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Tag Archives: History

The HMT Dunera scandal

By Dr George Venturini

The HMT Dunera scandal

In the spring of 1940 England was in the grip of a great panic over the possibility of an invasion by Nazi Germany. Enemy troops were just across the English Channel – less than fifty kilometres away.

In England, German, Italian and most European foreigners were feared as potential spies and agents provocateurs, who would join with the enemy if and when the Nazis invaded.

Consequently, the British government ordered all such adult subjects to be rounded up and interned. And that included even German Jewish refugees who had recently escaped from Nazi Germany and who were implacable enemies of the Nazis.

The majority were sent to the Isle of Man, a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland, where they could do little harm, but heavy suspicion fell on those men of military age, from 18 to 65, who were regarded as highly dangerous.

Those were to be sent all the way to Australia.

Those deported to Australia had to be kept under surveillance for the journey, and the British navy was able to supply a suitable troopship, the HMT (Hired Military Transport) Dunera. It was a secure military vessel and had originally been designed and equipped for 1,600 troops, but now was to be filled with 2,542 refugees aged between 16 and 60, besides the crew and the army warders. As a result, everyone was cramped and hugely uncomfortable.

Seventy per cent of the internees were Jewish refugees who had managed to escape from the Nazis and had arrived in England long before the outbreak of the war. The Dunera began loading on 10 July 1940. With 7 officers and over 300 others, a total of 2800 men were to be crammed on to a vessel built to hold 1600. The ship’s crew – 309 poorly trained soldiers – brutally searched and looted the internees’ luggage, some of which quite large, while the ship’s commanders, Lieutenant-Colonel William Scott and First Lieutenant John O’Neill, either stood by indifferently or actively participated. (C. Pearl, The Dunera scandal, Angus & Robertson, Sydney 1983)

The ship left Liverpool at midnight. Callously indifferent to the fate of the men, the British government allowed the Dunera only one destroyer escort. Less than 24 hours out of Liverpool, German submarine U-56 attacked; a but because the waves were heavy, the ship went up just as the torpedo passed underneath.

The 57 days of the voyage were a nightmare of inhuman conditions and brutal mistreatment. The lower decks of the ship were jammed, and men had to sleep on mess tables or on the floor. For weeks hatches were kept down. Neither daylight nor natural air ever reached the decks; the upper parts of the ship, where one would have been in the fresh air, were absolutely out of bounds, being barred by barbed wire and sentries with bayonets. Only ten toilets were available which meant long queues and ‘toilet police’ who would call up people as vacancies arose. Men slept on floors and benches, and if one wanted to go to the toilet at night he had to walk on bodies. Robbed of their luggage, the refugees had but the clothes on their backs; most of them had lost the basics: toothbrush, toothpaste, comb or soap. Later, the guards gave one piece of soap to every 20 men to share for 2 weeks but this was hardly enough to keep clean. If an internee became ill there was a half-hour waiting to see the doctor. Inoculations were non-existent. Food consisted of smoked fish, sausages, potatoes and a spoonful of melon and lemon jam a day; the bread was usually maggoty and the butter rancid.

The crew treated the refugees with extreme cruelty. The internees remained uninformed of their true destination until their own knowledge of geography and navigation by the stars – and arrival in a western coastal port of Africa – made further secrecy impossible. The crew searched the men daily, threatening them with loaded rifles fixed with bayonets. If guards found any vital medications, such as insulin, they threw them overboard. They also threw false teeth away, confiscated razors and shaving utensils and threatened men who hid their razors or were clean-shaven with detention in the bunker. Any valuables, hidden food, or Jewish religious vestments, phylacteries and prayer books were confiscated and either kept or thrown overboard. Beatings were daily.

Two internees died during the two-month voyage: Hans Pfeffen was sick when he boarded the Dunera at Liverpool and died in the ship’s hospital; Jacob Weiss suicided. Weiss had hoped to save his family from the Nazis in Europe and after 12 months of work and ultimately attaining immigration documents for himself and his family, he was arrested, interned and forced aboard the Dunera. When the guards on the ship found his immigration papers, they tore them up in front of him. Distraught, Weiss jumped overboard and drowned.

