Il calzolaio di Grottaferrata

Somewhere in the vicinity of Sidi el Barrani, Agostino Marazzi abandoned his machine gun at the suggestion of a lieutenant. He was captured by the British on 11th December 1940. He had served with an infantry unit for 17 months.

On 24th March 1940, Agostino was photographed with a friend at Martuba Libya. Martuba was an important Italian airbase but also had numerous staging camps for newly arrived Italian soldiers.

Agostino Marazzi and friend Martuba Libya 24.3.1940 (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Agostino’s next stop was Tobruk which is 150 km south west of Martuba.His son Amedeo recalls that the two photos of his father with a machine gun were taken at Tobruk.

Agostino Marazzi at Tobruk (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Commander-in-Chief of the Italian army, Rodolfo Graziani had advanced Italian troops from the Libyan-Egyptian border to Sidi el Barrani from 13-16th September.  Field Marshal Wavell’s offensive to reclaim Egyptian territory began on 9th December 1940.

Along the fifty-miles-wide battlefield and astride the road leading west lay a fantastic litter of abandoned trucks, guns and tanks, piles of abandoned arms and ammunition, of food stores and clothing, and of the paper which a modern army spends so profusely. It was some days before all the enemy dead had been found and buried. Long columns of dejected prisoners in drab olive-green and khaki streamed eastwards. In the whole battle 38,300 prisoners, 237 guns and 73 tanks were captured . Four generals were taken: Gallina of the Group of Libyan Divisions, Chario of the 1st Libyan Division, Piscatori of the 2nd Libyan, Merzari of the 4th Blackshirt.

12 December 1940 SOME OF LATEST BATCH OF 4000 PRISONERS FROM AREA BETWEEN BARRANI AND Buq Buq. ALL ITALIAN TROOPS WERE WELL-CLOTHED & ARMED & IN GOOD PHYSICAL CONDITION BUT SEEMED IN NO MOOD FOR FIGHTING AFTER THE FIRST FEW HOURS OF THE ENCOUNTER. (PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

The Italian prisoners’ journey begins: Sidi Barrani to Mersa Matruh to Alexandria. Some were taken to Palestine while others were taken to camps along the Bitter Lakes/Suez area.

Agostino Marazzi boards the Queen Mary bound for Sydney Australia. The ship leaves Suez on 7th May and arrives at Trinomalee (Ceylon) 14th May. She departs Trinomalee on 15th May and arrives in Fremantle Australia 21st May.  Queen Mary departs Fremantle on 21st May and arrives in Sydney on 25th May 1941

The Queen Mary had been in service as a troopship since May 1940 after she had been fitted out to accommodate 5000 troops. Towards the end of the war, Queen Mary was carrying 15,000 American troops in a voyage.

Amedeo Marazzi remembers his father’s story about the Queen Mary: “The Queen Mary was the largest ship in the world at the time and had 3 swimming pools, a theatre and a cinema. My father said that when they passed the equator at night, it was so hot some men jumped into the water of the pools for relief but the temperature in the pool was worse in than out.”

The Australian army identity photo was taken on 4th November 19411. Amedeo reflects, “To see the young face of my father was a unique wonderful emotion.”

Marazzi, Agostino NAA: A367, C85443

Agostino’s brother sent him a picture postcard of his mother, Celeste Vinciguerra, on 16th December 1942.  Mention is made of Sergio Galazzi, a radio mechanic from Rome. 

Sergio had arrived at Hay Camp 26th March 1942.  News must have reached the Marazzi and Galazzi families that Agostino and Sergio were now in the same camp.

Ecco la foto di mamma che tanto desideri. L’abbiamo fatta in questi giorni. Ti saluta e ti bacia. Tanti saluti dalla mamma di Galazzi Sergio. Tanti saluti da noi.

Elide Arturo

Celeste Vinciguerra (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Amedeo reminisces, “My father and his friends once they arrived in Australia  realized that this was a wonderful place. He settled immediately and became a labourer on a farm. He would talk about breakfast where he could have coffee or milk, honey, fruit, bread, butter and jam.  He has never felt like a prisoner of war.”

My father had good memories of Australia. He always told us that if he won the lottery, he would take us all on a holiday to Australia,” reflects Amedeo.

Carnivale 1950s Adele, Rossella, Amedeo, Agostino (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Recently Amedeo obtained a copy of his father’s extra Australian file. 

