No. 3 P.O.W. Labour Detachment on Trans-Australian Railways
Sub Camp 6: Nurina
(photo by Robert Parnell, Flickr)
A special thank you to Malcolm Davis who brought to my attention information relating the Italian prisoners of war on the Nullarbor; the No. 3 Labour Detachment and providing me with links to information on this group of Italian P.O.W.s. Information from this article has been summarised from the file NAA: B300, 8247 Part 2 Employment of prisoners of war [ Trans Australian…] in conjunction with information from SA Heritage Survey and photographs are from Robert Parnell.
Grazie mille to Malcolm Davis for this rare photo of one of the POW camp sites across the Nullarbor. The photo was taken from the cab [cabin] of a loco [locomotive] in the 1950s.
The establishment of No. 3 P.O.W. Labour Detachment was approved in March 42. The first group of Italian POWs arrived at HQ Cook on 8.4.42 and the last group departed from HQ Cook c. 15.10.43. The POW workforce was drawn from Hay PW Camp.
No 3 Labour Detachment Cook SA List of Names
“It is intended to employ the P’s O.W. laying sleepers and ballast on the Watson-Rawlinna Section (Approx 320 miles) of the Trans Australian Railways, and for this purpose six work camps will be established at intervals along the permanent way. At each work camp there will be 2 N.C.O’s. and up to 16 guards, 20 railways workers in charge of a Head Ganger, and 50 to 60 Italian P’s.O.W., making a total strength at each camp of approximately 100.” Cook was established as the headquarters: HQ Cook with three subcamps in WA and three subcamps in SA.
13.3.42 Approval is given for the formation of No 3 P.O.W. Labour Detachment with Italian POWs drawn from Hay PW Camp NSW
300 POWs = 270 workers, 8 medical orderlies, 8 sanitary orderlies, 14 cooks
Allocation to 6 camps = 45 workers, 2 cooks, 1 medical orderly, 1 sanitary orderly = 49 POWs
5.4.42 Italian prisoners of war leave Hay PW Camp
8.4.42 Italian prisoners of war arrive at HQ Cook Camp for dispersal to six camps (not at stations) over 277 miles established along the railway line
13.5.42 Concern over the scale of rations for AMF staff and POWs is raised. Scale of rations was the same as that of Italian internees at Loveday. It was considered inadequate considering the nature of work the POWs were undertaking.
16.5.42 Nine POWs arrive at Camp 13B Murchison: refusal to work (Giuseppe Copia, Emilio di Lallo, Vincenzo di Pietro, Luigi Di Micco, Stanislao Granata, Alfredo Mattera, Luigi Rossi, Antonio Renella, Cristoforo Toscano)
19.5.42 Antonio Renella. Stanislao Granata, Alfredo Mattera, Luigi Rossi and Cristoforo Toscano write letters to Camp Commandant at Camp 13B Murchison regarding their treatment. After refusing to work on the basis that they were not obliged under the International Convention [Geneva] to undertake work of a war nature, they endured 7 days of bread and water, were not allowed to take their personal possessions with them to detention, had tobacco, cigarettes, foodstuffs, letters and money confiscated, were threatened with bullet shots, rifles and bayonets in a menacing manner, were abused, insulted, being hit by AMF Captain, while in detention the water for personal hygiene was that that had been used to wash plates and utensils in the Australian camp.
1.6.42 Scale of rations for AMF staff and POWs is adjusted.
2.6.42 Inspection Report submitted by Inspector POW and Internment Camps
From the report: “Nine men refused to work on the grounds that they would be assisting military operations, and that their families in Italy, and they themselves, on return after the war, would be subjected to retaliatory action. They have been removed….”
“It is understood that the railway authorities are satisfied with the work being done by P.O.W., which they estimate at 60% to 70% of that performed by civilian fettlers.”
“Books and indoor games are available in all camps. There is a radio set in each camp which is available to guard, P.O.W. and fettlers alike… Soccer balls are being obtained. On Sundays P.O.W. are permitted, under escort to hunt rabbits in the desert. Provided proper precautions are observed, there would not appear to be any objection to this practice, which affords exercise and entertainment, and provides an appreciated addition to the rations.”
“Small railway tents and bunks are provided for guards and P.O.W. those seen were clean and in good order. 5 blankets per man are now available and will probably be needed during the winter months.”
