Storia di un contadino italiano in Australia – parte 2: prigioniero in terra australe

by Elena Fortini

Vincenzo ha solo 21 anni quando parte per la Libia. Mai avrebbe pensato che, nei pochi anni successivi, avrebbe attraversato mezzo mondo, passando dapprima per l’Egitto, poi nei campi di concentramento indiani per, infine, raggiungere il misterioso e lontano continente australiano.

Nel gennaio 1944, insieme a qualche migliaio di altri prigionieri italiani, mio zio si imbarca a Bombay per l’Australia. A febbraio giunge nel porto di Melbourne e viene condotto al campo di Murchison, nell’entroterra australiano, per lo smistamento. Dopo la visita medica viene sottoposto ad analisi per la sospetta presenza di tifo, poi smentita dagli accertamenti. Da questo momento in poi verrà identificato con la dicitura PWI (Prisoner of War, Italian, vale a dire “prigioniero di guerra italiano”) 58070.

Il suo viaggio, però, non finisce qui. A Murchison viene decisa la sua destinazione: sarà nell’ancor più remota isola della Tasmania. Nell’aprile del ‘44 giunge nel campo di Brighton, vicino alla capitale Hobart, nel sud-est dello Stato insulare, per l’identificazione. Si tratta del campo centrale della regione, che si dirama poi in ulteriori campi sparsi per tutta l’isola.

Nel maggio 1944 viene trasferito a Burnie, più a nord, e il mese successivo a Smithton, nel nord-ovest dell’isola. Ricoverato per una sospetta appendicite nell’ottobre dello stesso anno, sarà rilasciato qualche giorno dopo senza essere operato, e rimandato al campo. Qui sarà assegnato a un agricoltore locale, Reginald Poke, e inizierà a lavorare come contadino nella sua proprietà agricola a Scotchtown, una località rurale distante circa 6 km dalla cittadina di Smithton. 16.397 sono invece i chilometri che separano Scotchtown dal paese natale di Soncino: una distanza incolmabile oggi, inimmaginabile all’epoca.

Con mia grande sorpresa sono riuscita a contattare i discendenti di Mr. Poke. Alcuni hanno sentito parlare dei prigionieri italiani nei racconti dei rispettivi antenati, altri ricordano di averli visti e conosciuti, durante l’infanzia. In particolare, un nipote di Reginald ricorda Vincenzo come un uomo forte, che spesso si allenava nella fattoria. I prigionieri vivevano in baracche separate nella proprietà, e un’altra nipote ricorda che da bambina, negli anni ’60 e ’70, vi entrava per gioco e che le sembravano sufficientemente spaziose per essere adibite ad abitazioni. Dopo la partenza degli italiani queste costruzioni vennero destinate a baracche degli attrezzi, e successivamente demolite. In generale, i soldati italiani hanno lasciato un bel ricordo alle famiglie locali: sulla sua lettera di dimissione si può leggere che è stato un bravo prigioniero.

Nel marzo del ‘46 Vincenzo viene finalmente rilasciato e torna nell’Australia occidentale, a Loveday, da dove il 3 dicembre dello stesso anno sarà rimpatriato sulla nave neozelandese Rangitata diretta a Napoli. Sbarcherà infine nella città partenopea il 31 dicembre 1946, nello stesso porto da cui era partito otto anni prima. Una leggenda di famiglia vuole che, nel periodo trascorso in Australia, mio zio si sia innamorato di una donna del posto e che volesse perciò rimanere e sposarsi. Non sappiamo se sia tornato per rispettare la convenzione internazionale sui prigionieri di guerra, che voleva che fossero tutti rimpatriati una volta terminato il conflitto, o per sua decisione, conscio che la sua famiglia lo aspettava e aveva bisogno di lui. Gli anni della guerra sono stati duri, infatti, anche nello sperduto paesino di campagna che per Vincenzo era ormai solo un lontano e caro ricordo. Con il figlio primogenito in Australia, il secondogenito, Giulio, anch’egli prigioniero degli Alleati in Albania, il lavoro nei campi e nelle stalle era affidato ai restanti membri della famiglia: il padre Bortolo, la madre Genoveffa, le sorelle Gina, Maria, Cila e Carla e il fratello minore, Miro, che allo scoppio del conflitto aveva solo sei anni, e che Vincenzo ricorda nella lettera inviata dall’India e mai ricevuta dalla famiglia come il “piccolino” di casa.