Little details emerge from this file: Agostino was captured at Buq Buq, west of Sidi Barrani; while in Hay Camp he worked as a bootmaker; in Hay Camp he was awarded 24 hours detention for possession of a prohibited article but this was not officially recorded.

Other documents record that he worked on the farm of Mr LE Peacock at Oakbank together with Sebastiano Aiello.

Upon return to Italy, life returned quickly to a familiar routine surrounded by family.

Adele and Agostino Marazzi (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

On their way…

In preparation for war, Italian conscripts and career soldiers were transferred from Italy to Italian colonies in Africa.

From Perugia, Tullio Brutti was sent from Italy to a staging camp at Matuba [Martuba] Libya.  Matuba had the largest airfields in Libya so was strategically important. While there is no date on Tullio’s photo below and the Italian port from where he departed is unknown, the photo is a reminder of pre WW2 and Mussolini’s efforts to send Italian troops to Libya  in preparation for hostilities.

A rare photo; the men look apprehensive, deep in thought, eager, hopeful, anxious. Some wave to the camera man while others enjoy a cigarette.  Heads filled with Mussolini’s words: “Believe, obey, fight.”

Going to the ship

On the way to Libya

(photo courtesy of Sonia Brutti)

Tullio was in Martuba in 1939. By 3rd January 1941, Tullio was in Bardia;  269 km to the east of Martuba. The war ended for Tullio in Bardia where he was captured 3.1.41.

Bardia fell to the Allies on 5th January 1941 and by 14th January 1941 aerodromes at Derna, Martuba, Tmini and Gazala had been cleared of Italian planes.

Arriving in Australia 22.2.44, Tullio’s journey took him to a farm in Western Australia in the Wagin district (W6 Wagin).

Young men full of hope and dreams..

By the time Filippo Granatelli arrived in Australia in February 1945, he had already served 6 years in the Italian army, had been captured in Asmara  Eritrea on 6th May 1941 and spent close to 4 years in POW camps in India.

Granatelli Asmara 28 December 1939 lower left - Copy

Filippo (standing front row left and friends) December 28 1939

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

On  20.2.45, an Australian War Diary communicates, “350 Italians to SA for onward movement to WA.”  The date is significant: it was Filippo’s 30th birthday.  He had arrived in Melbourne on 13.2.45. This was his first birthday in Australia.

The die is cast,  Filippo Granatelli is to travel from Melbourne Victoria to Western Australia via South Australia. He was one of 155 Italian prisoners of war who arrived in Western Australia on 24.2.45.

In Western Australia he is sent to the Karrakatta Hostel, the Bunbury Hostel (State Forestry  firewood cutting and Department of Agriculture, hay harvesting, potato digging) before working on a farm in the Moora district (W25).

Movement Orders for PWIX GWM 20.2.45

from AWM52 1/1/14 Headquarters Units January to April 1945

 

But what of the young men like Filippo who fought Mussolini’s war in Eritrea?

Filippo kept a small number of photos from this time which gives us an insight into these young men and a very special thank you to his son Veniero for sharing these photos.

Granatelli right in helmet - Copy

Filippo Granatelli seated right 

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

Granatelli Dicembre 1939 first on right - Copy

Asmara December 1939 Filippo Granatelli seated right 

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

 

Young men enjoying their adventure

1st photo: Filippo right and 2nd photo Filippo standing Cappadocia July 1937

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

Cappadocia was one of the training camps for Filippo during his compulsory military service.  The above photo and the certificate below, reminders of  22 year old Filippo’s youth.

War and imprisonment were to shape many young men’s futures.

Cappadocia 1937

Diploma for Filippo Granatelli 4.8.37 Cappadocia

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

 

Watch this film on Eritrea : Eritrea’s Last Stand

 

In the beginning…

When and where did the life of a soldier begin for Jormen Salami?

Roma 28.3.40

Jormen Salami and friends Roma 28.3.40

(photo courtesy of the family of Jormen Salami)

A baker from Sustinente Mantua, Jormen sent the about photo home to his parents with the words: “Your son remembers you, together with his friends, in the first days of military service”

Craig Douglas from Regio Esercito History Group adds a little more detail for this photo:
The soldier centre in uniform is from one of the elite grenatieri-grenadier regiments.” 
The photo is remarkable.  This is the beginning of Jormen’s journey which will take him from the safety of his village to Rome for training, then dispatch to Addis Ababa Ethiopia before facing fierce fighting at Uolchefit Ethiopia.

