Hidden Messages, Secret Codes, German Spies … Or Just Resourceful Internees? Part 1

Jul 19, 2017 Leave Comment

WWII was a well-documented and chaotic point in world history. Among the many stories to arise from that time, a perhaps lesser-known – but unique episode of European and Australian significance took place close to home, right here on Australian soil. In New South Wales – in the town of Hay, to be exact – the town’s Internment Camp Seven played host to civilian refugees. Over two installments, the following article contributed by Downies member of staff, Matthew Thompson, explores the numismatic mystery surrounding this significant page in our history books.

Part 1 – Ingenious Internal Currency

Many collectors are familiar with the tokens of “Camp Seven”.

Hay Interment Camp 7 Tokens
Above: Complete set of Camp 7 Tokens: (left to right) 2/-, 1d, 1/- and 5/- (Obverse and Reverse).

However, prior to these Government-issued tokens, the Internees of Hay’s infamous Camp Seven were freely exchanging their own private and unique form of currency in the form of “Hay Internment Banknotes”.

A complete collection of Camp Seven Notes consists of three denominations: a blue Sixpence (A), a green Shilling (B), and finally, a red Two Shilling note. (C)

WWII Hay Internment Camp Sixpence Note
A. Sixpence Note
WWII Hay Internment Camp One Shilling Note
B. One Shilling Note
WWII Hay Internment Camp Two Shilling Note
C. Two Shilling Note

Designed by George Telscher (an historic customer of Downies) to facilitate a more sophisticated method of trade within the confines of the Internment Camp, the banknotes of Hay are a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of internees with limited supplies and assistance.

These notes replaced the small chits, pictured below, of which fewer than twenty examples are currently held in private collections.

3d Camp Seven Chit
3d chit, signed by Richard Stahl (Bank Manager)
WWII 1d Hay Internment Camp Miltary Chit
1d chit

The Camp Seven Banknotes contain several features which have been the cause of much discussion.

WWII Hay Internment Camp Note Features
Above: Several features of the notes have sparked discussion. (Figure 1.)
Firstly, layered carefully within the barbed wire running along the centre of the note, the words “HMT Dunera Liverpool to Hay” appear. The HMT (Hired Military Transport) Dunera was the ship on which 2,542 internees made the horrendous journey on from Liverpool, England. Approximately one fifth of the internees were dropped off in Melbourne with the remainder bound for New South Wales, where they would be divided into Camps 7 and 8.
'HMT Dunera' inscription, Hay Internment Camp Banknote
“HMT Dunera” (Figure 1, B)
Liverpool to Hay WWII Internment Banknote
“Liverpool to Hay” (B)
Next, there’s the barbed wire border on each note, which features the phrase “we are here because we are here” repeatedly.
'We are here because' inscription in Hay Internment Note design
“We are here because” (A)

Camp 7 was filled primarily with members of the Jewish community, some of whom had managed to evade a grim fate in concentration camps. They were going about their daily lives before being shipped over to Australia, as it was suspected that they were potentially German Spies working for Hitler. As a member of a race being targeted by Hitler, being wrongfully accused of being a German Spy would have evoked a number of poignant responses, but this text seems to be a subtle and poetic nod to the nonsensical injustice that was taking place.

Intrigued? Matthew’s journey of discovery continues in part 2 of this series, out tomorrow – stay tuned!

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