Ambrogi Famiglia : late 1940s

Back row: Vincenzo second from left. Front row: Mama Genoveffa on far right (photo courtesy of Elena Fortini)

Si racconta che, dopo il suo ritorno, ogni volta che mio zio parlava di quanto aveva visto in guerra veniva preso per pazzo. Metteva in guardia sugli effetti nefasti delle droghe quando la maggior parte dei compaesani non sapeva nemmeno cosa fosse uno stupefacente. Parlava di tutto ciò che aveva visto, della convivenza di molteplici religioni e confessioni che nella cattolicissima Italia del tempo era solo un lontano miraggio. Portava sei anni di prigionia sulle spalle che l’avevano segnato profondamente, e non solo sul viso che il rovente sole australiano aveva bruciato per sempre: avvertiva il bisogno di parlarne, ma si sentiva incompreso. Forse per questo poi si chiuse in sé stesso e smise di raccontare, lasciando correre anche le domande curiose dei nipoti che, anni dopo, gli avrebbero chiesto della sua esperienza in guerra: ne parlava solo con i commilitoni, uomini che, come lui, avevano lasciato tutto alle spalle e che vivevano gli anni della guerra come un voraginoso e incolmabile vuoto.

Vincenzo Ambrogi 1970s standing at left (photo courtesy of Elena Fortini)

Al funerale di sua madre, Vincenzo chiese alla famiglia di non lasciarlo mai più solo. Spero che questa mia ricerca renda giustizia alla sua storia e al suo ricordo. Non ho avuto il piacere di incontrare lo zio Vincenzo, che ci ha lasciati ben prima che io nascessi ma, dopo le tante ore trascorse a ripercorrere il suo passato, posso forse dire di conoscerlo un po’ anch’io.

Elena Fortini

Storia di un contadino italiano in Australia – parte 1: la cattura e l’inizio del viaggio

by Elena Fortini

Nella maggior parte dei libri di storia le migliaia di uomini catturati e fatti prigionieri durante i due conflitti mondiali che hanno segnato il Secolo breve figurano solo come numeri, una perdita inevitabile nell’economia di guerra. Eppure, si tratta di una parte non trascurabile del nostro passato: ogni uomo partito al fronte vi ha portato parte di sé, una storia nella Storia che non possiamo permetterci di dimenticare. Per questa ragione voglio raccontare la prigionia di mio zio Vincenzo, un modesto contadino cremonese che si è trovato a coltivare le immense distese australiane.

Vincenzo Ambrogio: Uncle of Elena Fortini (photo courtesy of Elena Fortini)

Vincenzo Ambrogi nasce il 5 settembre 1917 a Soncino, un piccolo borgo medievale in provincia di Cremona. Primo di 7 figli tra cui mia nonna Rosa, detta Carla, il 2 settembre 1938 viene chiamato alle armi in qualità di caporale nel 45° Reggimento Artiglieria Divisionale “Cirene”. Dopo un breve passaggio a Bari, l’11 settembre a Napoli si imbarca per la Libia; due giorni dopo sarà a Bengasi.

Map of Western Desert Campaign 1941/42 (https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Operation_Compass)

A seguito dell’ingresso dell’Italia nel secondo conflitto mondiale, il 10 giugno 1940 il territorio libico è dichiarato in Stato di guerra. A settembre la Divisione partecipa alla prima offensiva italiana in Egitto, ma la controffensiva britannica non si fa attendere: dopo una serie di attacchi che provocano importanti perdite, a dicembre la Divisione è costretta a ripiegare entro la cinta fortificata di Bardia, vera roccaforte italiana in Libia. L’esercito italiano non resisterà a lungo: il 5 gennaio 1941 Vincenzo è catturato, insieme a migliaia di altri soldati, dall’esercito inglese, in quella che è passata alla storia come la catastrofica sconfitta di Bardia.