Addis Abeba 1940

Addis Abeba Abyssinia 1940

(photo courtesy of the family of Jormen Salami)

Italian troops at Uolchefit (Wolchefit) protected the route to Gondar garrison, the last remaining outpost flying the Italian flag. Troop numbers at Uolchefit had totalled 4000 soldiers of which 1000 were colonial soldiers. At the time of surrender there were 1,631 Italian and 1,300 colonial soldiers.

Besieged since April 1941 and with more than a month completely cut off, Uolchefit ceased resistance at the end of September 1941: “The Rome communique stated, “The heroic garrison at Wolchefit, which has been closely besieged since April 15 and has received no food supplies for some days, was ordered to cease hostilities on Friday [26.9.41]’.” 1941 ‘WOLCHEFIT CEASES RESISTANCE’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 29 September, p. 8. , viewed 20 Jun 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17749704

Jormen Salami was captured 28.9.41.

The Barley Pit of Wolchefit describes the situation of the siege as told by Raffaele Talarico another of the Italian soldiers at Wolchefit.

Gondar_sector,_East_African_Campaign

By I.S.O. Playfair – Chapter 16, Playfair, I.S.O. (1956). The Mediterranean and Middle East: “The Germans come to the Help of their Ally” (1941). HISTORY OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR. II. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54678658

Wolchefit

1941 ‘Surrender of Wolchefit’, Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1954), 8 October, p. 3. , viewed 20 Jun 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article95138148

 

When did it start?

10th June 1940 was the official Italian declaration of war.

But for some Italians, the battles started in Eritrea and Ethiopia (1935), Spain (1936), Albania (1939).

For other recruits, it started with training before 1940.

From 10th June 1940, the Mediterranean Sea was a battlefield for the navy and the airforce; on 3rd August 1940 British Somaliland was taken, by 13th September 1940 the Italian forces had arrived at Sidi Barrani on the Libyan-Egyptian border and on 28th October 1940 the invasion of Greece began.

Benghazi… Tripoli… Bardia… Tobruk…Derna…Martuba…Acroma…Barca… Jarabub… desert forts…oases strongholds…

A special thank you to the families of these men for sharing the following photos: Antioco Pinna, Annibale Arangeli, Fioravante Blasioli, Tullio Brutti, Marino Casadio, Emidio Di Benedictis, Filippo Granatelli and Sebastiano di Campli

When and where did the war begin for your father?

For Biagio di Ferdinando life as a soldier started March 1938 when he was called up for military service. The following extract is from his book Odyssey

I was called up for military service during the month of February 1938. The postcard came from the military district of Teramo asking to present myself for military service. I left home the morning of 5 March 1938.  I farewelled my family and left together with a friend of the same age.  We arrived at the military barracks in good time. After a little while and a medical check up I was assigned to the 116th infantry regiment based in Chieti, a town inland from Pescara and south of my hometown. 

All the recruits from the district of Chieti of my class were assigned to the 116th infantry regiment in Libya.  The following days they gave us the green-gray uniforms.  Before that time the Italian soldiers in Africa wore the khaki colonial uniforms. 

… I wrote a letter to my family to let them know that I was assigned to the infantry in Tobruck, Libya.

We left Chieti on 13 March 1938.  We took the train to Naples and when we arrived we went to the harbour where we embarked on a ship that would carry us to Libya.

When the ship departed and we heard the siren it was a blow to the heart.. Nearly all us recruits had tears to our eyes, for the first time away from home and going so far away.  During the trip the sea was very rough and nearly all suffered sea sickness. 

When the ship arrived at Derna on 17 March 1938 it anchored far away from the land because there was no port.  Several boats came to take us to shore.  That morning the sea was very rough and the waves were breaking over the ship and as a result they could not use the ladders in order to board the boats. To disembark they put us in the nets used to unload goods, lifted us with the crane and lowered us into the boats, when over the boat we had to wait for the waves and the boat to be level in order to jump from the net into the boat. In the boats, to help us exit from the bag, were some Arabs. We approached them with fear, in the way they were dressed with those turbans on their head.   

