In 1941-42 three internment camps were constructed and utilised about three kilometres away from the township of Hay. Each camp held 1000 internees from Italy and Germany. The Allied forces had detained these civilians because they were perceived as a security risk to the European war effort. Despite early newspaper reports that the internees of Hay were dangerous, guards described their detainees as "well educated and anti-Nazi". The internees were not fighting men. Most were intellectuals detained as a matter of precaution and 'national security'.
The camp itself had thirty-six dormitory huts with around 28 men per hut. The bunks were arranged in pairs, one above the other. The internees were denied access to mosquito netting since they were a possible fire hazard. In an effort to control the insects and dust, hessian material was used in the vents. Yet, despite difficult conditions, break-outs were not a major concern for camp officials. Sir Fredrick Jordon, one of the official visitors assigned with the task of ensuring the internees were treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention, was surprised with the lack of complaints about the treatment of the internees. Working as a mediator between internee leaders and camp administrators, he reported that many of the internees were very satisfied with the conditions. The complaints Jordon did receive were mostly based on their treatment by the British soldiers, who were alleged to have damaged personal property of internees prior to their arrival at the camp.
The main concerns of the internees are illustrated in a number of the letters addressed to Sydney Quaker, Ruth Swann. No doubt the correspondence would have been established by E. Sydney Morris, Quaker and President of the European Emergency Committee. Morris, who had been touched by the recounts of the internees, helped the internees locate family members and make links to the outside world.
The letters reinforce the internees' feelings of isolation from their families and disenfranchisement from their European homes, as well as a strong anti-Nazi sentiment. Many of the letters have also been censored with tight restrictions on word limits and the number of letters they could write each week. Camp administrators allowed only two letters per week with no more than 22 lines per letter.
Compiled by : Troy Whitford.
Sources : Bevege, M., Behind Barbed Wire - Interment in Australia during World War II. University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1993; Internees letters, 1941-42, RW1605, CSURA.
Photograph : Hay Internment Camp, August 1940 (RW78/58).