The first Queensland Italian prisoners of war arrived in Gaythorne PW & I Camp 13th October 1943. These men were sent to work on Stanthorpe district farms 16th to 21st October 1943. The control centre was Q1 Prisoner of War Control Centre Stanthorpe (Q1 PWCC Stanthorpe or Q1 Stanthorpe).
Official records offer up little information about the Gaythorne Prisoner of War and Internment Camp.
Gaythorne PW & I Camp, had a capacity of 1800. Nationalities held were: PW – Italian, Japanese, Korean, Formosan, sundry and Internees – Italian, sundry. It operated from 1940-1946. It had 3 compounds each of 300, 1 compound of 400 and 1 compound of 500.
The Gaythorne Camp was under the command of Camp Commandant JW Hinschen, 2 Aust. P.W. Guard Company and later Camp Commandant Captain J Todd. It was situated at Bliss and Newman Streets, Gaythorne just north of today’s Enoggera Barracks’ precinct.
The Gaythorne PW & I Camp is illustrated in the aerial photograph below. The buildings of the complex are situated below the residential blocks of Newman, Ludlow and Ernest Streets which are bordered by Bliss Street in the south and Grays Road to the north.
1946 Aerial View of Gaythorne
(QImagery Department of Natural Resources and Mines Film BCC1, Frame 34877)
A little snippet of information written by N.T.Boast for “Cobbers” is titled The Singing Italians. Boast worked with the 7 Base Ordinance Depot at Enoggera camp and the Italians were collected to work at the 7 B.O.D and “to assemble them in the afternoon they would play John Charles Tomas singing Tiritomba, then march them back to their compound.
Eric Behrendorff from Mt Alford near Boonah visited his POW George Ragusa at the Gaythorne Camp to say his goodbyes. Eric remembers that the compound was dreadful: hot, sparse and surrounded by barb wire. The guards were abrupt and officious and Eric was only allowed to see George through the barb wire. Eric could never reconcile the actions of the army to take POWs off farms and imprison them in camps, when a better situation was leave them on the farms until repatriation.
Initially used as an Internment Camp, Queensland Italian Internees were trained from Queensland towns to Gaythorne and then for onward movement to Loveday SA. From October 1943 to March 1946, Italian Prisoners of War were accommodated at this site.
While the following extract, details the memories and experiences of Peter Dalseno a Queensland Italian internee, it provides an account of Gaythorne camp which would have been similar to the experiences of the Italian POWs.
“The train was motionless. The hissing and pulling was more audible, as it normally happens on cool early mornings. No sound from without, no sound from within.
Suddenly the world was bathed in artificial light, and life stirred almost as artificially. Weary bodies rose and weary eyes peering through the carriage bars. The train had been surrounded by army trucks covered with tarpaulins, dwarfing the soldiers like so many ants defending their quarters. There were voices. There were commands. A struggle with luggage and a jump to the gravelled ground. The human cargo was shepherded into the waiting trucks. Soldiers to the right, to the left and to the rear, all bathed in an eerie light as if the earth was invaded by another planet.
“Where on earth are we?” Peter asked one of the soldiers rostered to guard the read.
“Gaythorne, mate!” answered an army recruit. “The staging camp is not too far away. Only a matter of minutes”.
…Arrival at Gaythorne staging camp was as energetic as the the arrival at the railway siding. Voices and commands emanated from every quarter…
Several hundreds stood huddled together, some standing listlessly, others sitting on luggage and some on their haunches…Above there glared the harsh and unforgiving search lights.
“Attention! Attention!” commanded an officer with an array of stripes on his sleeve… “Each and every one of you is required to lodge particulars with personnel.” He indicated a row of army mess tables behind which sat a member of the Australian Military Forces. “Present your luggage. It will be searched and any article classified as a threat to security, either national or to your person, will be confiscated and catalogued. You will receive some form of receipt. Any money on your person must be surrendered. Again a receipt….
Peter gazed at the army barracks, sheds and tents that loomed against the receding darkness. So this is Brisbane…
The Gaythorne staging camp was an area of restriction, an area of concentration. it served as a subsidiary to the Army Headquarters where the activity was as vast as it was purposeful, function as a recruiting base and as a centre for training. There was nothing gay about the atmosphere… drab tints of army environment. The buildings were few but of ample proportions specifically designed for army requirements – a mess-hall on one side and quarters for baths and toilets on the other. The tents were arranged in rows. the dirt underfoot…
Men carrying palliasses and ground sheets, some carrying personal belongings over their shoulders and suitcases..
The two men on the platform… passed on the benefit of their experiences at the Gaythorne staging camp. Evidently they had been selected by the Army Authorities to act as ‘Camp Leaders’. … deliberated with petty instructions – the whereabouts of the ablutions, the mess-hall, the first-aid tent, and the obligatory bi-daily parade at roll-call…”You will be permitted to write two letters a week, and each letter will be of one-page length. Paper provided. No sealing. The contents will be censored and any matter found objectionable will suffer the scissors, or the letter returned altogether, and you will lose entitlement for the week. the same thing applies to all mail you receive. So do not be alarmed if your wife’s letter has as many holes as a spaghetti colander”.
…The air now overwhelmed with silence was rent by the sound of a bugle. The ‘last post’ announced the army was about to sleep”.
(from Sugar, Tears and Eyeties by Peter Dalseno)