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The Background to Australia's WWII Internment Tokens

Much of the following information first appeared as an article in the Australasian Coin & Banknote Magazine, written by Mr Ian Todd. Ian's numismatic interested have varied over time, however the common thread between each area that he has been active in has been rich history and collector appeal. Although there has been a good degree of research published on the paper notes printed by the internees at Camp Seven in Hay (NSW) during World War II, far less has been published on the background to and technical characteristics of the copper and brass tokens used by inmates across the internment camps of Australasia at the same time.

I hope you'll agree that we are indeed fortunate that Ian has given permission for it to be published online here. I will be pleased to pass on any enquiries or additional information regarding any of the points raised below.

Introduction

With increasing concerns as the pall of WWII settled over Europe, “enemy aliens” in Australia whose loyalty was suspect were removed to Internment Camps. The Camps initially housed immigrants from Germany, Italy and other axis-linked countries. They were subsequently joined by Japanese internees, and prisoners of war and internees transported from the Middle East, Pacific Islands, the Netherlands East Indies, the Straits Settlements, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

For security reasons, tokens were used in Australian and New Zealand World War II Internment Camps in place of the normal currency. They were introduced in Australia, probably in 1943, to replace paper canteen coupons.

Two Melbourne firms manufactured the tokens: Arendsen & Sons made five shillings, two shillings and one penny pieces; while KG Luke & Co produced the one shilling and three pence tokens that completed the series. Other than the pennies, which were struck in brass (with a few rare copper or bronze trial or specimen strikes), the tokens were struck in copperi.

The tokens were holed in the centre, clearly distinguishing them from the circulating currency. Wreaths, ornamented with berries and gum nuts, surround the centre holes together with the inscriptions of “INTERNMENT CAMPS” on the obverse and the denomination on the reverse. The Luke tokens have finer design details than the Arendsen pieces.

Fortunately, a small number of tokens avoided the destruction of the series that followed the end of World War II, when the tokens were ordered in by the Army and melted down under supervision.

Camp Locations

Hay Internment Token

It is wrong to suggest that the tokens were only used at Hay, as is sometimes the case, although tokens counterstamped “H” for the Hay Camp are understood to exist.

Internment Camps were located across Australia, with the main ones at Cowra and Hay in NSW, Enoggera (Gaythorne) in Queensland, Tatura (Rushworth) in Victoria and Loveday in South Australia. There were other smaller or temporary Camps (such as Long Bay in Sydney and Dhurringile in Victoria) that accommodated POWs and internees, often before they were transferred to one of the larger Camps.

The Harvey Camp in Western Australia was closed in 1942 after the discovery of hidden weapons and a finding by military authorities that Camp administration was inadequate. The internees were transferred first to Parkeston near Kalgoorlie and then to Loveday.

In January 1943, some 17,000 POWs and internees were in the Camps.

How Many Tokens?

The tokens are rare, particularly in the higher denominations. “Less than a dozen” five shillings pieces were known to Myatt and Hanley in 1982ii. This figure is somewhat low but what is clear is that many, many more 1930 pennies appear at auction than Internment Camps five shillings pieces. In addition, Internment Camps tokens are comparatively cheap.

The following table shows the maximum population of Internment Camps tokens in Australia. Very little is known about the New Zealand situation, although Nik Sharplin has reportediithat there is documentation of a request for a total of 34,000 pieces to replace simple steel discs that were being used over the ditch.

 


Produced

Destroyed

 
 

Maximum Population

Penny

144,630

104,157

40,473

Three Pence

224,000

182,018

41,982

Shilling

180,000

169,767

10,233

Two Shillings

91,720

84,424

7,296

Five Shillings

34,643

33,898

745

(Does not include any tokens produced for New Zealand and includes 4 sets given to Government agencies.)

Source: Nik Sharplin, Australian WWII Internment Camp Tokens, The Australasian Coin and Banknote Magazine, March 2004, p. 45

At a rough guess, then, there are probably 2-3 times as many 1922/21 overdate threepences, and maybe 6 times as many 1930 pennies, as five shillings tokens. The one and two shilling pieces rate way better for rarity than the 1923 halfpenny.

Die Types

Adding to the interest of the series, several varieties are recorded in the literature, notably off-centre holes, holes not being punched out and the “CAMPS over CAMP” recut obverse inscription on the three pence token.

I have not observed die varieties on the Arendsen tokens, but have catalogued a range of KG Luke varieties. These are summarised below:

Three Pence Die Varieties

Three Pence WWII Internment Tokens

The three pence token, illustrated below, has a plain edge and a diameter of 15.75 mm according to both the McDonaldiiiand Renniksivguides. The wreath surrounding the centre hole is adorned with berries on the left hand side and gum nuts on the right. There are beads around the centre hole and the outer rim.

Different dies for both the obverse and reverse are characterised by a range of design variations on the wreath including the shape of leaves, the size and number of gum nuts and the number and position of berries (which may or may not be attached to twigs). The recut obverse die inscription (“CAMPS” over “CAMP”) is clearly evident on one die type, and there may be different numbers of beads around the rim of the centre hole depending on the particular die.

I have noted two obverse and three reverse designs, and their main distinguishing features are listed in the following tables.