“Guards, fettlers and P.O.W. share the same mess room [provided by the Railways]. In one case, a hessian partition had been erected. Proper solid partitions should be erected in every camp.”
“Apart from the lack of accommodation, the Canteen Service appears to be adequate, under the circumstances. The Canteen Sergeant, or his representative, travels by the weekly ration train, which enables him to spend a short time in each camp, during which he hands over bulk supplies to the Sergeant in charge and collects cash and tokens from him. Actual sales are conducted by the Sergeant in each camp.”
“A ganger interviewed assured me that any sabotage to the line was impossible… I am by no means confident that he is right.”
“At one camp, a man became unintentionally lost in the desert after rabbitting. After a search of several hours had proved unsuccessful, he found his way back to camp. On the following night, two men escaped from the same compound and, after wandering around all night, returned to camp of their own volition. It would not be impossible for a man to be lost in the desert and die of thirst.”
“It was suggested that any clergymen who might come to Cook from time to time, might be invited to visit the camps. Nothing further seems practicable, except that I was informed in one camp that the P.O.W enjoyed listening to broadcasts of church services.”
“There is far too great a tendency to rely on the desert as providing all the security necessary.
5.6.42 Military Court of Inquiry begins for the purpose of “inquiring into and reporting on (a) the general administration of No 3 P W Labour Detachment (b) allegations regarding the intoxication of OC Detachment in the presence of members of the guard, P W and civilians; and (c) allegations that OC Detachment has used violence on a prisoner of war.” The above POW complaints were not under investigation. Witnesses were AMF staff and Railway employees. Captain Naughton was exonerated on all charges.
June 1942 There are 299 POWs attached to No. 3 Cook Labour Detachment
18.9.42 35 additional POWs arrive at Cook. Fly menace and rabbit problem is raised.
31.1.43 PW numbers: 297 with 22 unfit and 12 others awaiting transfer to Hay.
12.2.43 Directive: one work camp to be vacated for accommodation of alien labour.
2.3.43 Camp 1 to shifts to 507 mile.
16.2.43 Imperative that Pw not be permitted contact with alien workers
25.2.43 Camp 6 (802 mile) closed.
11.3.43 28 Italian POWs are recommended on medical grounds to be returned to Hay.
18.3.45 Four Italian POWs are returned to Hay
March 43 Report-Camp 6 is closed and POWs distributed amongst remaining camps
18.3.43 24 Italian POW depart Cook for Hay
18.3.43 4 Italian POWs depart for Hay
15.4.43 45 Italian POWs are returned to Hay
May 43 200 POWs attached to Cook
15.5.43 Commonwealth Railways request to retain 4 subcamps.
20.5.43 Intention to vacate two more camps by 15.6.43 leaving 130 POWs working on the project.
26.5.43 Agreement made that the POW labour force would be replaced with men employed by the Civil Aliens Corps (in the majority, these men were released from internment and allocated to work for the Civil Aliens Corps)
15.6.43 Partial evacuation of 3 camps and 130 POWs; 44 returned to Hay; 42 returned to Hay
21.6.43 Camp 5 at 752 miles and Camp 4 at 682 miles are vacated.
21.6.43 44 Italian POWs leave Cook for Hay
23-24.6.43 44 Aliens arrive to replace POWs
24.6.43 42 Italian POWs leave Cook for Hay
1-3.7.43 52 Aliens arrived to replace POWs
15.8.43 Camp 3 vacated 56 POWs to Hay
16.8.43 Camp 2 vacated 56 POWs moved to Cook. Total strength at Cook = 4 AMF officers and 52 ORs; 56 PW
20.9. 43 Evacuation of Cook HQ is postponed
- 15.10.43 53 Italian POWs leave Cook for Adelaide
Geographic Location of Sub Camps and
Numbers of AMF Staff and POWs
Location of camp and subcamps for No.3 Labour Detachment Cook
2nd June 1942 Secret Report
Section of Trans Australia Railway along which the No.3 Labour Detachment Operated
Place names in bold correspond with place names on the map
Rawlinna; Wilban; Haig; Nurina; Loongana; Mundrabilla; Forrest;
Hughes; Denman; Koonalda Block Point; Cook; Thomiar;
Fisher; O’Malley Block Point; Watson
Plan of Cook and POW HQ
Wow. I had no idea until reading this.
This history is full of surprises. There was some controversy about lack of security at night, but the response was… where are the POWs going to escape to? A lot a country to get lost in.
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