Connecting the Dunera Boys, Singapore Internees, Family and Friends Worldwide

The Story of the Dunera Boys

As the storm clouds of war gathered over Europe in the late 1930s, thousands of German refugees, either Jewish or politically opposed to the Nazis, fled to Britain for sanctuary.

However, at the start of World War II, a wave of fear over a German invasion gripped Britain. Thousands of foreign nationals were detained on the suspicion that they might be enemy spies. These “enemy aliens” were to be interned or deported, some to Canada and others to Australia. Many were sent to Australia in one of the more notorious incidents in British maritime history, later described by Winston Churchill as “a deplorable mistake”.

The Dunera was a British passenger ship which was launched in May 1937. During World War II, the Dunera was converted into a troopship, HMT Dunera, which had a capacity of 1,600, including the crew. On 10 July 1940, 2,732 “enemy aliens” and 141 crew were taken on board the Dunera at Liverpool. The number included Italian and German prisoners of war, mainly Jewish and some non-Jewish refugees, as well as Nazi sympathisers. The passengers did not know where they were being transported; some thought they were headed for Canada. But the ship was destined for Australia; most of those refugees on board later came to be known as the ‘Dunera Boys’.

The Story of the Singapore Internees

By comparison to the scandalous treatment of the refugees on the Dunera, 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.