the sudden impact, there was an explosion which caused the front portion of the tram to become an inferno."

Detective McNicholl had discovered that the truck had been filled with 40 gallons of petrol the previous night, and that five gallons would have been used between then and the time of the accident.

Hugh Hamilton, a bus driver who witnessed the crash estimated that the US Army truck was going down the hill at approximately 50 miles per hour well in excess of the required 25 miles per hour for US Military trucks.

Sergeant Douglas Smith Moodie, attached to the investigating section of the US Provost Marshal's Office, was detailed to investigate the collision. He tendered a signed statement by Private Copeland, who stated that he was driving back to camp, accompanied by Sergeant P. B. Bialas, at 25 miles an hour. He saw the tram about a block away. He was not quite in the middle of the street.

Private Copeland stated that there was a car on his left and a motor cycle, which came in front of him before he got to the tram. Copeland claims that he turned sharply to the left to miss the motor cycle causing his truck to skid to the right for about 10 yards before it then collided with the tram. He could not remember if he had applied the brakes or not before he collided with the tram. Private Copeland claimed that he had not been drinking that afternoon.

Copeland was sentenced to a total six years hard labour based on the outcome of two US Military Court Martials on 1 October 1943 and 18 October 1943 and was eventually dishonourably discharged from the Army.

Traffic accidents with Brisbane City Council trams rose sharply during the WWII years. Commissioner Carroll of the Queensland Police wrote to Brigadier Donaldson, the Commanding Officer of Base Section 3, US Army requesting greater care by the drivers of US Military vehicles. Commissioner Carroll pointed out that between January 1942 and August 1943 Australian Defence Department vehicles had collided with BCC trams on 645 occasions and in the same period US vehicles had collided with BCC trams on 794 occasions.



I'd like to thank Bev Kropp for her assistance with this web page.



Article Courier Mail, 14 January 1944


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