Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Prisoner of War Camp at Koo-Wee-Rup

The Koo-Wee-Wee Rup Swamp Historical Society has copies of Commonwealth Government documents relating to the World War Two Italian Prisoner of War Camp at Koo-Wee-Rup or Bayles - the documents use both names to describe the location of the Camp. The Society has had a few enquiries about this Camp, mostly relating to the names of prisoners, however no names are included in the documents and as you might expect from a War bureaucracy much of the material relates to administration and officialdom. The Society does not have any photographs of the Camp, though would be keen to see some.

The Prisoner of War Camp was located on 7¼ acres on part of Lots 6 & 7, Section S Parish of Koo-Wee-Rup, which is the south side of the Main Drain Road, between Backhouses Road and Ballarto Road. There is a small sketch map with the documents, which is reproduced below on a copy of a Koo-Wee-Rup Parish Plan. The Commonwealth took possession of the land on August 7, 1944. The entire block of land (consisting of Parts, 6, 7 & 8) was just over 58 acres and was owned by the Estate of Ardolph Edward Mosig and Frederick Leonard Smith who were leasing it to Leslie Einsiedel. The land was being used for grazing and was described as “Flat Swamp land All cleared” There were no buildings on the block but there was a dam, which would be used by the Camp and so a trough was provided for Mr Einsiedel’s cattle. Mr Einsiedel was to get just over £10 per annum for the land.

The Camp was scheduled to open October 21, 1944. There would be one officer and ten ‘other ranks’ and 88 POWs, including one who was a medical orderly. The camp would consist of ‘P’ type huts from the Rowville Camp, and there was a one ton van and two 30cwt trucks to transport prisoners to and from work. The Prisoners were employed by the Department of Commerce and Agriculture and they were paid 1/3d per day, plus they were provided with all equipment, blankets, clothing, food etc. The prisoners came from the Murchison Camp and had a medical and dental before they were ‘allotted’ to local farmers to provide labour. Local contractors would provide perishable foodstuffs and appropriate arrangements were made with the local church authorities for the spiritual welfare of prisoners. Most other arrangements e.g. financial appear to have been carried out at Murchison.

The next lot of material we have comes from February 1946 when the camp was being dismantled; the hire of land was terminated on February 22, 1946. There is a list of buildings that were sold which gives us some idea as to what the Camp would have looked like. All buildings were made of CGI, which I assume is corrugated galvanised iron, though some were made from, at the time, the popular asbestos cement.
Buildings No.1, No. 2, and No. 3 all described as Sleeping Huts and all were 60 feet 8 inches by 18 feet 8 inches in size. They were sold to Melbourne University for £370.00.
Building No.4 - Kitchen and Mess 93 ft 4 inches by 18 feet 8 inches – sold to Toora R.S.L for £250.00.
Building No.5 - Kitchen, Mess, Recreation and Sleeping – 78 feet 8 inches by 18 feet 8 inches – sold to the Athlone Presbyterian Church for £210.00.
Buildings 8 & 9 - Latrines, each 12 feet by 12 feet. Sold to Frankston Fire Brigade for £51.00.
Building No.12 - Kitchen Store ,60 feet 8 inches by 18 feet 8 inches, and the Drying Room, 23 feet 4 inches by 18 feet. Sold to Loreto Convent, Toorak for £175.00
Mess and a Provision Hut - 57 feet by 18 feet, sold for £144.00 through Melgaard & Co.

It appears that all buildings were removed by April 1947 and the army then paid the owners just over £53.00 for damage, removal of concrete foundations etc.

So that’s what we know from the official documents. I asked my father, Frank Rouse, a few years ago if he knew anything about the Camp (he would have been eleven at the time) and he also spoke to two other local identities, Bill Giles and Ian Clark. Bill and Ian agree there was no strong security at the Camp and there was no security at weekends, but the prisoners had to wear orange overalls. Bill remembers seeing prisoners walking along the road at night when he was riding his bike home, and they could walk along the drain bank into Koo-Wee-Rup and to the Bay.

The POWs worked at selected farms including the AJC Asparagus farm (also known as Roxburghs) at Vervale. This was on the south side of Fallon Road, from Dessent Road, through to Simpson Road. Dad remembers truckloads of the prisoners driving down Dessent Road to the AJC farm in the morning, one guard on each truck. At lunch time a food van with a portable cooker would go the farm to feed them. Another truck load of prisoners would go to Dalmore.

Bill said they also worked on the Kinsella Brothers farm (Dan, Norman and Arthur) that grew a lot of potatoes and asparagus during the War. The Kinsellas were on the north side of the Main Drain, around Eight Mile Road. Dad said his brother Jim (who would have been thirteen at the time) remembers three Italian POWs digging potatoes with forks on the Rouse farm (Joe & Eva Rouse). Jim also remembered, as did Bill and Ian, that the prisoners had their own especially printed money and coins, but we are unsure how this was used.

So, that’s all the information we have, if you know anything else, then I would love to hear from you.


Stephen C. Burrows said...

Leslie Einsedel who leased the POW blocks is buried at Cranbourne Cem., his wife was Jessie (deceased and only child daughter Dorothy who married into the Burrows Family of Augustus Burrows who was a settlor at Iona when the Main Drain was being dug. Augustus son Charles Alfred Burrows was reputedly one of the first born at the Koo Wee Rup work camp in 1894.

Heather said...

Thank you Stephen for your comment and information about the Burrows family.

Laura Mecca said...

I have been contacted by email by the daughter of an Italian Prisoner of War who spent a year in the POW camp at Koo-Wee-Rup in 1944/45. His name was Giosino FINO (b. 1917). He was captured by English troops in May 1941 in Amba Alagi (Ethiopia) and taken to an Indian POW Camp. From there he was sent to POW camp in Cowra marching in 30 Dec. 1943. On 31 July 1944 he was transferred to Murchison and 10 months later sent to KooWeeRup camp to work in the farms until Feb 45 when he was sent back to Murchison and repatriated in Dec. 1946. He is now deceased and his daughter is keen to locate the family for which he worked on their farm. He mentioned they were called “Gazelli”. He fell in love with their daughter called Margherita. Not sure if they were of Italian background. When he arrived back in Italy after a few months he went to work in France. Can anyone help? Please contact me at mecca.laura@gmail.com
Thank you, Laura Mecca

Paul Werner HAARBURGER said...

My father was based at the POW camp around 1944 as the interpreter for the Italians. He always spoke with affection about the camp inhabitants. I have some letters written to him after the war from a couple of former prisoners and a photo of one - a young doctor.
You might like a copy of the correspondence/photo.
I'm trying to find out what the name of the army unit was.
I can be contacted at paul_haarburger@hotmail.com if interested.

Glenda Mercer said...

Rocco Filone and another Italian POW lived at this camp and worked on the Benham Farm, 980 Main Drain Road.