Prior to arrival in Australia, the crew ordered the internees to shave off their beards, providing the 2,542 men with 8 razors to do the task. The ship reached the Port of Fremantle in Western Australia on 27 August and Port Melbourne on 3 September. At Melbourne, two groups disembarked: the 251 German and Austrian ‘A’ Category internees whom the British government regarded as dangerous or potentially dangerous due to their political affiliations, along with 94 Germans and 200 Italians whose political affiliations were seen as “doubtful” since they were members of the Fascist Party in England. These men were interned at a camp at Tatura, Victoria.

Around 10 o’clock on the morning of 6 September 1940, fifty-seven days out of Liverpool, the Dunera entered Sydney Harbour. The remainder of the internees were sent to camps, at Hay and, later, at Orange in New South Wales.

The atmosphere was tense: on one hand, the press sniffed a sensational story – in its coverage, the Daily Telegraph reported that “among the internees were parachutists, other prisoners of war, and hundreds who had been carrying out subversive work in England.” On the other hand, the first Australian to board the ship, medical army officer Alan Frost, was appalled by the conditions that greeted him. His report led to the court martial of the officer-in-charge, Lt. Colonel William Scott. For the weary internees, “some in heavy overcoats, hats, others with summer wear having lost everything else, some orthodox Jews in their traditional black garb and hats.” they did not much look like spies as they left the ship. (S. G. Rosenberg, ‘HMT Dunera, the scandal and the salvation’, The Jerusalem Post, 12 December 2015).

The scandal was compounded by an initial tragedy: many of the internees had been living freely in Britain prior to September 1939, some having arrived there as children thanks to the Kindertransport organised by the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany after the Kristallnacht in November 1938. With the outbreak of war, they were under suspicion as potential fifth columnists who might secretly assist a German invasion. Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared had them declared as enemy aliens and swiftly had them shipped off to Canada and Australia.

Between the youngest aged sixteen and the oldest aged sixty-six, were future students or workers at Australian universities after their release from detention, and many became significant academic figures, including physicist Hans Buchdahl, economist Fred Gruen, philosopher Peter Herbst, political scientist Henry Mayer, fine arts scholar Franz Philipp, and mathematician turned oceanographer Rainer Radok – to mention just a few. Treated like dirt by their imprisoners, most of them went on to stellar careers as scientists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, industrialists, public servants and artists.

So it is not entirely surprising to find that Tatura had its own university – Collegium Taturense – which delivered an average of 113 lectures a week attended by nearly 700 students. Concerts, theatre performances and sports matches were another feature of life in the camps, as the internees did their best not only to fill time and combat boredom, but also to retain a sense of dignity and purpose in the face of an indefinite wait for freedom. As the editors of the first edition of the Hay camp newsletter, the Boomerang, put it in February 1941: “Please remember that your mind is not interned, nor is it confined to this camp.”

The injustice of the Dunera internees’ treatment was recognised by Churchill, who came to regret the decision to order the indiscriminate detention of those who had sought Britain’s protection. He apologised and instigated a court martial which documented the abuses the boys endured at sea. The Dunera’s senior officer was severely reprimanded and a regimental sergeant-major was discharged and goaled for theft. A fund of £35,000 was used to compensate the Dunera internees for their lost and stolen property.

Their treatment in Australia began to change too. By mid 1942 at least 1,300 had been set free, hundreds of them returning to England as soon as they could. Fewer than half of the internees remained in Australia; the rest returned to Britain, emigrated to the United States, helped found the state of Israel or ended up in a variety of other counties. A few dozen returned to divided Germany. (P. Mares, ‘Remembering the Dunera’,, 13 July 2018, being a review of K. Inglis, S. Spark and J. Winter with C. Bunyan, Dunera Lives: A Visual History,, July 2018).