6th January 1941 BARDIA. A GROUP OF ITALIAN PRISONERS BEING BROUGHT IN BY THE A.I.F. DURING THE MOPPING UP OPERATIONS IN THE SURROUNDING HOLES. (AWM Image 004904 NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

Da qui, dopo chilometri e chilometri percorsi a piedi nel deserto nordafricano, raggiunge il campo di concentramento 309, in Egitto, e successivamente il campo 308, entrambi nell’area di Alessandria. Da alcune relazioni stilate da inviati della Croce Rossa Internazionale si evince che la situazione dei prigionieri non era delle più terribili: tolto che la maggior parte dormiva per terra, direttamente sulla sabbia, a causa della scarsità di tende a fronte dell’arrivo massiccio di uomini (successivamente verranno costruite delle baracche dai prigionieri stessi), a ciascuno venivano date in dotazione due coperte per proteggersi dal freddo; i prigionieri indossavano la propria divisa e venivano consegnate scarpe nuove a chiunque ne avesse bisogno. Il cibo, preparato dagli italiani stessi, era razionato in quantità sufficienti, e durante le lunghe giornate d’attesa sono documentate persino partite di calcio. Sul campo era presente un cappellano militare per l’assistenza religiosa, mancavano però libri da leggere e i prigionieri lamentavano di non ricevere notizie per posta dai propri famigliari.

La prossima tappa del viaggio di Vincenzo sarà Suez, il vero polo di smistamento: qui i prigionieri saranno divisi e inviati nelle più svariate colonie inglesi; è il vero inizio della traversata che porterà mio zio all’altro capo del mondo. Ogni prigioniero segue sorti diverse: c’è chi viene inviato nel Regno Unito, chi nel Medio Oriente, chi ancora in Sudafrica. Il 30 novembre 1941 Vincenzo si imbarca per l’India. Arriverà a Bombay il 16 dicembre e sarà internato nei campi 9 e 12, entrambi nell’area di Bhopal, nell’India nord-occidentale. In una cartolina compilata per la Croce Rossa Internazionale scrive di essere stato catturato illeso e di stare bene.

Click: Arrival of Italian prisoners in Bombay

Il 20 aprile 1942 scrive la seguente lettera indirizzata alla famiglia e mai giunta a destinazione:

“Carissimi genitori, dopo lunga assenza di vostre notizie, non sapendo il perché di tutto questo mentre invece ho ricevuto notizie da Alberto, il cugino della cascina Fornace, alla cui cara lettera tuttavia non posso rispondere, la quale mi ha molto rallegrato sentendo le sue parole di giovane militare, e il rientro di Giulio, mio fratello, in patria dalla sua prigionia. Miei cari voi, sapete che non posso rispondere a tutti coloro che mi scrivono, perciò lascio a voi i miei più graditi saluti con una stretta di mano di vero cugino affettuoso. Ma appena potrò […] a tutti darò un mio saluto e un invito di arrivederci presto. Miei cari, da che mi trovo nelle Indie ho ricevuto 4 lettere, una del cugino e tre di Gina [la maggiore delle sorelle]. Desidero notizie dai dintorni e dai cugini. Non pensate male che tutto passa e ringraziamo sempre Iddio che tenga sempre la salute e un dì ci rivedremo.
Termino rilasciandovi i miei più sinceri saluti a tutta l’intera famiglia, e un bacio all’ultimo piccolino e Babbo e Mamma. Saluti parenti e riconoscenti da sempre, Vincenzo”

Camp 9 India: General View of Camp, Italians packed up ready to move to another camp, models of planes made by the Italians (ICRC VP-HIST-03470-07, VP-HIST- 03470-12, VP-HIST- 03470-30A)

Sappiamo però che il periodo in India è stato probabilmente il più difficile dell’intera prigionia: il clima duro, la scarsità di cibo e le disastrose condizioni igieniche dei campi indiani, unitamente al pericolo causato dagli insetti portatori di malaria, facevano sì che molti prigionieri si ammalassero, anche gravemente. In particolare, i campi dell’area lagunare di Bhopal, dove si trovava mio zio, erano noti per l’aria estremamente malsana. Lo stesso Vincenzo trascorse più di due mesi nell’ospedale del campo, e subì un’operazione. La situazione precaria e la persistente incertezza sul futuro spingevano molti a tentare il gesto estremo.

