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German/Italian POW Camp, Perth, Australia

Article about: Will do, not been up to tatura yet but hope to go soo. The German memorial is a stone cairn withe the words "unsure geffalen kameraden" it did have a massive iron cross with swasti

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    Default German/Italian POW Camp, Perth, Australia

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ID:	137817Hi Guys... not sure if this is the correct forum, I tried to find one concerned with POW camps but this is as close as I could find. Anyway, I have just 'discovered' (after mountain-biking in the area) that the peaceful remains of a German/Italian POW camp lay hidden in the middle of the bush, near a small country town called Dwelingup, south/west of Perth, WA.
    Most of the foundations are still there and lots of relics (mainly building materials)... it's so secluded and quiet there, and not easy to find, so it's a very peaceful and isolated place... apart from the screeching of black cockatoos overhead! It's so easy to imagine, as you sit amongst the sweet smelling gum trees and wattle bushes, what it must have been like... it would have been really hot during the summer months, that's for sure... especially as the huts had tin roofs, etc. Anyway, here's an interesting outline of the place and its prisoners, and I will post some photos as well...

    When Australia went to war in 1939, a labour shortage resulted that, by 1942 had reached crisis point.* Success in the war meant that 250,000 prisoners needed to be secured.* Therefore, an agreement was reached with Britain and Prisoners of War (POW’s) were shipped from Libya and India to assist the Australian workforce, particularly rural areas.
    The Army and POW’s themselves built a network of camps and control centers across Australia.
    One POW Camp and 30 control centers were located in Western Australia.* The one POW Camp, No 16 Prisoner of War Compound and Garrison, was built at Marrinup, 83km south Perth, to provide farm labour and cut firewood for the state capital.* It was approximately 16 ha in size.
    No 16 Marrinup POW Camp took its first prisoners in August 1943 and released its last in April 1946.* It was built to accommodate 1,200 men, including Army personnel, and thousands of prisoners passed through its gates.* Most were German and Italian, who were put in separate compounds in accordance with the Geneva Convention.
    The camp was basically a transit stop for workers on the way to farms or rural control centers.* Prisoners stayed for long periods only for medical or disciplinary reasons.
    A high barbwire fence surrounded the compounds with triple concertina wire strategically placed outside. High-powered floodlights encircled the area and six watchtowers were built, one at each corner.
    Within the compound, the huts had a wooden bed, a mattress, blankets and a locker for each POW.* Most of the buildings were constructed of material scrounged from disbanded internee camps and Army depots.*
    Buildings included sleeping huts, six men to each, hospitals, latrines, hot and cold showers, washhouses, messroom, administrative office, a ‘drying room’ for wet clothes and an education hut.
    Gardening was a favourite occupation, and a fine example of their skills and initiative is a fishpond and garden beds built in the shape of the playing card suits.* These can still be seen adjacent to the powerhouse foundations.
    The Geneva Convention governed treatment of prisoners and was closely followed to avoid reprisals against Australian POW’s overseas.
    Because of the lack of work supervisors, extensive screening of prisoners occurred before they reached Marrinup.* No escapes, “super-nazi”,”super-patriots”, troublemakers or medically unfit were accepted at the camp.
    Most of the Italians were chosen for their rural working background and less troublesome nature, while some Germans were taken because of their skills as woodcutters.* Their average age was 30.
    On arrival each POW was issued a second-hand Army uniform that had been dyed maroon, and was allowed to wear his insignia of rank.
    Conditions were comfortable but monotonous and the work hard.* There was little foreign literature; a booklet was issued explaining the meaning and pronunciation of English words.* Delays in mail were up to two years, and there was nothing to remind men of home. With little to read, being able to talk only to other prisoners, and surrounded by an unfamiliar landscape, life was very isolated and lonely.
    Camp life followed a strict routine with the day beginning at 6am, work finishing at 3pm and lights out at 10pm.* Italian prisoners were sent via control centres to farms from Geraldton to Albany, where life was strenuous but less authoritarian.* For the most part they were willing workers.* Unless discipline was required or they were unwilling to work, accommodation was supplied at the farm.
    The German woodcutters worked in the forest and supplied Perth with 2,500 tonnes of firewood every week. This fuelled Perth’s power generators, water pumping stations and industry.* Marrinup provided half of Perth’s annual need of firewood.
    Prisoners were expected to work eight hours a day whether inside or outside the camp.
    Those who remained within the camp were rostered for general cleaning, or for various jobs in the boot maker, tailor or carpentry shops that utilized their skills.
    Prisoners were paid about one shilling and three pence a day for their work, but in tokens not currency.* The tokens were used to buy chocolate, cigarettes, and other items from a mobile army canteen that visited the centers regularly.
    In their free time the prisoners painted, sketched, carved wood and crafted wooden items.* Education was also available and subjects such as Mathematics, Spanish, English, Biology, Physics and Accountancy were taught.
    On Sundays, prisoners were allowed out of the camp on parole walks, and football matches and other sporting activities were arranged for them. Locals and army personnel took part in these. Many a foul resulted when occasional matches were organised between the Germans and the Italians.
    With the end of the war came the need to return to POW’s to their own country of origin.* However, particularly in the last few months before repatriation in 1946, a number indicated their wish to stay in Australia and not return to war devastated Europe.* Their employers supported them.* Policy dictated, however, that they must return before they could apply to immigrate by sponsorship.
    Thirty men escaped and remained in WA after the final shipload of POW’s left Fremantle in December 1946.* The Marrinup camps last POW’s left in April 1946.* In four months all the buildings had been auctioned off or absorbed back into Army depots.
    All that remains are some of the buildings foundations and the gardens.* If you look closely you will also be able to distinguish trees that were used to mount watchtowers and some ruts in the ground that were along the fence lines.
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    Default Re: German/Italian POW Camp, Perth, Australia