Continued Wednesday – Beyond the ‘Palace Letters’ (part 1)

Previous instalment – The Kimberley Plan

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at


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Adjunct imperialist clowns (part 2)

By Dr George Venturini

In August 1923 the Premier of Victoria, H.S.W. Lawson, was received by Mussolini. It was not really the visit of the average, insular, ignorant Australian. Lawson was a lawyer, a former Attorney-General, Solicitor-General and Minister of Public Instruction. Yet, on his return Lawson praised Mussolini as “the man whom Providence waned to lead Italy.” (The Italo-Australian, 4 August 1923).

One would not be surprised that, in 1924 – after the tragic farce of ‘elections’ in Italy, amidst the Fascist violence – the Premier of New South Wales, Sir George W. Fuller, on his return from Italy, would express his admiration “of the man who saved Italy … from Bolshevism” (A. Moore, The secret army and the Premier – Conservative paramilitary organisations in New South Wales 1930-32, UNSW Press, Sydney 1989 at 49) Fuller, too, was no ignoramus. He had been at the Bar, Member of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales (1889-1904), Member of the House of Representatives (1910-1913), Member for Home Affairs in the third Deakin Government, and then back to the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales (1915-1928).

In December 1924 – six months only after the assassination of Giacomo Matteotti (a distinguished lawyer and socialist politician, who on 30 May 1924 had openly spoken in the Italian Parliament to denounce the fraud and violence the Fascists had committed during the recently held elections, and for that had been kidnapped and killed by Fascists) – Sir Anthony Chamberlain, then Her Britannic Majesty’s Foreign Secretary, referred to Mussolini when on a visit to Rome as “a wonderful man – working for the greatness of his country”. In later years Lady Chamberlain was often to be seen wearing the Fascio badge. (C. Hibbert, Benito Mussolini, Longmans, London, 95).

There is a good reason to speak of a long period of Antipodean Fascism.

The years of the last 1920s and early 1930s were years of preparation for Fascist military coups in Australia. Those were the years of intense confrontation between the ‘old Labor’ forces of Jack Lang, Frank Anstey and John Curtin, on the one side, and the ‘money power’ of high finance, and their enablers, centred in London with powerful, aggressive allies inside Australia, on the other.

In Australia, the graziers, the farmers, most of the import-export houses, banks, insurance companies, building companies, mining companies, transport companies, shipping companies – all depended on London. The City had its comprador élite in Australia. The descendants of the ‘free old English gentry’ who squatted upon Australian soil during the early part of the nineteenth century looked upon England as their spiritual ‘home’. Their outlook, their education, their adopted and phoney mannerisms, their social and business relations were as English as those of Lord Bruce, Viscount of Melbourne – born in St Kilda, Victoria!, as they will be of Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, sometime later – born in Jeparit, Victoria!

Why, on 1 July 1963 he allowed Queen Elizabeth II to make him a Knight of Scotland’s Ancient Order the Thistle. The ceremony took place in St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh. The Royal Company of Archers provided a guard-of-honour outside the Cathedral, while the heralds lead the procession which included the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, Sir Robert, his wife Dame Pattie and their son. The installation took place in the small, oak-panelled Thistle Chapel, in the presence of several Knights, among them Lord Home, future British Foreign Secretary. Sir Robert, in full regalia, posed for photographers. Later he, wife and son walked to the City Chambers nearby to meet the Lord Provost of Edinburgh. (‘Uk: Scotland: Edinburgh: Sir Robert Menzies Made Knight Of the Thistle’,, 2 July 1963).

He acted as if he were some great Scottish gentleman. It was pure theatre, even if of the provincial kind.

And one could really say, today, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

Churchill would write as late as 10 October 1937 – after the invasion and conquest of Abyssinia, and the Nazi-Fascist aggression on the Spanish Republic – that: “It would be a dangerous folly for the British people to underrate the enduring position in world-history which Mussolini will hold; or the amazing qualities of courage, compassion, self-control and perseverance which he exemplified.” (R. R. James, Churchill – study in failure, 1900-1939, London, 1970 at 258, see also at 317).