In every net that came down were ten soldiers. When the net was lowered we had to wait in order to jump into the boat, had to be quick to get out of the bag to avoid falling into the sea.  In fact while the net was being withdrawn one soldier was nearly thrown overboard because one leg was caught in it….

Before leaving for Tobruck we stayed for the evening in the barracks of the 115th infantry in Derna.  We slept in bunk beds…

On 18 March 1938 we left Derna for Tobruck, one column of approximately 170 trucks. There were 170km from Derna to Tobruck and we arrived on 19 March 1938. The barracks in which we were billetted were brand new.  We, the new regiment of the 116 Marmarica infantry, were the first to wear the grey green uniform in Tobruck. I was allocated to the second company.  My serial number was:  8404… 

In Tobruck, and in all of Libya, blows a wind called ‘ghibli’, very hot and the sand is driven like a fog…and the flies were as thick as bees, like large swarms. 

 Drinking water was carried by tanker from Taranto in the south of Italy. The water that we had in Tobruck was not suitable to drink because it was salty.  With that water we only washed the clothes. 

In the first few months we were training every day.  We were the soldiers of the King and because we were the first gray-green uniforms in the Italian colonies, after a few months the King, Victor Emmanuel III, came to inaugurate all the new barracks in which we lived.  Our Colonel of the 116th Regiment Marmarica infantry presented all of us soldiers in the great square, with one beautiful new road around the barracks. 

The King arrived in an open carriage with General Balbo, the commander of all the Italian troops in Libya.  Behind the General was the King, he was small with a large helmet as protection from the sun, he remained seated and we could hardly see him. We filed past [marching] with the Roman step.  The King drove around the barracks and left.

Biagio returned home on leave four times. On the 1st June 1940 Biago returned to Libya.

He served at Sidi Barrani and Sollum, withdrew to Bardia on foot, was deployed inland to Jarabub and was captured 3rd January 1941 at Bardia.

On Christmas day 1940 for lunch they gave us about eight bucatini, strands of spaghetti, cooked with water.  In those last days of 1940 we were very badly situated.  We were full of fleas, unwashed and had almost nothing to eat.

Giovanni Palermo’s journey can be found in Noi Prigionieri Africa 1941-1947

Benghazi, Derna and Giarabub in Libya

The Footprints Project

Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War Project is a community project supported by Australians in six states and Italian families in sixteen countries.**

Did you know?

The website operates as a ‘virtual’ museum and library.

Over 300 articles have been written for the website.

The website has a wide reaching readership to over 120 countries!

What makes this research unique and diverse?

Perspective.

Contributions have come from far and wide:  farmers, farmers’ wives, farming children, the town kids, families of Australian Army interpreters, children of Italians who were prisoners of war, Italians who were prisoners of war, the local nurse, the mother of an ex-POW, government policy and reports.

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What does the research encompass?

Website: italianprisonersofwar.com

Facebook Page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia

Music Book: Notations for songs and dance music by Ciccio Cipolla.

Farm Diary: daily notations regarding farm life during war time including information on Italian POWs and Land Army Girls.

Feature article in Corriere della Sera [Italy] in March 2021.

Memories in Concrete: Giuseppe Miraglia from Enna Sicily and Adriano Zagonara from Bagnara di Romagna Ravenna.

Donations to the Australian War Memorial of two artefacts made by Gympie Italian prisoners of war

Two publications: Walking in their Boots and Costanzo Melino: Son of Anzano (in collaboration with Rosa Melino)

Journey of two Italian families from Italy to visit Queensland and ‘walk in the footsteps of their fathers’: Q1 Stanthorpe and Q6 Home Hill

POW Kit Bags: Adriano Zagonara and Sebastiano Di Campli

The Colour Magenta: The Australian prisoner of war uniform for Italians, Japanese and Germans.

Handbooks: L’Amico del Prigioniero, Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War, Piccolo Guido per gli Italiani in Australia

Voices from the Pasttestimonials from Italian soldiers who worked on  farms.

Letters written by Italian prisoners of war to family in Italy, to their Queensland farmers and to the children of farmers, written by mother of an Italian POW to a Queensland nurse, written by the Italians to their interpreter, Queensland farmer to Italian, letters written between Italian POW places in different states.