Obverse (‘INTERNMENT CAMPS’) Die Type 1

Obverse (‘INTERNMENT CAMPS’) Die Type 2

CAMPS/CAMP evident, ie recut die

CAMPS/CAMP not evident

2 berries above 3rdleaf on the left of the left hand side of wreath

1 berry above 3rdleaf on the left of the left hand side of wreath

1 berry above 5thleaf on the left of the left hand side of wreath

No berries above 5thleaf on the left of the left hand side of wreath

47 beads around the rim of the centre hole

42 beads around the rim of the centre hole

Reverse (‘THREE PENCE’) Die Type A

Reverse (‘THREE PENCE’) Die Type B

Reverse (‘THREE PENCE’) Die Type C

2 berries above 5thleaf on the left of the left hand side of wreath

4 berries above 5thleaf on the left of the left hand side of wreath

2 berries above 5thleaf on the left of the left hand side of wreath

2 berries above 6thleaf on the left of the left hand side of wreath

3 berries above 6thleaf on the left of the left hand side of wreath

2 berries above 6thleaf on the left of the left hand side of wreath

4 berries above 3rdleaf on the right of the left hand side of wreath

5 berries above 3rdleaf on the right of the left hand side of wreath

3 berries above 3rdleaf on the right of the left hand side of wreath

4 berries above 4thleaf on the right of the left hand side of wreath

3 berries above 4thleaf on the right of the left hand side of wreath

3 berries above 4thleaf on the right of the left hand side of wreath

Gum nuts on the right hand side of wreath: 2,2,2,3

Gum nuts on the right hand side of wreath: 3,3,3,3

Gum nuts on the right hand side of wreath: 2,2,2,3

Known Combinations

I have noted the above die types in the following combinations: 1A; 1B; 2C.

Shilling Die Varieties – Identifying Features

Hay Internment Camp Shilling Token

The shilling tokens are made in copper, have a plain edge and a diameter of 18.75 mm according to the McDonald guidevand 18.79 mm in Renniksvi. As can be seen from the illustration below, their design follows that of the three pence pieces. They also show the same sort of die variations.

The main distinguishing features of the two obverse, and three reverse, die types observed are catalogued below.

Obverse (‘INTERNMENT CAMPS’) Die Type 1

Obverse (‘INTERNMENT CAMPS’) Die Type 2

4 berries above 4thleaf on the right of the left hand side of wreath

3 berries above 4thleaf on the right of the left hand side of wreath

45 beads around the rim of the centre hole

44 beads around the rim of the centre hole

Reverse (‘ONE SHILLING’) Die Type A

Reverse (‘ONE SHILLING’’) Die Type B

Reverse (‘ONE SHILLING’’) Die Type C

1 berry above 2ndleaf on left of the left hand side of wreath

No berries above 2ndleaf on left of the left hand side of wreath

No berries above 2ndleaf on left of the left hand side of wreath

1 berry above 6thleaf on the left of the left hand side of wreath

3 berries above 6thleaf on the left of the left hand side of wreath

2 berries above 6thleaf on the left of the left hand side of wreath

3 berries above 4thleaf on the right of the left hand side wreath

3 berries above 4thleaf on the right of the left hand side wreath

4 berries above 4thleaf on the right of the left hand side wreath

Gum nuts on the right hand side of wreath: 3,2,3,3

Gum nuts on the right hand side of wreath: 3,3,3,3

Gum nuts on the right hand side of wreath: 3,3,3,3

3 leaves on top of the right hand side of wreath

2 leaves on top of the right hand side of wreath

3 leaves on top of the right hand side of wreath

45 beads around the rim of the centre hole

38 beads around the rim of the centre hole

41 beads around the rim of the centre hole

Known Combinations

I have noted the above die types in the following combinations: 1A; 1C; 2B.

Dies at the Royal Australian Mint

Some time ago the Royal Australian Mint (RAM) was kind enough to allow me to view the 14 Internment Camps token dies held in its Museum collection. The dies were:

  • One Penny

    • 3 x obverse

    • 2 x reverse

  • Three Pence

    • 1 x obverse

    • 1 x reverse

  • One Shilling

    • 1 x obverse

    • 1 x reverse

  • Two Shillings

    • 1 x obverse

    • 2 x reverse

  • Five Shillings

    • 1 x obverse

    • 1 x reverse

On the basis of my observation that there are at least two obverse and three reverse dies for the three pence and shilling, it seems that the Mint does not hold all the dies that were used for production of the Internment Camps tokens.

For example, the three pence obverse die in the RAM’s Museum collection is not the re-cut “CAMPS/ CAMP” type, unlike the die used to produce the example that follows:

 

i As reported by Nik Sharplin in his most informative article Australian WWII Internment Camp Tokens, The Australasian Coin and Banknote Magazine, March 2004, p. 45 and as noted by Bill Myatt and Tom Hanley in Australian Coins, Notes and Medals, Horwitz Grahame Books Pty Ltd, Cammeray NSW, 1982, p. 233.

ii Ibid.

iii Greg McDonald, The Pocket Guide to Australian Coins and Banknotes Eighteenth Edition, Greg McDonald Publishing and Numismatics Pty Ltd, Lavington, 2010, p111.

iv Renniks Australian Coin and Banknote Values 23rdEdition, Renniks Publications, Banksmeadow NSW, 2009, p. 221.

v Op cit.

vi Op cit.

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