Australian Prime Minister Joseph Aloysius Lyons made an official call on Mussolini on his way to the Imperial Conference in 1937. According to Dame Enid Lyons, her husband reached a more cordial relationship with the Italian dictator than any yet achieved at a diplomatic level in that trying period for Anglo-Italian relations. (E. Lyons, So we take comfort, Heinemann, London, 1965, at 259-60).

In 1939 Sir Henry Gullett, Minister for External Affairs, spoke of the genius, patriotism and superhuman capacity of Mussolini. (E. M. Andrews, A History of Australian Foreign Policy: From Dependence to Independence, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne, at 171-72). In fact Mussolini was a third rate actor playing to a sycophantic audience: he played a versatile and multifaceted role, that of Mussolini, a heroic mixture of the Renaissance condottiere, old Machiavellian thinker, Lenin-like leader of a revolutionary minority, steel-minded dictator, humanitarian despot, Casanova lover, and Nietzschean superman. He added later to his repertoire the Napoleonic genius, with well-know results, and, just before he died, the socialist renovator of society. Of course, he was none of these things. (L. Barzini, The Italians, Atheneum, London, at 146).

There is a thin line connecting Mussolini, Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, 6th Baronet of Ancoats, the Australian Sir Wilfrid Selwyn Kent Hughes and Menzies: it is the rhetorical appeal to “the forgotten people.”

Menzies, as is well known, was an admirer of Mussolini. It is well accepted that he was endowed with a brilliant, albeit lazy, mind “and a dominating personality … He was a superb orator and parliamentary debater, … His colleagues were forced to realise that his leadership was indispensable to the success of the party, yet few of them felt for him much personal warmth. … For conservative voters he came in the end to possess almost the mana of a tribal god; he was powerful, wise, well bred, witty and above all, sound. Few Labor supporters denied his tremendous ability, but to them he appeared also as unscrupulous, opportunistic, condescending and insufferably arrogant.” (R. Ward, Concise history of Australia, University Press, St. Lucia, Qld., 1965, at 265-66).

He certainly wanted to appear as a ‘decisional man’ – like Il Duce.

But much more serious was Menzies’ admiration for Hitler, the real “bulwark against Communism” as he was fond of saying. It was the same rationale used for the establishment of secret organisations in Australia. Menzies was a determined appeaser. Eight days after the outbreak of the second world war Menzies wrote to former Prime Minister Bruce, then Australia’s High Commissioner in London, confidently expressing his opinion that Hitler “had no desire for a first class war” and would offer peace talk after defeating Poland. In the words of Menzies, “nobody cares a damn about Poland.” (The letter is dated 11 September 1939 and became public in April 2001 as part of the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library Lecture by Dr. John Edwards. R. Cahill, ‘Il Duce Roberto?’, Workers online (No. 94), 04.05.2001).

In 1935 and 1938 Menzies had visited Nazi Germany for high-level meetings, and was guest of honour at a luncheon sponsored by Hitler’s financial wizard, and Reichbank head, Hjalmar Schacht. By all historical accounts, Schacht was the architect in 1930 of the Bank of International Settlements, which was based in Basel, Switzerland, along with the Governor of the Bank of England’s Montagu Norman. The Menzies-Schacht meeting would clearly have been set up by Menzies financier controllers, likely by Lord Beaverbrook himself, a frequent visitor of Nazi Germany throughout the 1930s. Montagu Norman and Hjalmar Schacht personified the banking underworld, which bankrolled and installed Hitler and the Nazis in power, in pursuit of a larger, universal Fascist scheme. (J and S. Pool, Who financed Hitler – the Secret funding of Hitler’s rise to power, 1919-1933, Pocket Books, London 1979: J. Pool, Hitler and his secret partners – Contributions, loot and rewards, 1933-1945, Pocket Books, New York, 1997).

