As the Australian prisoners had been kept in the large hold of the German raider Wolf for almost seven months, they were taken off the ship at Kiel Harbour on March 2, 1918.
At that time it was freezing as they were loaded onto a ferry and transported to the dock. From there, they were marched along cobble roads to a railway station.
Being about 6.30 in the morning they were loaded onto a train. Nine hours later, they were taken off at Bad Kleinen, where they marched about a mile for a meal consisting of a bowl of soup. Then they marched back to rejoin the train.
At the end of the journey, they disembarked and were forced to march for two miles through snow 18 inches deep.
When they finally reached the Gustrow Prisoner of War camp, they were marched in rows and stood outside the barracks. These barracks were weatherboard with wooden floors and slat timber bunks with mattresses filled with straw covered by two thin blankets.
The next day, the men were marched to the bathhouse where their bodies were stripped of all hair. Most of the Australians, if not all, suffered from bad colds due to exposure.
By March 19, the men had all their clothes taken and they were supplied with distinctive brown clothing with a stripe down the legs and around the sleeves.
The prisoners were subject to extreme hard work, such as removing sand from under railway sleepers and replacing it with stones.
Being fed on a turnip soup mixture, some of the prisoners resorted to stealing food to supplement their diet.
Australian Red Cross distributed parcels to Australians in camps.
The prisoners always appreciated these parcels very much and were a morale booster that was not forgotten.
One prisoner commented that work did not seem so hard after the parcels of food arrived.
Armistice Day came and went and yet the prisoners were still sent to work.
Then, on November 28, 1918, the Australians were marched to Parchim POW camp where they met up with many of the other prisoners from the Wolf. At this camp the Red Cross provided food and relief.
On December 8, they were placed on the train to make the journey to Warnemunde where they waited for the Danish ship Niels Ebbesen to take them from Germany.
Some of the 150 people who boarded the ship were crew and soldiers from the SS Matunga.
On arrival at Copenhagen on December 13, they boarded the train to Laastrup and, after a six-mile long march to Grevelejren camp, they were taken to barracks with proper beds and white sheets. This sight alone was exciting after nine months of the horrors of straw bedding.
At 4pm on December 16, the survivors were waved off by a dock full of Danish citizens as they boarded the HMS Plassy bound for Leith in Scotland, where they arrived the following evening.
After they were fed by the Red Cross, they were given train passes to London, arriving on December 19, 1918. The Red Cross in London took them into care, where they could send a message to their loved ones.
From January 1919, the survivors of the SS Matunga began their journey home to Australia.
One unfortunate who remained at Gustrow was Private William Henry Malthouse, aged about 51.
He was deployed to New Guinea aboard the Matunga. He took ill with intestinal disorder at the camp and died on December 6, 1918, and was buried at Gustrow POW cemetery.
In March 1919, three of his comrades paid a German stonehewer a deposit of 400 German marks to erect a headstone above his grave. It was not until November that the men made the final payment of 560 marks at the completion of the work.
The Imperial War Graves wrote to Mrs Malthouse at Burwood in October 1924 informing her that the department wanted to establish a central cemetery for all outlying POW burials and that his remains were to be exhumed and placed in Hamburg Cemetery.
Information courtesy of Carol Herben OAM. Call 0409 832 854 or email email@example.com