Euroa Gazette

The mem­o­ries of Gray­town POWs

- By DIANE GRANT Goulburn · Australia · Western Australia · Nagambie · Huntly

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 info@strath­bo­gie.vic.gov.au for more de­tails.

Ref­er­ences: Max Perry of Nagambie and’ Walls of Wire’ by Joyce Ham­mond.

 ??  ?? POW MEM­O­RIES: Nagambie farmer Max Perry with his Joyce Ham­mond ‘Walls of Wire’ book of mem­o­ries of Gray­town and the Pris­oner of War camps at Tatura, Rush­worth and Murchi­son.
POW MEM­O­RIES: Nagambie farmer Max Perry with his Joyce Ham­mond ‘Walls of Wire’ book of mem­o­ries of Gray­town and the Pris­oner of War camps at Tatura, Rush­worth and Murchi­son.
 ??  ?? SCHOOL TIME: Max Perry dur­ing his days at Wir­rate Pri­mary school.
SCHOOL TIME: Max Perry dur­ing his days at Wir­rate Pri­mary school.

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