Nothing might have occurred in Australia similar to the languid, decadent atmosphere of Darlington Hall, and the frequent visits by Nazi leaders, English ‘aristocrats’, including Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and other Nazi sympathisers, so admirably described in the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, and brilliantly rendered in the film The remains of the day, with James Fox, Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins.

The Lord Darlington figure was typical of a formidable group of British peers who were attracted by Hitler and supported efforts to keep the dictator placated. The peers were all Right-wing and rabid anti-Semitic; their attitudes brought considerable satisfaction to Hitler.

What lay behind their support of appeasement was a fear of Communism.

They all saw an immensely powerful union between Communism and the Jewish people as a world conspiracy that could be thwarted only by Fascism and Nazism.

Both Hitler and his strutting Italian teacher Mussolini offered these bewildered aristocrats a safe world, which would be secure from any Communist takeover. It also confirmed their long-held private prejudice.

What makes such hatred additionally odious is the fact these peers continued to air their views long after Hitler’s persecution of Germany’s Jewish population had become widely known.

Prominent among such peers was Lord Brocket, Arthur Ronald Nall-Cain, 2nd Baron Brocket. He fawned over visiting Nazi officials whom he invited to his home and even attended the celebrations for Hitler’s 50th birthday.

Brocket was said to be “a fundamentally nice but stupid man”; he even deluded himself that he was a valuable link between Hitler and Britain’s leaders. Another pro-Nazi peer was Lord Redesdale, David Bertram Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford, the son of the 1st Baron Redesdale. His daughters, who became famous as the literary Mitford sisters, included Unity who went to Germany and stalked Hitler, having fallen in love with him. Although she did become close to Hitler – he considered her to be a “perfect example of Aryan womanhood” – he told her to return to England as war approached. She shot herself in the head in Munich’s English Garden but survived and was dispatched home.

Another admirer of Hitler was the then Duke of Westminster, a man who believed countless conspiracies among British Jews to subvert the country. He even spent the first year of the war demanding, to whoever would listen, that peace be made with Germany.

One of the most colourful ermine-clad extremists was the 22nd Earl of Erroll, the Casanova of Kenya’s debauched ‘Happy Valley’ set.

Among the most famous names associated with anti-Semitism was the fifth Duke of Wellington. He became a member of the secret ‘Right Club’, which attempted to unify all pre-war Right-wing groups in Britain.

The founder, Archibald Maule Ramsay, said of the organisation: “The main objective was to oppose and expose the activities of organised Jewry. Our first objective was to clear the Conservative Party of Jewish influence, and the character of our membership and meetings were strictly in keeping with this objective.”

Members of the ‘Right Club’ included Ernest Bennett, Margaret Bothamley, Samuel Chapman, A. K. Chesterton, E. H. Cole, James Edmondson, Richard Findlay, the Earl of Galloway, Thomas Hunter, William Joyce, Charles Kerr, Aubrey Lees, John MacKie, Joan Miller, H. T. Mills, Serrocold Skeels, John Stourton, Mavis Tate, Francis Yeats-Brown, and Anna Wolkoff.

Yet another extremist was James Angus, the Marquess of Graham and the future Duke of Montrose.

One Hitler-admiring peer, the Duke of Buccleuch, was even close to King George VI as the Lord ­Steward of the Royal Household. He also accompanied Lord Brocket to celebrate the Führer’s 50th birthday. It was a matter of personal delight to Hitler that the duke, a man who served in the very court of Britain’s Royal Family, was there.

One of the most alarming figures among this cabal was Lord Londonderry – Winston Churchill’s cousin and a member of one of the country’s wealthiest aristocratic families. The king called him “Charlie” and other members of the Royal Family were frequent guests at his London home, as were major political figures.

But towering over all these figures were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. He had abdicated as King Edward VIII in 1936 in order to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson. They were later given the ducal titles.

Their admiration for Hitler concerned the government, particularly after they were entertained by him on a visit in 1937.