Ma la storia di Vincenzo è diversa. Nel gennaio 1944 lascia infatti il subcontinente indiano e viene imbarcato sulla nave Mariposa: direzione Melbourne, Australia.

Continua…

1944-03-28. AERIAL PORT BOW VIEW OF THE AMERICAN TRANSPORT SS MARIPOSA WHICH MADE FIVE TROOP CARRYING VOYAGES TO AUSTRALIA BETWEEN 1942 AND 1944. (NAVAL HISTORICAL COLLECTION) (AWM Image 303592)

What a journey!

Today I introduce you to Pasquale Landolfi from Frattaminore Napoli. Pasquale was 20 years old when he was captured at Tobruk 21.1.1941.

From 13.10.41 and his arrival on the Queen Mary into Sydney NSW until his departure on 28.6.1949 from Sydney NSW on the SS Surriento Pasquale travels through five states of Australia.

Tracing his journey Pasquale went from NEW SOUTH WALES: Sydney to Cowra Camp to VICTORIA: Murchison Camp. He transited through SOUTH AUSTRALIA on his way to WESTERN AUSTRALIA: No 8 Labour Detachment Karrakatta and Marrinup Camp.

Pasquale then crossed Australia again and returned to VICTORIA: Murchison Camp and then NEW SOUTH WALES: Hay Camp.

The next stage of his journey took him to QUEENSLAND: Gaythorne Camp and Home Hill* Hostel. After escaping from the Home Hill Hostel, he briefly ‘visited’ Bowen until his arrest and return the Home Hill Hostel.

He returned to Gaythorne Camp before a return to VICTORIA: Murchison Camp and the Dandenong after he escaped from a Murchison working party. Upon capture he was sent to NEW SOUTH WALES: Holdsworthy Military Barracks for detention.

Three Italian prisoners of war boarded the SS Surriento in Sydney on 28.6.49: Pasquale Landolfi, Giacomo Tagliaferri and Isidoro Cammaroto. The ship sailed from Sydney to Brisbane QLD before departing for Italy.

The newspaper article below records this unusual situation of a passenger liner carrying three prisoners of war and two political deportees.

Brisbane Telegraph (Qld. : 1948 – 1954), Thursday 30 June 1949, page 8

1949 ‘Line­­r Has Unwelcome Quintette’, Brisbane Telegraph (Qld. : 1948 – 1954), 30 June, p. 8. (CITY FINAL), viewed 20 Jul 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212190014

*Home Hill is 97 km south of Townsville. Bowen is 104 km south of Home Hill and 84 km north of Whitsundays.

Nonno Peppino

Memories from Ippolito Moscatelli (Messaggero di Sant’Antonio July-August 2021)

A special thank you to Sara Bavato for her continued support of the Italian prisoner of war research project and her article in the latest publication of Messaggero di Sant’Antonio. Click on the link below to read the article…

Every Italian prisoner of war took something small home to Italy. It might be a memory of flying fish and dolphins, a button from the POW uniform, a dictionary, a theatre program or a chess set.

The history of Italian prisoners of war is enriched by these items. Each item adds new understanding to the life of the Italian prisoner of war in Australia.

Ippolito’s granddaughter Francesca continues to discover bits and pieces of her nonno’s collection and each one brings new meaning to her nonno’s life.

Pastel by Ippolito Moscatelli 11 November 1945 (courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)

The Financial Situation

The purpose of this article is to present the facts.

I have purposely avoided this topic because it is complicated.

Money is always a difficult topic because lack of money equates to hardships. Additionally, emotions are attached to discussions on money.

I present the information about the financial situation for Italian prisoners of war to provide the facts.

