Sunday History Photo / NSW

Submitted: Sunday, Mar 01, 2015 at 08:15
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The Hay Internment and POW camps at Hay, NSW were established during World War II as prisoner-of-war and internment centers, due in no small measure to the isolated location of the town. Three high-security camps were constructed in 1940 each holding 1000 people. The men lived in huts and living conditions were often difficult. Located on semi-arid grazing land, the camp was hit by dust storms caused by a drought during the war years. Clothing and personal items like toothbrushes were at times insufficient.
The internees did, however, have a successful market garden and farm, which provided the camp with vegetables, eggs, poultry, milk and animal fodder.

The German and Italian internees also established camp schools, handiwork classes and a newspaper; they played soccer and designed a type of money to be used in the camp.
The first arrivals were over two thousand refugees from Nazi Germany and Austria, most of whom were Jewish; they had been interned in the United Kingdom when fears of an armed invasion of Britain were at their peak. The British government then made the decision to forcibly transport these refugees to Australia on the HMT Dunera. The internees were kept in conditions on board the Dunera that were cruel & inhumane, and after the war the Dunera story became quite infamous, leading the British government to apologise for their egregious mistreatment of innocent civilian refugees. The internees arrived at Hay on 7 September 1940 by four trains from Sydney. They were interned in Camps 7 and 8 (located near the Hay showground) under the guard of the 16th Garrison Battalion of the Australian Army.

In November 1940 the other compound at Hay, Camp 6 (near the Hay Hospital), was occupied by Italian civilian internees. Camps 7 and 8 were vacated in May 1941 when the Dunera internees left Hay; some were sent to Orange (NSW), others to Tatura in Victoria, and others to join the Pioneer Corps of the Australian Army. Upon their departure Italian prisoners-of-war were placed in Camps 7 and 8. In December 1941 Japanese internees (some from Broome and islands north of Australia) were conveyed to Hay and placed in Camp 6. In April 1942 the River Farm began operating on the eastern edge of the township, enabling market-gardening and other farm activities to be carried out by the Italian internees and POWs. In February 1945, in the wake of the Cowra POW break-out, a large number of Japanese POWs were transferred to Hay and placed in the three high-security compounds.

On 1 March 1946 the Japanese POWs departed from Hay in five trains, transferred to Tatura. During 1946 the Italians who remained at Hay were progressively released or transferred to other camps, and the Hay camps were dismantled and building materials and fittings sold off by June the following year.
Hay Military Post Office was open from 4 December 1940 until 29 June 1946, defining the main period of use of the facility.
By far the best known (and most notorious) instance of wartime internment in Australia was the Dunera affair. Following the fall of France and the evacuation of Dunkirk, the British Government responded to public panic over the 'enemy within' and temporarily interned thousands of foreign nationals. Canada and Australia agreed to assist the 'mother country' with the process and, accordingly, in July 1940, HMT Dunera set sail from Liverpool to Sydney, carrying 2 542 male 'enemy aliens.' Although the group included some 250 German Nazis and 200 Italian Fascists, the vast majority of the deportees were strongly anti-Fascist and two-thirds of them were Jews.
The harrowing circumstances of the Dunera's voyage out to Australia have been documented by Bartrop, Pearl and Patkin, among others. The maltreatment of prisoners by sections of the British escort troops earned the Dunera the label 'hellship.'50 On arrival in Melbourne in September 1940, 500 deportees were disembarked and transferred to the Tatura internment camp while the remaining men and youths went on to Sydney and were transferred to the Hay camps and, subsequently, to Tatura.

Intense criticism of the deportation and incarceration of unfortunate persons, most of them totally opposed to the Nazi regime, was voiced both in Britain and Australia, and resulted in the British Government expressing regret for the incident as early as October 1940. Major Julian Layton of the Home Office was sent to Australia to assist with the repatriation process. Charges were laid against a number of the Dunera guards, and compensation payments were allocated to the deportees. Bureaucratic delays and inefficiency notwithstanding, the internees were all released in due course. Some 900 elected to remain in Australia, and a substantial number of them served with Australia's defence forces, notably in the 8th Employment Company.
The internment at Hay of this assemblage of refugees from Nazi oppression in Europe was an important milestone in Australia’s cultural history. Just fewer than half of those interned at Hay eventually chose to remain in Australia. The influence of this group of men on subsequent cultural, scientific and business developments in Australia is difficult to over-state; they became an integral and celebrated part of the nation’s cultural and intellectual life.

The 'Dunera Boys' are still fondly remembered in Hay; every year the town holds a 'Dunera Day' in which many surviving internees return to the site of their former imprisonment. Of the 900 'Dunera Boys' who remained in Australia after being sent to the camp, approximately 50 had survived into 2010

Hay camp closed in 1946.

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Reply By: kevmac....(WA) - Sunday, Mar 01, 2015 at 10:02

Sunday, Mar 01, 2015 at 10:02
Yet another interesting sunday history doug. Thanks
AnswerID: 546757

Reply By: Nomad Navara - Sunday, Mar 01, 2015 at 17:51

Sunday, Mar 01, 2015 at 17:51
Great reading, fantastic history of our wonderful country, Thank you Doug.
AnswerID: 546787

Follow Up By: TTD1 - Monday, Mar 02, 2015 at 07:56

Monday, Mar 02, 2015 at 07:56
Thank You Doug,
It bought back some memories.My father in law was one of the original Dunera Boys and never returned to Germany but married a local girl and reared 8 good Aussies. The contribution these men made to Australian recovery can never be under estimated. A visit to the Hay railway station if in the area has a great exhibit on this subject.
Once again Thanks
I hope the current migrants contribute as much to this great country.
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