Connecting the Dunera Boys, Queen Mary Internees, Family and Friends Worldwide

The Story of the Dunera Boys

In the European spring of 1940, after seven months of ‘Phoney War’, the German Wehrmacht invaded and occupied Norway, the Low Countries and France.  Britain feared it would be next.  In May and June 1940, Winston Churchill’s government detained thousands of ‘enemy or dangerous aliens,’ previously determined not to be a risk, in the belief that this would stop any spies among them from forming a ‘fifth column’ in the event of an invasion.  They were to be interned in Britain or deported to Canada or Australia, where they would be held for the duration of the war.

On 10 July 1940, 2546 of these men, ranging in age from 16 to 66, were herded aboard the Hired Military Transport Dunera at Liverpool and transported, under abject conditions, to Australia.  Most were German or Austrian, and most were Jewish.  Many had fled to Britain in the 1930s to escape Hitler’s Reich.  Churchill later described the arrest and internment of these men, now commonly known as the ‘Dunera boys’, as ‘a deplorable mistake’.  Italians, German merchant seamen and others were also among the 2546.  Their story is different and remains largely unexplored.


The Story of the Queen Mary Internees

By comparison to the scandalous treatment of the refugees on the Dunera, the ‘Queen Mary Internees’ (previously referred to as the ‘Singapore Internees’) arrived in Australia in relative luxury on the RMS Queen Mary which had been converted into a troopship

On 18 September 1940 266 men, women and children, nearly all Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and Austria, were rounded up in Singapore. Like the Dunera internees they were considered a threat to the security of this British colony. They had no idea where they were being sent, but barely ten days later, they arrived in Internment Camp 3D Tatura. As it happens the Dunera internees also arrived in this camp soon after.

Despite continuous petitions to the Australian Government about the injustice of their imprisonment, the majority of these families remained interned until the formation of the 8th Employment Company in 1942. Most of the able bodied men enlisted, after which the 79 women and 24 children were also allowed to leave the camp and go to Melbourne. They could live freely in the city but initially had to report to the police on a weekly basis.