Somes Prisoners

Chronology of WW2 Internment Camp

29 August 1939 - Somes Island transferred from Health Dept. to Defence Dept. to become an internment camp for 'enemy aliens'. The island could supposedly accommodate 450 internees, and the cooker could cope with producing food for 250. However, there were only expected to be about 50 internees. (McGill, David, 'Island of Secrets', Wellington, NZ, 2001.  p. 89)

27 November 1939 - First batch of Germans arrested for internment. Evidently they were not immediately sent to Somes, and at least some of them were from the Pacific Islands - probably Western Samoa.

23 December 1939 - First batch of internees arrive on Somes. (McGill, p. 91)

24 December 1939 - Probably the 'official' admission date of some of the next (newly interned) batch of internees transported to the island the previous day.

June 1940 - Internment of Italians begins. (McGill, p. 111)

12 June 1940 - A batch of Italian internees enrolled on the island

December 1940 - Internees consisted on 23 Germans, 22 Italians, 1 Russian, 1 Pole, 1 Norwegian, 13 Germans from Samoa. (McGill, p. 93)

27 November 1941 - Odo Strewe, Hans Finke and Karl Schroeder (said to be communist agitators) escape from Somes on a dinghy stolen from the island's caretaker. They were captured in the Akatarawa Ranges six days later after having to visit a shop to buy food. (McGill, p. 104)

December 1941 - A group of Japanese men brought brought from Suva, Fiji, to internment on Somes. Many were fishermen. (McGill, p. 93)

23 December 1941 - The first batch of Japanese internees enrolled on the island

29 December 1941 - Another batch of Japanese internees enrolled on the island

29 December 1941 - A new batch of German internees who were enrolled together

11 May 1942 - A new batch of German internees who were enrolled together

26 July 1942 - An anonymous note advises that Strewe, Finke and Schroeder were digging an escape tunnel under House 7 (the 'international' hut). (McGill, p. 106)

17 November 1942 - Internees consist of 98 Germans, 30 Italians, 47 Japanese, 2 Austrians, 3 Thais, 1 Finn, 1 Pole, 1 Spaniard, 1 Frenchman, 1 Norwegian, 1 Hungarian. (McGill, p. 112)

31 January 1943 - The 185 internees were moved to a new purpose-built internment camp at Pahiatua. This was a result of the Swiss Consul complaining that under the Geneva Convention, having them on Somes Island meant NZ was in breach of that convention. This was because the armament on the island, plus the degaussing operation there (used to protect ships against mines) made the island a possible military target. Prisoners were not to be held in such situations under the Geneva Convention. (McGill, p. 112; National Archives file: letter dated 3/2/1943, AAAR 493/3, J 1940/50/8, Hildebrand, W.H.)

March 1944 - While still at Pahiatua, the Italian internees were given conditional release after Italy signed the armistice. (McGill, p. 112)

September 1944 - Internees are returned to Somes Island as their Pahiatua camp was needed for Polish refugee children. (McGill, p. 112)

October 1945 - The last approx. 40 internees still on Somes were released (McGill, p. 122)

29 October 1945 - Telegram notifying that all internees have been released. (National Archives file: AAAR 493/3, J 1940/50/8, Hildebrand, W.H.)

1946 - Somes Island offered back to the Health Dept., but was declined. (McGill, p. 121, The Dominion, 10/10/1945)

1947 - 250,000 feet of timber from the main barracks is sold to a timber company. (McGill, p. 121)

January 1948 - Dept. of Agriculture took over the island. (McGill, p. 121)


A Very Basic WWII Chronology - including NZ-specific matters that tended to make the NZ population somewhat less tolerant of those deemed 'the enemy within.'

1 September 1939 - Germany invades Poland

3 September 1939 - Great Britain (& therefore NZ) and France declare war on Germany. Due to the International Date Line, NZ actually declared war before Great Britain.

December 1939 - Battle of the River Plate (Graf Spee scuttled) - NZ naval cruiser Achillies very prominent in this victory

25-27 May 1940 - Famous Dunkirk evacuation of Allied forces by anything that floated

10 June 1940 - Italy declares war on Great Britain and France

19 June 1940 - The passenger ship Niagara (bound for Suva and Vancouver) struck a mine, laid by the German raider Orion, and sank two hours later - shortly after leaving Auckland Harbour. The 349 passengers and crew aboard all survived.

20 August 1940 - Trans-Tasman cargo steamer Turakinaa sunk in unequal battle with German raider Orion in the Tasman Sea. 35 of the 56 (or 55?) aboard died as a result, with the survivors being taken aboard the Orion. This is the only naval battle ever fought in the Tasman Sea.

August-September 1940 - Battle of Britain

25 November 1940 - Coastal steamer Holmwood captured and sunk by three German raiders soon after leaving the Chatham Islands for Lyttelton. The 29 passengers and crew were taken aboard the raiders.

27 November 1940 - The passenger/cargo ship Rangitane intercepted and sunk by the aforementioned three German raiders off East Cape. Of approx. 311 passengers and crew aboard, 303 survived and were captured by the raiders. The dead included four women, and the "savage and ruthless" attack on the stationery ship only stopped when the raiders were signalled that there were women aboard the ship.

12 February 1941 - German yachtie and former WWI Somes Island internee, George Dibbern, who has just innocently sailed into Napier Harbour aboard his yacht Te Rapunga, gets arrested and interned on Somes Island for a second time. Reason: Not an ideal time to be a German chappy sailing blissfully around the South Pacific, no matter your politics!

14 May 1941 - HMNZS Puriri, a minesweeper, sunk with the loss of five crew while engaged in mine sweeping operations the the Hauraki Gulf

7 December 1941 - Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, attacked by Japan and the US enters the war

May-June 1942 - Japan loses battles of Coral Sea and Midway

20 August 1942 - First 24 Japanese POWs arrive in NZ andd NZ discovers it is to host a POW camp for Japanese captured in the Pacific War. A few days later NZ expressed indignation at also finding itself solely responsible for POWs captured by another State.

4 September 1942 - NZ war cabinet selects old WWI army training ground at Featherston for Japanese POWs captured by US in Pacific War

8 September 1942 - Shocked Army HQ, Wellington, learns that 450 Japanese POWs would need this facility by evening of 11 September

9 September 1942 - Work begins building new Featherston POW camp!!! Luckily first batch of POWs were largely non-military (members of labour force who built airfields etc)

November 1942 - Japanese military POWs (mainly survivorrs from naval engagements) begin arriving in significant numbers

25 February 1943 - 'Featherston Incident', where the camp guards shot 48 Japanese POWs (and one guard). At that time there were over 800 Japanese POWs in the camp.

13 October 1943 - Italy formally changes sides in war after its Fascist Government is overthrown

6 June 1944 - D-Day - invasion of Normandy by Allies

March 1945 - Island of Iwo Jima taken by US forces, and bombing of Tokyo begins

8 May 1945 - Germany signs formal surrender

6 August 1945 - Hiroshima bombed

9 August 1945 - Nagasaki bombed

2 September 1945 - Japan signs formal surrender in Tokyo Bay

30 December 1945 - Japanese POWs from Featherston POW Camp transported back to Japan aboard two US transports