It is thought that Goering had concluded a deal with the Duke to install him on the throne after Germany had won the war. His court would, no doubt, have comprised many of those peers who had lauded Hitler so lavishly. (L. James, Aristocrats: Power, grace and decadence: Britain’s Great Ruling Classes from 1066 to the Present, Little Brown, New York, 2009).

On 10 November 2018 the Australian Special Broadcasting Service documented the story behind the connections and support Hitler and the Nazi regime enjoyed from the British monarchy and among the British élite. (‘The Royals, British aristocracy and the Nazis’, Special Broadcasting Service, Ch. 3, 10 November 2018).

* * * * *

Three cases of anti-Semitism in Australia just before the opening of the hostilities of the second world war should be mentioned at this point:

1) the Évian Conference of July 1938,

2) the attempt by Dr. Isaac Steinberg to establish a ‘promised land’ in the Kimberley region of Western Australia in June 1939, and

3) the HMT Dunera scandal in July 1940.

Continued Saturday – The Évian Conference

Previous instalment – Adjunct imperialist clowns (part 1)

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at


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“When I hear the word culture, I reach for my pun … “

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

“… opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne appeared to re-open the so-called ”history wars” which raged during the Howard years, by attacking the school curriculum for putting Aboriginal and multicultural commemoration days on the same level as Anzac Day. The national curriculum would be reviewed under a Coalition government, he said. ”The Coalition believes that, on balance, Australia’s history is a cause for celebration,” he said.

”It is because of our history that we are a confident and positive nation. We must not allow a confidence-sapping ‘black armband’ view of our history to take hold.

‘That history, while inclusive of indigenous history, must highlight the pivotal role of the political and legal institutions from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.”

In the new curriculum Anzac Day is studied in year 3 as one of a number of days of national significance. The Gallipoli campaign is studied in year 9.

Mr Pyne criticised the fact that Anzac Day is ”locked in with NAIDOC Week, Reconciliation Day and Harmony Day” in the national curriculum.”

Ok, the document below isn’t official, but it gives you a taste of what we’ll see under the Coalition.

Draft History Curriculum for Christopher Pyne.

Year 3

Term 1: The foolish foreigners who failed to discover Australia

Term 2: The great and brave British explorer Captain Cook discovers Australia

Term 3: The first Australians – convicts and soldiers.

Term 4: Early attempts to civilise the Aborigines by soldiers

Year 4

Term 1: Gallipoli – the ANZAC tradition is born

Term 2: The first soldier to fall

Term 3: Simpson

Term 4: His donkey

Year 5

Term 1: The retreat from Gallipoli

Term 2: The importance of Anzac biscuits

Term 3: How Australian soldiers gained the reputation of being the bravest ever

Term 4: Anzac Day is the holiest day of the year.

Year 6

Term 1: Our great British heritage

Term 2: Why the monarchy rules

Term 3: Learning to recite Kings and Queens of England

Term 4: Great people born in England apart from kings and queens and Tony Abbott

Year 7 – Australia’s Golden Years

Term 1: Howard’s election

Term 2: Howard restores belief in Anzac Day

Term 3: Howard saves Australia from invasion by republicans

Term 4: Howard increasing number of Anzac marchers by invading Afghanistan and Iraq

Year 8

Term 1: Howard creates mining boom

Term 2: Howard’s back to basics in indigenous affairs – let’s use soldiers again.

Term 3: Why the Magna Carta is just an example of the barons’ union bullying a king

Term 4: How ASIO protects us and why we should never question their actions

Year 9

Term 1: How the descendants of convicts formed the Labor Party

Term 2: Why Anzac Day is still important

Term 3: The Gold Rush – how Peter Costello quickly sold of our gold reserves

Term 4: Free Speech – Why we changed the name of Labour Day to honour Andrew Bolt

Year 10 – Other Wars of the 20th Century

Term 1: World War Two – how we stopped the boats

Term 2: Korea – how we stopped the spread of communism

Term 3: Vietnam – how the hippy student movement tried to destroy Anzac Day

Term 4: Culture Wars – how traitors tried to make us hate Australia and turn us into a republic.


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