The memories of Graytown POWs
NAGAMBIE’S Max Perry remembers much about the site of the prisoner of war (POW) camp at Graytown which was in operation in his very young years throughout the second World War.
In her book ‘Walls of Wire,’ author Joyce Hammond sought information from Mr Perry as part of her research into the many former POW camps that located throughout the Goulburn Valley.
Graytown’s ‘Camp 6’ was initially built by Italian POW’s, but throughout the war German prisoners situated themselves on the site.
Prisoners were guarded at night but allowed the freedom to roam in the bush by day, as long as they kept their distance from farmhouses and be back at camp by 4pm.
In the work camp prisoners tendered garden beds and chopped wood in the state forest - they were paid nine pence a day for their labour.
Mr Perry’s parents Barney “Harold” and Eileen owned a farm and homestead at Wirrate, located about five kilometres from the Graytown camp.
Mr Perry recalled how he and his brother would interact with POWs, and the intrigue about the POWs when learning about them at school.
“We would sit on our fence and wave to the POWs as they drove past and collect the lollies they threw to us and the children at the Wirrate Primary school where we attended daily,” Max said.
One prisoner, Josef Daum, was so
delighted with the Perry boys sitting on the fence one day that he decided to fashion a sailing ship in full sail in a bottle for them.
It was lowered by a rope very gently from the back of a POW truck at the school gate.
In March 1943, at the age of seven, Mr Perry wrote a letter to the camp commandant thanking Josef for the gift, the POW men for their thoughts, lollies and kindness.
Over time he learnt that the 266 prisoners based at Graytown Camp were from the German raider ship
the Kormoran which was set ablaze by HMAS Sydney off the Western Australia coast in 1941.
The Kormoran had sunk nine allied ships before she met HMAS Sydney.
Also on duty at Graytown were 80 Australian soldiers, while 30 personnel were at the Transport Unit sited on the Nagambie - Heathcote Road closer to Nagambie.
At that time the road connecting the two towns was an unmade gravel road, with Army vehicles mainly used to cart water from the Goul
burn River 25km away at Wattlevale.
The soldiers worked day and night to supply the camp with water for flower and vegetable garden beds, ablutions and the kitchen and a large water tank necessary for the prisoners and military personnel.
Sometimes the drivers would give the children a ride in the back of the truck which Mr Perry remembered enjoying as a child.
But Graytown was a new type of lifestyle for the German POWs - on a Sunday they would regularly go to the nearby Sandy creek, and from the other side, the children would talk to them.
The prisoners also built a tennis court in front of the Catholic Church in town, and once completed some prisoners displayed skills akin to world-class players.
Some prisoners also formed a band in their time at Graytown while working on making musical instruments for locals.
“Some instruments were made in the camp. Even though I was only about eight the music they played sounded great to me,” Mr Perry said.
“Every few weeks entertainers would also come to the camp from Melbourne and nearby and hold concerts for the army and farming folk in the hall outside the compound. The local ladies provided afternoon tea for the occasions.”
Mr Perry found the prisoners friendly to many of the young folk of the community despite being so far away from their home country.
“They had their own prison accommodation separate to the military quarters and were treated fairly by their guards,” Mr Perry.
“We would go out to see the prisoners and they would sell to the locals their singlets, socks and shirts for money or for some tobacco or cigarettes.”
Mr Perry also said a lot of the prisoners were very professional men.
“They had classes in high school subjects and English and made the best of their situation as they could,” he said.
“They endured our heat and cold and the conditions and were treated respectfully by the local farming community families.”
Mr Perry is hopeful more residents discover more stories, and that they are documented.
The Strathbogie Shire Council also want to hear from people that know about the history of Graytown and its history. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
References: Max Perry of Nagambie and’ Walls of Wire’ by Joyce Hammond.