Photographs of Italian soldiers in full dress uniform, Italian soldiers in Italian and Libya during training, Italians as POWs with their farming families, Italians on their Wedding Day and with their families, Italians in POW camps in India.

Handmade items: embroideries, wooden objects, cellophane belt, silver rings, paintings, cane baskets, metal items, chess sets, art work, theatre programs.

Contributions by twelve Italian families whose fathers and family returned to Australia as ‘new Australians’.

Identification of buildings used as prisoner of war accommodation.

Publication of three guides for Italian families to assist in their search for information about their fathers and grandfathers.

Collaboration with numerous Italian and Australian families; local museums and family history associations; journalists; translators; collectors of historic postal items; local libraries.

Discussion about our Queensland research at conference in Catania Sicily May 2019 on prisoner of war experiences .

My Wish List

In the beginning:

I had one wish, to find one Queensland family who remembered the Italians working and living on their farm. Thank you Althea Kleidon, you were the beginning with your photos and memories of Tony and Jimmy.

My adjusted wish list, to find three photographs of Italian POWs on Queensland farms. Then came Rosemary Watt and Pam Phillips with their collection of photos, a signature in concrete and a gift worked in metal.

….

Now:

To have the three Finding Nonno guides translated into Italian.

If I win Gold Lotto, to have Walking in their Boots translated into Italian or an upgrade to the website.

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**What does the future hold

Currently there are three Italian based projects in progress which will further enhance and promote this research.

After six years of research, over 300 website articles, two publications, thousands of emails, visits, interviews, cataloguing etc …

I plan to go at a slightly slower pace.  I will continue to work offline and in the background answering questions, assisting families and adding to this historical collection.

Background

What started out as a personal journey to read about the Italian POW Camp outside of Home Hill has resulted in a comprehensive, diverse and rich collection of stories, letters, photographs, testimonies, artefacts, music, newspaper articles spanning over 80 years: the battles in the Mediterranean and in Libya 1940 to the present.

Over the past six years, I have heard these words many times over, “but you have it wrong, there were no Italian prisoners of war in Queensland”.

And this became a focal point for the research: to record this chapter in Queensland’s history before it was completely forgotten.

But like ripples in a pond,  Queensland’s history of Italian POWs expanded across and was part of a greater history and so the project extended and expanded: to other Australia states and to Italian families in sixteen countries around the world.

Join the journey and follow the footprints of the Italian prisoners of war.

Contented prisoner of war returns

by Joanne Ciaglia

Angelo Marino Macolino was born in San Lupo on 31/3/1912 to Antonio Macolino and Filomena Cesare.  Angelo Marino worked on his family’s farm in San Lupo and did quite well on the land.  On 24/10/1935 he married Marietta Vaccarella in San Lupo.  Marietta was the youngest of five children and the only girl.

All her brothers went to America very young and they sent the family packages of clothes and money.  This would have made life a lot easier for the family in San Lupo.

Angelo Marino and Marietta had a daughter, Filomena Macolino, who was named after her paternal grandmother and was born in 1938.

Postcard sent to Marietta and Filomena when Angelo Marino was in training (photo courtesy of Macolino family)

Angelo Marino then went into WW2 fighting for Italy. While in the army he played a trombone.  He loved his music and dancing, although years later, Angelo Marino didn’t have time to go dancing as he was too busy working.

Angelo Marino Macolino with his trombone (photo courtesy of Macolino family)

Angelo Marino spent the first eight months fighting in Tobruk, Libya and then went to Bardia, Libya.  On 3/1/1941, during the Battle of Bardia, he was captured after hiding for three days in a fox hole.  He was sent from Libya to Sydney on the Queen Mary on 27/5/1941.

While in Australia Angelo Marino worked at Cook which was the No 3 Labour Detachment on the Trans-Australia Railway Line SA and WA.  He then returned to Hay POW camp in NSW. 

On 23/11/943 he left Hay by train and travelled to South Australia. He was allocated to farm work in four farming districts: Mount Barker 23/11/43, Mt Pleasant 14/4/44, Murray Bridge 18/7/44 and Clare 22/2/45.  Angelo Marino had one breach of discipline registered on his record card. While at his Murray Bridge farm, he left his place of employment without permission and was awarded 15 days detention. 

On 7/11/1946 Angelo Marino boarded the Strathmore for repatriation to Italy.  He arrived in Naples 6/12/46. Angelo Marino had spent five and a half years in Australia as a POW. 