These facts are from primary source documents:

Dr Georges Morel’s reports for the International Committee for the Red Cross

Pay Sheets for Queensland

Camp Order No. 13

Various documents from the National Archives of Australia and personal records.

  • Pays for Prisoners of War

There were three levels of income for prisoners of war:

  1. Prisoners of war were paid on behalf of their government at a rate agreed to by relevant countries.

This meant that on a monthly basis, Italian prisoners of war received a stipend [allowance]. This was deposited to the cash accounts of each man.

As of March 1945, the rate set was:

£-/15/5 for combatants (N.C.O.s) (fifteen shillings and five pence)

£-/10/9 for ordinary ranks (ten shillings and nine pence)

£37/14/1 for doctor (thirty seven pounds, fourteen shillings and one pence)

How do we verify this?

Pay records for Italian prisoners of war in Queensland have survived.

The extract from the March 1945 Pay Sheets for Home Hill Hostel displays the rate per levels of prisoners of war.

(NAA:  J2255, 12)

2. Prisoners of war would be paid for work duties (other than fatigues while in camp)

In camps, work details were offered inside and outside camps.

This rate per day was £-/-/7 (seven pence) for unskilled work and

£-/1/3 (one shilling three pence) for skilled work.

For farm work and on government projects

The rate set was:

£-/1/3 per day

How do we verify this?

When a prisoner of war control hostel was approved, documentation was submitted which included the rate of pay. The example used is a document for the establishment of the Hume Hostel in Victoria.

NAA: A373, 6221

3. Income from the camp canteen profits.  

This was used to purchase communal items for the use of men inside the camps.

This money was used for special foods for Christmas, books, records, musical instruments and sport equipment.

For the month of: December 1942 canteen proceeds for Camp 7 Hay was £232 and for Camp 8 Hay £188

January 1943 canteen proceeds for Camp 7 Hay was £135 and for Camp 8 Hay £102

  • Debit charges

Money debited was also debited from individual accounts. This could be for a breach of discipline [a fine] or damages to Commonwealth property (buildings and boots). 1946 saw fines for ‘boots beyond repair’. The authorities perceived this as a deliberate action to obtain a new pair of boots before repatriation as opposed to genuine ‘wear and tear’.

Umberto Liberto escaped, and the Department of Army had drawn up an invoice for money owed for his army issue clothing and kit. Presumably, if he was not ‘found’ or surrendered, then he would be charged for government property.

  • Accountability while in Australia

Camp Order No. 13 sets the following rules regarding the financial accountability of prisoner of war accounts:

16.–     (1) As soon as practicable after the arrival of a prisoner of war at a prisoners of war camp a cash account shall be opened in his name by the Camp Paymaster in accordance with regulation 13.

            (2) The Camp Paymaster shall be responsible for seeing that each cash account is kept in accordance with a proper system of accountancy and is kept up to date.

            (3) Prisoners of war shall be informed as soon as practicable of the receipt of moneys sent to them and shall be informed from time to time upon request as to the state of their cash accounts.

            (4) A prisoner of war shall be permitted to withdraw from his cash account (several provisos were provided regarding permission and limits)

 How do we verify this?

Financial accountability was integral to the custodial situation for Italian prisoners of war.  The Australian Department of Army held prisoners of war on behalf of the War Office in Britain. Every penny spent or claimed was accounted for. An example is the request for supply of Italian prisoner of war labour to work on army sties.  This expense had to be costed and approved.

(NAA: SP196/1, 19 Part 3)

Another document highlights the income earned from the sale of lettuce which had been produced by Italian prisoners of war at Liverpool Camp.

NAA: SP196/1, 19PART 1

Dr Georges Morel makes note that Italian prisoners of war were able to access a statement of their account.

  • Money held in accounts at time of repatriation

At the time of repatriation, prisoners of war were issued with credit receipts for amounts in cash account. This would have included money relinquished at the time of arrival in Australia as per Property Statement. A copy of the Property Statement for Salvatore Fuino is attached.

