Australian Prisoners of War 1940-1945

More than 30,000 Australians became prisoners of war (POWs) between 1940 and 1945. The Germans and Italians captured Australians during the Mediterranean and Middle East campaigns, and also at sea in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Members of RAAF aircrews, who had bailed out during operations over Germany, occupied Europe or North Africa, also became POWs. Of the 8,000 Australians taken prisoner by the Germans and Italians, 265 died during their captivity.

During the Pacific war, the Japanese captured 22,000 Australians: soldiers, sailors, airmen and members of the army nursing service, as well as some civilians. They were imprisoned in camps throughout Japanese-occupied territories in Borneo, Korea, Manchuria, Hainan, Rabaul, Ambon, Singapore, Timor, Java, Thailand, Burma and Vietnam and also Japan itself. At the end of the war only 13,872 of the POWs were recovered: one-third of the prisoners had died.

Hospital Ward, Thailand railway, Murray Griffin 1946. [Drawing brush and brown ink and wash over pencil, heightened with white, 35.1 x 51.2 cm. AWMART25104]

Four years in Germany

Herbert Hawley enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 7 November 1939. He was posted to the 2/3rd Field Regiment. In May 1940, after training at Ingleburn, near Sydney, he sailed with his regiment to England where he was stationed at Salisbury. In December he left England for the Middle East and then was moved to Greece where his regiment came under heavy attack from the German Luftwaffe (air force) and Panzer Divisions. His regiment was evacuated to Suda Bay, Crete. There they defended an airstrip at Retimo (Rethymnon) against German paratroopers but just 10 days later, they were forced to surrender and Herbert Hawley became a POW.

Herb arrived in Wolfsburg prison camp in August 1941 and spent the next four years as a POW in Germany. He was sent to various locations and joined working parties on roads, on farms and repairing and laying railway lines. In May 1945, when the Germans surrendered, Herb was at Spittal, working on bomb-damaged railway trucks and tracks. He was repatriated to England through Italy and arrived home in Australia three months later.


Last updated: 13 March 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), Australian Prisoners of War 1940-1945, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 29 September 2021,
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