During those years, Marietta had been left on her own with her three year old daughter.  She had to take over all the household duties and work the farm.  She lived in fear of the war and San Lupo was invaded by the Americans.  The American’s dropped a bomb near where she lived and her house was raided.  Food and clothes were scarce. 

After Angelo Marino came back to San Lupo, he and Marietta had Uliano born 1948, Tiziana born 1952, Lucia born 1955 and then he emigrated to South Australia with his family.  He thought so much of South Australia from his time spent there as a POW.  They went on to have one more child in Adelaide, Eduardo born in 1959. 

When his children were old enough, he asked them to help him find all the farms he had worked at while a POW.  He wanted to track them down to find the owners as they had been so good to him.  When they went to Murray Bridge and Gumeracha, they remembered him! Angelo Marino assisted his granddaughter Sandra with a school project and recounted his memories of his time as a soldier and prisoner of war. His memory was remarkably accurate when compared with his Australia prisoner of war card.

Sandra Mancini’s School Project: Grandpa’s Story (photo courtesy of Macolino family)

After arriving in Australia he got a job at British Tube Mills in Kilburn, Adelaide.  He was a storeman.  They were the only Australian factory making precision steel tubing for products such as hypodermic needles, milking machines, locomotives, golf clubs, vacuum cleaner pipes and bicycles.  He did shift work, working day shift for one week and night shift for the following week.  He loved his job and his nickname at work was Frederick.  He stayed there until he retired at the age of 65. 

Angelo Marino loved to dress like a gentleman all the time.  There was never a day that he never wore a necktie, regardless of the heat.  He even did the gardening well dressed.  He liked his children to dress well and he used to go clothes shopping with Marietta and would pick out amazing dresses for her to wear.  He loved fashion like all Italians do.  He also loved studying the world globe and would show his children where he had been.

Angelo Marino, Marietta and Tiziana (photo courtesy of Macolino family)

Angelo Marino sponsored paisani and friends from San Lupo to come over to Adelaide and they would spend a lot of time together.  They would live with Angelo Marino and Marietta until they found work.  His siblings also moved to Adelaide.

A year after arriving in Adelaide, Angelo Marino built a new house, with the help of tradies.  Angelo Marino had a huge garden out the back.  He grew grapes and tomatoes, amongst other fruit and vegetables, and used this to make wine and sauce every year.  His daughter Filomena still makes wine and sauce and his daughter Tiziana, still continues the tradition of making sauce with her children.

Angelo Marino died in Adelaide on 6/10/2002 and Marietta died on 26/10/2013.

Captured at Uolchefit

by Joanne Ciaglia

Giuseppe Guerrera was born on 15/3/1909 in San Lupo to Nicola Guerrera and Antonia Guerrera.  He became a farmer in San Lupo.  The Guerrera clan had land high in the hills overlooking San Lupo.  He had an arranged marriage and married Antonia Guerrera from Pontelandolfo.  Antonia died at the age of 24 without having had any children.  Giuseppe met and married Carmela Marra on 19/11/1935 in San Lupo.  Carmela was from Cervinara, Avellino.  Her father used to make charcoal and the family moved around quite a lot.  There was total objection to the marriage between Giuseppe and Carmela.  Carmela was not from San Lupo, moved around with her father’s work and the family were considered peasants!  They had their first daughter Angelina in 1936. 

Giuseppe Guerrera (photo courtesy of Joanne Ciaglia)

Giuseppe went into WW2 fighting for Italy and was sent to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.  Giuseppe was then sent to Uolchefit (Wolchefit) in Ethiopia where there were 4,000 Italian soldiers.  The soldiers were there to protect the route to Gondar garrison, the last remaining outpost flying the Italian flag.  Giuseppe was captured on 28/9/1941 and sent to India as a POW. He stayed in India until 9/5/1944 where he was sent to Australia and interned in the POW camp Cowra in NSW.  When he arrived in Australia he had 2,500 Lire.  On 9/6/1944 he was awarded 21 days detention for offence against good order and discipline and on 11/1/1945 he was awarded 168 hrs detention for refusing to work.  The war ended in September 1945.  On 13/11/1945 Giuseppe was marched from Cowra to Liverpool and on 23/12/1946 he was repatriated back to Italy.  There is a Cowra Italy Friendship Monument in Cowra which serves to celebrate the involvement of the Italians in the evolution of Cowra’s rich cultural environment.  It also commemorates the Italians who, during WW2, served on the side of the Allies, the Italian POW’s lodged at the Cowra POW Camp and Italian and Australian service personnel who lost their lives for their country. 

