The FCV was always an organisation that served rural communities by providing employment opportunities in times of hardship. During WW2 the capacity of the FCV to employ people usefully was tested further, by involvement in the establishment and management of camps in rural Victoria to house not only so-called “Alien Workers” but Prisoners of War. Before the War the FCV was involved in unemployment relief and after the War in providing work for refugees from the Baltic States.
There are articles elsewhere on this website that speak directly to the involvement of the FCV in these activities.
“In 1944, I was given the job of laying out, constructing and supervising a 150 prisoner of war camp at Kinglake West for firewood production. It involved road construction, quarry operations, bridges, dam construction and practically clearfalling the old messmate culls for firewood.”
2. Bert Semmens (p 20)
"Firewood was becoming scarce in Melbourne because of the enlistment and call up of men for military service. During 1942 the authorities had been collating information on enemy aliens - mostly Germans and Italians - and it was decided to put these men to good use cutting firewood in State Forest. As the Commission was used to coping with sudden influxes of forest workers during the Depression, it was asked to put up camps for those enemy aliens of military age (who otherwise might ‘sabotage’ the war effort) and supervise the cutting of firewood from around those camps for supply to Melbourne. It was decided to put up two camps of 40 men each in the Taggerty District, one in the Black Range near Murrindindi to be supervised from Taggerty, the other at Narbethong to be supervised by me."
3. Peter McHugh (p 243)
“Firewood was also cut at POW camps at Graytown near Heathcote by sailors rescued from the German Cruiser Kormoran, after a fierce battle with the HMAS Sydney off the Western Australian coast in November 1941 where both vessels sank.”
"In the latter part of 1942, arrangements were being made for the employment of Alien labour in wood production. Here in Stawell, we were to get organised far a camp of 40 (or thereabouts) men out at Glynwylln, where we are going to have a look later."
5. Jim McKinty
"Other camps were operating concurrently with that in Neerim – at Jindivick, Labertouche, at Flatman’s old mill site on the Upper Latrobe River, and two ‘Boys’ Camps’ at Noojee. A “lad foreman” at these camps (Bill Fisher) subsequently became a full-time Overseer with the Forests Commission and had a long and successful career."
"I first started working for the Forests Commission at the Burnt Bridge on the old highway at Toorloo Arm in the relief camp days in the early thirties. In the big Depression men were unable to find work in Melbourne; the Commission employed men to do silvicultural work. They were camped in tents and when they arrived we had a hot meal ready for them, enough kero. in lanterns for one night, beds were two poles on forked sticks and two chaff bags."
Extracts from Annual Reports provide an indication of the scale of FCV involvement.
“Civil Alien Corps camps were erected at the following locations: - Trentham, Dandenong, Dunolly, Cohuna, Heathcote, St. Arnaud, Yarrawonga, Barmah, Beaufort, Broadford, Scarsdale, Macedon, and Toolangi." (FCV AR 1942/43)
“An entirely new venture in the building programme was the construction of three camps for the housing of prisoners of war engaged on the cutting of firewood for supply to the Melbourne market. One of these camps has been completed and the other two are still under construction. The camps have been erected in accordance with specifications required by the Geneva Convention. Two of the camps will accommodate seventy-five prisoners each, and the third camp one hundred and fifty prisoners as well as the military guards.” (FCV AR 1943/44)
“With the improvement of supplies in 1945, the Commission was instructed to curtail operations in the production of firewood and to cease purchasing wood from private sources. Acting on these instructions the purchase of firewood was discontinued. The services of the Italian prisoners of war, encamped at Kinglake West and Broadford, who were engaged in the production of firewood, were dispensed with, as also were those of alien labour, pieceworkers and contractors. As a direct result, the amount of wood produced was 72,807 tons measure for 1945-46, as compared with 368,059 tons for the previous year." (FCV AR 1945/46)
There was considerable activity in the Wombat Forest
Broadford & Kinglake West
Joanne Tapiolas has provided us with information about the Broadford and Kinglake West Camps. The document comprises four memoranda from which we can discern:
Joanne's researches the experiences of Italian Prisoners of War in Australia. See: Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Australia which includes a wonderful story about the Graytown Camp.
"The unemployment relief schemes which commenced in May 1930 had a major impact on forestry in Eastern Gippsland with up to 830 men employed at the one time." Source: A History of the Forests and Forestry in East Gippsland. M Douglas 2007. p85
There is more to come in this article about the FCV and post WW2 refugee camps
"At the end of the Second World War (1939-1945) immigrants were urgently needed to help build the national infrastructure. The Russian annexation of the Baltic states - Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia - produced thousands of immigrants, who had the "advantage" of being white. The Commonwealth Government established a program under which they would be obliged to work for two years at its direction. ... Migrant hostels were set up around the country." (From a photo taken in South Australia by David Endacott.)
"Soldiers' Camps - During WW1 Six have been established, employing about 80 returned soldiers, who have been engaged in clearing up and general improvement work." (SFD Report 1917-18)