Leadership at Loveday

del Drago_1

Prince Alfonso del Drago, elected leader of the Italian compound: Camp 9 at Loveday

When war came to Australia.

The man appointed to run the Loveday Internment Camps was Lieutenant Colonel Dean. As it turned out Edwin Thayer Dean was an inspired choice. He was an experienced and decorated military leader, having served in France in the Great War. As a civilian he was a grazier with an excellent knowledge of farming in South Australian conditions. When the Second World War erupted, he was 55 years old and unfit for overseas service.

From the outset it seems Commandant Dean’s aim was to set up and run a model camp. Early in the piece he recognised that men who were productively occupied were less likely to be troublesome. Although prisoners of war could be made to work, the Geneva Convention prevented forced labour for internees. If he wanted the inmates to contribute to the running of the camp, which was necessary for survival given their vast numbers in comparison to the soldier-guards, they had to be enticed into working.

Within six weeks of the first internee’s arrival in 1941 Dean had instituted a ‘wage’ of one shilling per day for anyone who put their hand up to work. Payment was made initially by means of a paper ‘chit’ that could only be used within the camp. Later the Government issued internment tokens in five denominations which could be traded at the canteen or used to buy items or services from other internees. Regular Australian currency was prohibited within the compound for security reasons.

Over several months, outside contractors were replaced with internee labour. For example, in September of 1941 internee workers took over camp sanitation and removal of the night soil, a service previously provided by the Barmera District Council.

By the end of the war, the Loveday camps were not just self-sufficient, they were profitable rural enterprises. More of that in another post.

For his services Dean was awarded a Member of the British Empire (M.B.E.). He died on 3rd June 1970.

 *

In each of the six camps one inmate was elected to represent the internees. Prince Alfonso del Drago of Sydney, and formerly of Rome, was elected as the leader of Camp 9.

Initially he’d made a visit to Australia in 1924. According to the Perth newspaper The Sunday Times, his mother was a sister of Queen Charlotte of Spain. While in Fremantle, the young Italian nobleman said, ‘Mussolini is a very wonderful man.’

Del Drago migrated permanently in 1926. He settled at Potts Point in inner Sydney where he continued his proud association with all things Italian. He was president of the Italian Returned Soldiers Association and the Dante Alighieri Society, in addition to being a senior member of the Fascist party in Australia.

His occupation was listed as ‘gentleman’. It seems he was a man of independent means with friends in high places. Soon after his arrest in 1940, the Italian Ambassador in Tokyo wrote to the Australian government requesting a prisoner exchange. The request was denied.

He was moved from Long Bay Gaol to the internment camp at Orange and then to Hay (both in New South Wales), before being transferred to Loveday as part of the second contingent that arrived on 12th June 1941.

At the age of 58, he cut an impressive and capable figure.

*

The process of the election for Camp Leader at Camp 9 is unclear. However, an interesting outcome was recorded of a subsequent election for a Camp Leader for Camp 10, which housed mainly German internees.

Eight candidates were listed and duly voted for in a secret ballot. The Australian Commandant of Camp 10 classed the candidates and results as follows:

Extremists                                                         Moderates

Hercksen                5 votes                                 Erler                   3 votes

Globig                    6 votes                                 Mensdorff       196 votes

Meyer                 252 votes                                 Meckler             21 votes

Plate                       1 vote

2 votes were informal. Number who voted 486.

The Commandant went on to argue that 42 of the votes for Meyer were made by young boys of 18 to about 21 years of age, who were operating under the influence of a very strong Nazi (named) who was removed from the leadership of his previous Camp in Tatura and is a well known trouble maker.

For that reason, 42 votes were declared invalid. In addition, the Commandant claimed that he ascertained this day that many who voted for Meyer did so because of promises made in his campaign and which now they do not believe.

Consequently the role of the Camp Leader was awarded to Mensdorff.

For the above material I am indebted to the Australian War Memorial (including photo of Prince del Drago) and National Archives of Australia (including the Trove website).

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About Debbie Terranova

Debbie Terranova is an Australian author of contemporary and historical fiction. 'The Scarlet Key' published in 2016 is the second Seth VerBeek mystery. The crime-busting reporter is back with a new cast of unforgettable characters and a new puzzle to solve. It's about live, love, death, and tattoos, with a touch of the mystical. 'Baby Farm', her debut novel, is a cozy crime mystery about forced adoptions of the 1970s, and a surrogacy and baby trafficking racket. It is the first of the Seth VerBeek series. Debbie Terranova is a prizewinning author of short stories: 'Mowbray Brothers' about growing up in East Brisbane in the 1920s; and 'Mischief' about reinventing yourself and in the process falling in love ... with an adorable but mischievous cat.
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