When Giuseppe returned back to San Lupo, he did not know that his wife gave birth to a second daughter, Nicolina who was born in 1939.  He had left to go to war without knowing that Carmela was pregnant.  When he came back to San Lupo, Nicolina was 7 years old.

Even though he was a prisoner here, he was so impressed with how he was treated in Australia, that he wanted to return.  Giuseppe’s brother, Donato Guerrera was already in Sydney and in April 1951 he sponsored his brother Giuseppe to come to Sydney to live.  Giuseppe arrived in Fremantle in November 1952 on the ship Ravello and then went on to Sydney.  Donato also got Giuseppe a job at Sugar Cartage Ltd in Saunders Lane, Pyrmont as a labourer.  His eldest daughter, Angelina came out by herself in 1954.  Carmela became friendly with a family at the port of Napoli who were also leaving for Australia.  She asked if they could look after her 18 year old daughter during the trip.  They did until they embarked in Melbourne and Angelina went on to Sydney.  A year later both his wife Carmela and his youngest daughter Nicolina followed.  To save pennies for the long trip to bring his wife and youngest daughter, he survived on milk and Sao biscuits.  I think this was common among men saving to bring their wife and children out.

Giuseppe also worked at a wool factory where he got his hand caught in a machine.  His hand was never the same again.  Still somehow, with an injury, he was also a kitchen hand at the Chevron-Hilton Hotel in Kings Cross.  This was Sydney’s first major hotel in the international style.  After working there, due to his hand injury, he could only help out at hospitals delivering food to the wards.  The family would joke that Nonno was claustrophobic and that he would put the food trolley in the elevator and send it to the above ward.  He then ran up the stairs, sometimes beating the elevator.

Carmela Marra and Giuseppe Guerrera (photo courtesy of Joanne Ciaglia)

Giuseppe lived through tough times.  His first wife died and later he went to war in Ethiopia and then became a prisoner of war for 5 years, the first 3 years in India and the last 2 in Australia.  He left his home town in San Lupo and came to Sydney to live.  He injured his hand in a workplace accident.  This would have made life very hard for him, but he still managed to find work.  Giuseppe died in Sydney on 12/8/1992.

The Barley Pit of Wolchefit:  the siege as told by Raffaele Talarico another of the Italian soldiers at Wolchefit/Uolchefit.

Cowra Chess Set

Artefacts made by Italian Prisoners of War are rare. While there are many memories of the gifts made by the POWs such as rings, engravings and wooden objects, there are few items still in existence.

So an email from David Stahel in Brisbane was very exciting. David owns a boxed chess set made by Italian POWs in Cowra.  It is not only beautiful but it is special because of the story behind the board.

Cowra Chess (1).jpeg

Badge on Chess Set

( from the photographic collection of David Stahel)

The Italian prisoners of war were making chess sets in 1944, when Geoffrey McInnes captured them on film.  And quite possibly David’s chess set was one such set made by the Italian POWs. The photo below shows five Italian POWs working on a lathe built from salvaged timber and metal to produce chess pieces. The sets were sold for 35/- to Army Amenities Section.

Cowra Chess AWM 4134226

(AWM Image 064356 Photo by McInnes, Geoffrey Cowra, NSW. 1944-02-07)

David’s chess sets adds detail to the history of the chess sets being made by Italian POWs at Cowra.  “My father had a chess board that he told me he bought from an Italian POW for some packs of cigarettes.  I grew up with this board and learnt to play draught and chess on it with my father… the painted watercolour scene (unsigned) is very reminiscent of the Italian countryside.  The workmanship of the board and pieces are of a very high standard. Inside is quilted with a satin like fabric. Pawns, rooks, bishops, kings, queens, draught have been turned on a lathe which the knights are carved from a turned base… My father was a lieutenant in the artillery, specifically in the anti aircraft arena,” writes David Stahel.