(NAA: MP1102/1, PWI48983)

Arrangements were made by the Australian Department of Army to transfer all moneys held on their behalf to the War Office in the United Kingdom.  The War Office in the UK then had the responsibility to transfer these funds. Eventually these funds were transferred to Italian authorities. The Italians then presented their credit receipts.

How do we verify this?

Statement of Account documents for Stefano Lucantoni and Umberto Cofrancesco have survived.  It was not unusual to balances to be zero. Some Italians purchased items from the canteen which they knew to be in short supply in Italy eg boots, clothing material, soap, toothpaste, tinned food.

Statement of Account for Stefano Lucantoni (photo courtesy of Marco Lucantoni)

Property Statement for Umberto Cofrancesco (Umberto’s War
by Pacifico Cofrancesco)

It is assumed that amounts were transferred to Italian prisoners of war when they returned to Italy and/or at some part of their discharge process.

Documentation exists regarding German prisoners of war having not received their money. An investigation was held by United Kingdom authorities.  The issue was finally resolved in 1950.

  • Rate of Exchange from Pounds Sterling to Italian Lire

It appears that this rate was set via negotiations between the UK War Office and the Italian government. 

The only reference found is from Australian War Diary log for a ‘cable’ received from War Office, London dated 15.7.44. “rates of pay converted to Stg. (pounds sterling) at 400 lire equals £1 Stg.; this rate having been officially accepted by Italian Government for general purposes and expenditure, out of date rate of 72 lire equals £1 cannot be permitted.”

Another reference is:

After the Allied invasion of Italy, an exchange rate was set at US$1 = 120 lire (1 British pound = 480 lire) in June 1943, reduced to 100 lire the following month. In German-occupied areas, the exchange rate was set at 1 Reichsmark = 10 lire. After the war, the value of the lira fluctuated, before Italy set a peg of US$1 = 575 lire within the Bretton Woods System in November 1947.

  • Money paid upon arrival in Italy

At the Military Housing Centre in Naples, the POWs were registered and given two months leave together with a payment of 10,000 lire.  Technically, they were still soldiers of the Italian Armed Services.

How do we verify this?

Paolo Santoro wrote to his war time farmer Jim Fullerton in February 1947: “Italian government gave me 10,000 lire not for all my captivity but for 2 months leave in army.”

Post War, high inflation rates, lack of basic necessities and black racketeering devalued the value of ‘money’ the Italian prisoners of war returned home with. 

Some Italians thought ahead. They used the money in their Australian accounts to purchase necessities to take home to Italy. Some farmers also understood the situation. Australians remember their dad sending a suit or shoes to the men once they returned to Italy. One Western Australian farmer wrote to the newspaper explaining the need to send food parcels to their ex-workers

There could never be compensation for loss of personal earnings as a result of war and imprisonment.

What have you done with your beautiful beard?

Guido Motolese was a surgeon serving on the Romolo in 1940. From June 1940 until November 1946, Motolese was interned as a prisoner of war in Australia.

In October 1949, Dr Motolese was now working on the Italian liner Toscana and returned to Australia.

The newspaper article from Age reports the meeting of the former prisoner of war and major from Loveday and Myrtleford POW Camps with the former army captain and paymaster of Loveday Internment Camp.

Mr Gallasch welcomed Dr Motolese with the words, “What have you done with your beautiful beard?”

What have you done with your beautiful beard?

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Gregorio Castigli; Bruno Grazioli; Vittoria (aka Antonio) Vagnini; Crita; Renzo Conti; Vittorio Poggioli. Front row: Lino Gardenghi; Broge; Guido Motolese; Vittorio De Nicola; Alberto Ferrari; Aldo Smeraldi. (AWM Image 030152/03 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Myrtleford Photo Album

Do you recognize your nonno in one of the photos?

My Dreams are Getting Better all the Time

The photos are from the Archives of the International Committee for the Red Cross.

Photos of Myrtleford Camp are also available for viewing at http://www.awm.gov.au

Tasmanian ‘Italian Farming Soldiers’*

There were seven prisoner of war centres in Tasmania including Brighton Prisoner of War Camp. Some of the boundaries for a centre changed as additional centres were established during 1944 to accommodate the increasing numbers of Italian POWs in Tasmania. I have put together a summary of this information.

