Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day and The Dunera Boys

Seventy years ago today (June 6, 1944), the Allied armies began the largest seaborne invasion in history. D-Day, as it is now called, began the Invasion of Normandy. Among the thousands of American, Canadian, British, Polish and French troops who stormed the beaches was a remarkable group of soldiers who have been referred to as “The Dunera Boys.” While each of their stories is unique, the Dunera Boys had all experienced a shared twist of fate that had taken them from Nazi Europe to England to Australia and then back to Europe.

The term Dunera refers to the Hired Military Transport Dunera, a passenger ship designed for troop transport. After England entered the war, the British feared that the refugees to whom they had offered asylum would become a security risk. The government decided to deport military aged male refugees. Over 2,000 such refugees (along with several hundred Italian and Germany Prisoners of War) were shipped out of England on the HMT Dunera. Designed to transport only 1,600, the Dunera was over-crowded and conditions were abysmal. The British Troops, who were later reprimanded, treated the refugees as if they were the POWs – yelling at them, hitting them and destroying their personal possessions. The Dunera was at sea for 57 days.

Upon arrival in Australia, the refugees were sent to a detention camp. At this point, the British government realized the error in the way the refugees were treated. They began making life more comfortable for the refugees and they also asked if any of the deported men wished to join the war effort. Despite their severe maltreatment, 500 young men volunteered, risking certain death as “traitors” and as Jews if caught by the Germans.  Many of the Dunera Boys were among the brave troops on beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

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