Boxed Chess Set

( from the photographic collection of David Stahel)

The concept of Italian POWs selling boxed chess sets for 35/- raises a few questions.  POWs were not allowed to have in their possession Australian currency, so what happened to the proceeds of sales.  Quite possibly funds were deposited into the canteen fund.  Profits from the canteen were used by POWs to purchase books for the camp library. Prisoners of war were allowed access to books and music to further their studies and libraries were established in camps. Additionally, access to books and music was a way for POWs to usefully occupy their leisure time.

Tobruk (Libia) 21 gennaio 1941 Part 3

Feature photo above:

Above Featured Photo: Gianni Senici Durante il servizio militare in Libia (1936-1938) Lui è quello coi calzoni bianchi. Era addetto alla mensa ufficiali (photo courtesy of Fabrizio Senici)

Below is an extract from the book P.O.W. No. 48664 Prisoner of War written by Fabrizio Senici. Disponible su / Available on: AMAZON  and IBS LIBRI

Part 3…

Guerre1939-1945. Prisonniers de guerre italiens conduits à Tobrouk par une escorte anglaise. War 1939-1945. Italians prisonners of war conducted to Tobrouk by British escort. Les prisonniers secouent des mouchoirs blancs. L’escorte anglaise préfère marcher à reculons afin de mieux surveiller les prisonniers.

Usciamo in fila indiana con le mani sopra la testa e gli occhi accecati dal sole.

Tengo lo sguardo basso e ancora una volta mi viene da ghignare per quei miei calzoni bianchi che abbagliano nel sole di mezzogiorno.

Non facciamo che pochi passi. Di fronte ci troviamo i fucili automatici dei soldati australiani. Tengo bassa la testa, ma alzo lo sguardo per vedere che cosa succede. Il sergente si fa avanti per primo tenendo le mani bene alzate sopra la testa e dichiara la volontà di arrendersi. Parla in italiano, ma lo capiscono ugualmente, come lui capisce i gesti che gli fa il suo parigrado. Il sottufficiale australiano tiene il suo fucile ad altezza d’uomo e con quello indica la via.

Il sergente si incammina per primo e ci parla a bassa voce: «State calmi e non fate monate» ma un colpo nel costato gli fa capire che deve stare zitto. Per un piccoletto tutto scuro di carnagione le parole del sergente non servono: esce dalla fila e inizia a scappare. Ci giriamo tutti giusto in tempo per vedere un australiano che prende la mira e lo centra in testa. Credo che morirò anch’io. Anzi ne sono sicuro. Mi vengono in mente le parole del colonnello: “Pensa a portare a casa la pelle, giovanotto, che qui siamo tutti come morti che camminano” e in effetti sembriamo una fila di morti viventi.

Ci spingono con le canne dei fucili verso un primo concentramento, in uno slargo dove mi rendo conto che siamo migliaia. Non ho mai visto tanta gente insieme così sporca e cenciosa, stremata, e soprattutto triste. Intorno a me ci sono feriti leggeri e gravi. Tutti abbiamo lo sguardo perso nel niente, incapaci di reazione. Ma quello che mi fa ancora più paura è non capire una parola di quello che dicono. Gli australiani non parlano, non ordinano. Urlano.

Mi metto in coda al sergente e dietro di me si mette il bresciano. «Come ti chiami?» riesco a dirgli a quello dietro, e poi ancora: «Sèt de Brésa?».[sei di Brescia?]

«Mi chiamo Rossetti Angelo» mi risponde lui «bresciano di Castelmella».

Mi vien da piangere dalla gioia. Poi tiro la giacca al sergente: «Sergente, come vi chiamate?» gli do del voi per rispetto al grado. Lui si gira appena un po’: «Bortolotti Luigi* e sono friulano, e tu?».

«Senici Giovanni della sessantasettesima, ma voi mi potete chiamare Gianni».

Allora anche lui mi dice: «E tu chiamami Luigi e smettila di darmi del voi. Da adesso in poi siamo tutti uguali».

23rd January 1941 TOBRUK – ITALIAN PRISONERS LEAVING THE TOWN ON FOOT. (AWM Image 005604 NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

*Fabrizio uses the name of Luigi Bortolotti as he also was captured at Tobruk 21 January 1941. Fabrizio would like to think that Luigi and Giovanni’s paths crossed during the chaos of Tobruk. Click below to read the experiences of Luigi Bortolotti: From Tobruk to Clare.