Brighton Prisoner of War Camp

It was the PARENT Camp for all Italian prisoners of war in Tasmania. One of the Camp Commandants was Major C.R. Hawker. For serious breaches in discipline, a POW would be awarded 28 days detention. He would be transferred from his farm placement and sent to Brighton Camp for detention. Brighton Camp also had a hospital unit.

T1 Prisoner of War Control Centre Burnie

The centre’s office was in Jones Street Burnie and Captain G.D. Pollington was the commanding officer. Burnie farm placements included: Table Cape, Penguin, Leven, Circular Head, Burnie, Kentish, Devenport, Latrobe. An April 1944 report documents that there were 248 Italian POWs placed with 143 farmers. A May 1944 report documents that there were 161 Italian POWs placed with 106 farmers.

T2 Prisoner of War Control Centre Launceston (April 1944 Report)

The T2 Launceston district included: Beaconsfield, Westbury, Deloraine, Longford, Campbell Town, Ross, Evandale, St Leonards, Fingal. An April 1944 report documents that there were 145 Italian POWs placed with 92 farmers.

T2 Prisoner of War Control Centre Scottsdale (June 1944 Report)

The centre’s office was in the Drill Hall Scottsdale and Lieut. G.H. Napier was the commanding officer. Scottsdale farm placements included: Scottsdale, George Town, Lilydale, Ringarooma. A May 1944 report documents 86 Italian POWs placed with 55 farmers.

T3 Prisoner of War Control Centre Hobart (May 1944 Report)

Hobart farm placements included: Esperance, Huon, Cygnet, Kingborough, Glenorchy, New Norfold, Brighton, Clarence, Sorell, Tasman, Spring Bay, Richmond, Green Ponds, Bothwell, Hobart. A May 1944 report documents that there were 146 Italian POWs placed with 84 farmers.

T3 Prisoner of War Control Centre Glenorchy (June 1944 Report)

The centre’s office was in the Drill Hall Glenorchy and Lieut. A. Coulthard was the commanding officer. Glenorchy farm placements included: Hobart, Glenorchy, Richmond, New Norfolk, Kingborough, Sorell, Huon, Brighton, Esperance, Clarence, Tasman, Cygnet, Spring Bay, Green Ponds.

T4 Prisoner of War Control Centre Smithton (June 1944 Report)

The centre’s office was at 2 King Street Smithton with Lieut. E.W.D. Lacy as the commanding officer. Farm placements were at Smithton and Circular Head. A May 1944 report documents that there were 152 Italian POWs placed with 70 farmers.

T5 Prisoner of War Control Centre Deloraine

The centre’s office was at the Drill Hall Deloraine with Lieut. R.K. Lane as commanding officer. In June 1944, the area included Deloraine, Devonport, Kentish, Westbury, St. Leonards, Longford, Latrobe, Evandale, Fingal, Ross, Campbell Town, Beaconsfield. A May 1944 report documents there were 165 Italian POWs placed with 109 farmers.

By Sept 1944, some of these areas became part of T6 Conara.

T6 Prisoner of War Control Centre Conara

The centre is documented as “Conara Camp” and Captain A.A. Thompson was the commanding officer. The areas of St Leonards, Longford, Evandale, Fingal, Ross, Campbell Town became part of T6 with an addition of Oatlands, Bothwell, Green Ponds.

*Alan Fitzgerald coined the phrase “The Italian Farming Soldiers” as a title for his 1981 book about this history. It was the first work undertaken to document the history of Italian prisoners of war in Australia.

Rosary Beads

Rosary beads are one of the most recognised symbols of Catholicism.

Before I received this photo from Rocco Severino De Micheli, I had not thought about rosary beads and prisoners of war. But for a catholic, rosary beads are important.