    Sorry Guys... I had all of the photos 'in line' but when I posted the thread some of them became attachments... the notches in the tree above were cut for steps to be inserted, as a ladder up to one of the watchtowers... hope you find the thread interesting... cheers... Hansi

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    Default Re: German/Italian POW Camp, Perth, Australia

    I have been there, did you see the solitary cell foundations with the wear marks from the german soldiers hobnails as the paced back and forward? Apparently one Italian prisoner escaped, got back to italy, returned to his unit, survived the war, emigrated back to Australia, got a job and in the 1950's was found out and arrested for escaping!!! I think he only spent a few days in goal and lived a long and happy life in Australia

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    Default Re: German/Italian POW Camp, Perth, Australia

    Yes, it's an amazing place and one can really 'feel' the past there... and yes, the solitary cell floors certainly tell a story, imagine being locked in there in the sweltering heat for up to 28 days! Cheers... Hansi

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    Default Re: German/Italian POW Camp, Perth, Australia

    Yhe it wouldnt have been all that pleasant....did you know that the brick water tanks base in your photo was made by an Italian POW who also did some of the stone work on the church in the local township????

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    Default Re: German/Italian POW Camp, Perth, Australia

    No, I didn't know that about the church... and no doubt with all the men away the small towns around would have had need for people with building skills, etc. Unfortunately, and as you probably know, the old township of Marrinup was completely burned to the ground in a big bushfire back in the 60s... which is a great shame as I'm sure there would have been a lot of evidence of POW help in and around the town. I haven't looked into Dwelingup's history (for those who don't know this area, Dwelingup is a small town just up the road), but what with the old steam railway running right through the area, etc. I'm sure that they would have helped out there too... all very interesting and fascinating stuff. Now that I know of this camp I will start to look into it a bit more... cheers.. Hansi

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    Default Re: German/Italian POW Camp, Perth, Australia

    Hi Hansi,

    Thank you for sharing this. Another one of those more unknown parts of history. I wonder if a metal detector would turn up any interesting artifacts there.

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    Default Re: German/Italian POW Camp, Perth, Australia

    Oh.. I would dearly love to go around there with a metal-detector but... for the sake of history and the preservation of this historical site, you are asked politely (on signs) not to take away relics, etc. and that if you find something interesting to report it to the governing bodies back in town... very trusting as there's usually not a soul around for miles! Cheers... Hansi

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    Default Re: German/Italian POW Camp, Perth, Australia

    Yeh I got the same feeling, love to go fossicking around but the site should be left as is. Did you see the flower beds ringed with stones in the shape of the different suits from a deck of cards... There is a German pow camp here in Vic still with a memorial that was made by German afrika korp POWs. And the nearby tatura German war cemetery, will have to up soon and check it out. It is the biggest German war cemetery outside europe

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    Default Re: German/Italian POW Camp, Perth, Australia

    Yes, I did see the flower beds but I have to admit that I didn't notice their shapes... I sort of rushed by them as I was more interested in the building foundations and the watchtowers, etc. Maybe you can post some photos and an outline of the camp in Vic sometime... sounds really interesting too, also the cemetery. Slowly we're putting Australia on the map... what with the Darwin thread as well. I used to think that there was nothing much here of interest in the way of war history, etc. but I've now realized that there is... and it's pretty unique too! When I left the UK I felt a bit fed up leaving all that history, flea-markets, junk-shops, war sites, etc. behind... but 'discovering' all this POW history is adding a whole new dimension... Cheers.. Hansi

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