Graziella from Cormano Lombardia provides her personal perspective, “Rosary is a powerful weapon against evil. It means CROWN OF ROSES and every time you recite a Hail Mary, with a bead, it is like giving a rose to the Virgin Mary. I say this prayer every day and I always have a rosary in my bag and another one under my pillow. When you hold a Rosary in your hand you feel protected; you are under the mantle of the Virgin Mary and whatever happens you are protected.”

from “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995

The apostolic delegate Giovanni Panico is photographed distributing rosary beads to prisoners of war in Gaythorne Camp Queensland*.


a small but significant gesture


Another interesting reference to rosary beads comes from India. Italian prisoners of war in the British camps in India made requests through the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) for sandalwood and carving knives so that they could make rosary beads.
Rosary beads are like prayer beads used in other religions. To pray the rosary is to recite specific prayers corresponding with particular beads on the string.
A rosary is a made up of a crucifix, one larger bead, three small beads, another larger bead and then a medal. After the medal comes a larger bead again, followed by a group of 10 smaller beads.
Rosary beads are a symbol of religion: a souvenir of your home, parish church, your youth; a reminder to pray.


What did rosary beads mean for the Italian prisoners of war?

*If the photo is dated 1942, then the only residents of Gaythorne Camp were internees, Australian resident Italians who were arrested in parts of Queensland and sent to Gaythorne Camp before onward movement to southern camps.
*If the men in the photo are Italian prisoners of war, then the photo would have been taken from October 1943 onwards.

Further Notes

The image below is of a WW 2 Pull Chain Rosary. Another smaller version of the rosary is the rosary circle.

https://vatican.com/2/Rosaries-Wwii-Soldiers/

How much does 14 shillings sixpence buy?

Filippo Ferrante had £-/14/6 (fourteen shillings and sixpence) in his possession when he completed his Property Statement in December 1941.

Filippo had arrived on the Queen Elizabeth in October 1941. He was sent directly to Cowra Camp New South Wales.

Where did he get the money from?

A barber from Pofi (Frosinone) possibly Filippo offered his services to Australia soldiers on the ship returning to Australia.   

Australian currency – Maths Lesson

The currency of Australia was pounds £, shillings s and pence d

£1/10/6 = one pound, ten shillings and six pence.

£1 = 20 shillings

1 shilling = 12 pence

A look at 1943 newspapers

Petal Toilet Soap bar 4d

Singlet 1/11

Sal-Vital tin 2/-

Shaving mirror 1/4½

Sunshine Milk tin 1/4

Coffee Essence 1/10

Macaroni packet 7½d

Tomato sauce large 1/7

Toothpaste 1/1

Biscuits 1/10½

Seed packets 6d

Pastel Drawing Book 3d

Coloured pastels 9d

Exercise book 6d

Memo book 3d

Drawing lead pencils 2d

Plain flour 5 lbs 11d

Ricette (rice substitute) 3 lbs 1/-

Navy Beans 3 lbs 1/-

Plum Jam 24 oz 1/-

Soup mix 1/-

Biscuits doz. 1/3

Cordial 1/6

Newcastle Sun Wednesday 22 December 1948

NB The document for tobacco and cigarettes is from 1948. It is included for a general idea of prices.

Going Shopping £-/14/6

I have chosen items I know the men purchased from the canteen truck. Sal-Vital are effervescent salts to aid in digestion. Add to water, stir and drink. Brillcream is a hair cream. Tally Ho are cigarette papers for rolling your own cigarettes. The prisoners of war could use money in their accounts to purchase items from the camp canteen or the canteen truck which visited the farms. The items on sale were provisioned from army supplies. Some of these items like chocolate, canned peaches, condensed milk were impossible to purchase in shops (at times). Italian prisoners of war buying hard to find items, was a cause for criticism by many Australians. Some Italians purchased these items for the farmer’s wife in exchange for currency. It was prohibited to have currency. Some of the coins were used to make rings as gifts for the girls and women of the farming family.

Sal-vital 2/

Cordial 1/6

Brillcream 1/11

Tally Ho papers doz 3/6

Tobacco Ranch 3/11

Macaroni -/7½

Exercise Book -/6

Pencil -/1

Solvol Soap -/4½

Total: £-/14/5

Warwick Daily News Saturday 13 February 1943