Going for a Walk

On the 7th September 1946, at approximately 2200 hours, sixteen Italian officers from Myrtleford Prisoner of War Camp escaped.

The escape was executed by cutting away part of the wire encirclement. 

Two years before, two planned escapes were foiled.  On 22nd September 1944, Rolando Secondo and Allesandro Palamidessi were found ‘fully dressed’ after lights out. Then on the 28th September 1944, Cesare Scoccia and Laerte Crivellini were also found ‘fully dresses’ after lights out.

The Argus newspaper reported the 1946 escape on Monday 9th September 1946:

“Most of the escapees are typically Italian in appearance. Vicchi, however, is an exception. Aged 34, he is 5ft 9in weights 10st 7lb and has red hair. Gualtieri should be easily noticed among a crowd, as he stands 6ft 5 in in his socks and is of slim build. The manner of dress is not known. Some of the men may be wearing burgundy prison clothes; others are believed to be wearing sports clothes or uniform.  Only one of the escapees speaks good English. He is Walter Sabiano [Fabiano], who stands 6ft and has blue eyes and fair hair.” (1946 ‘SIXTEEN ITALIANS ESCAPE AT WHOROULY’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 9 September, p. 20. , viewed 26 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22331454)

The reason for the 1946 escape was that the Italian officers were ‘going for a walk’. The authorities were concerned that the men might be heading for the Victoria/NSW border and military and civil police joined in the search for the men.

Walter Fabiano and Giuseppe Zappia were found 78 km from Myrtleford at Tallangatta on the 9th September 1946. They said that they had walked the entire distance.

Vinicio Sigon, Giovanni Vicchi, Alberto Vissani and Eriodante Domizioli were ‘captured’ at Buffalo Creek 16 km from camp on 11th September 1946.

Scipione Bobbio and Rolando Secondo were located at Moyhu 40km away from camp on the 11th September 1946.

Giovanni Battaglia, Gualtiero Gualtieri, Salvatore Scaffidi and Bonaventura Matera were located on the 11th September 1946 at Bobinawarrah, 28 kms from camp.

The last four Italians were captured at Wodonga, 65 km from camp: Cesare Soccia, Giorgio Cerio, Laerte Crivellini and Allessandro Palamidessi.

Six of the Italian officers who escaped on 7.9.46 are in the photo below.

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Gualtiero Gualtieri; Ortali; Giunta; Laerte Crivellini; Cesare Scoccia; Allessandro Palimedessi; Mercurio.                        Front row: Giovanni Vicchi; De Gianni; E. Zingone; Benso; Eriodante Domizioli.        (AWM Image 030153/06 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

The men represented the navy, army and airforce and had varied backgrounds:

AIRFORCE

Lieutenant Eriodante Domizioli a student from Macerata; captured 14.9.41 Marmarica and served with the airforce.

Lieutenant Laerte Crivellini a pilot officer from Senigallia Ancoma; captured 14.9.41 South Sollum.

2nd Lieutenant Alessandra Palamidessi a student from Pisa; captured 14.9.41 Sidi Omar and served with the airforce.

NAVY

Lieutenant Giorgio Cerio an engineer from La Maddalena; captured 25.6.41 Beach North Libya.

ARMY

2nd Lieutenant Vinicio Sigon an army officer with the Alpine Troops from Gorizia; captured 30.12.40 Neviza Greece.

2nd Lieutenant Giovanni Vicchi a lawyer from Faenza; captured 20.1.41 Kala Albania.

2nd Lieutenant Alberto Vissani an accountant (attorney) from Macerata; captured 22.1.46 Hani Balaban Greece.

2nd Lieutenant Giuseppe Zappia an electrician from Lecce; captured 11.3.41 Albania

2nd Lieutenant Cesare Scoccia a doctor from Fornova Taro Parma; captured 4.3.41 Klisura Albania.

2nd Lieutenant Giovanni Battaglia a teacher from Palermo; captured 11.12.40 Buq Buq.

2nd Lieutenant Salvatore Scaffidi an agricultural expert/student from Reggio Campi Rione Reggio Calabria, captured 21.1.41 Tobruk.

2nd Lieutenant Rolando Secondo an expert electrician from Catania; captured 21.1.41 Tobruk.

2nd Lieutenant Walter Fabiano an accountancy student from Genova; captured 22.4.41 Dintorni Tobruk serving as a Bersalieri sniper.

2nd Lieutenant Scipione Bobbio a student from Napoli; captured 16.5.41 Tobruk.

2nd Lieutenant Gualtiero Gualtieri a chemist from Firenze; captured 6.2.41 Agedabia.

2nd Lieutenant Bonaventura Matera a student, clerk from Napoli; captured 7.2.41 Agedabia.

Going for a walk unescorted

Interestingly, is part of a document relating to Compound B No. 5 PW Camp Myrtleford.

It is specifically an agreement form between Italian officers and their Camp Commandant which outlines the rules for freedom of movement without an escort, outside of the camp.

B Compound  No 5 PW Camp Myrtleford

Dichiaro che il comandante il mio camp d’internamento mi ha spiegato che, suboratamente al suo consenso, potro avere liberta di movimento, dietro parola d’onore, durante le ora stabilita dal Comandante, sia per uscire ed entrare il mio camp, sia per passegiate, senza scorta, entro la distanza di miglia 3 da tale campo d’internamento.

Prometto e m’impegno sul mio onore di ufficiale che, fino alla revoca dei summenzionati privilegi da parte del Commandante il Campo, oppure fino a specifica revoca di questa promessa ed impegno da parte mia. (Nel ultimo caso, sette (7) giorni prima della data della revoca, prometto che avvertiro per iscritto al Comandante del Campo della mia intenzione di revocare l’impregno)

  • Non tentero di fuggire o di prepare una fuga per me or per qualsiasi altre persone,
  •  non faro acquisti tranne presso lo spaccio del mio camp d’internamente e non ricevero ne daro qualsiasi articolo ad alcuno
  • Non entrero ne mi avvicinero a qualsiasi zona militare o stabilimento della forza armate, locale di divertimento fuori del mio campo d’internamento, osteria edificio pubblico o privato, veicolo pubblico o private ne entrero la zona abitata de una citta o commune. (NAA: A7919, C104007)

Nonno’s Blanket

Salvatore Di Noia has sent me photo of a grey blanket with light grey stripes. This blanket is his nonno’s blanket from his prisoner of war days in Australia.

Nonno’s Blanket (courtesy of Salvatore Di Noia)

Salvatore Targiani departed Australia on the Oranje, a medical ship, on the 27th March 1943.  The Oranje was the first repatriation of Italian prisoners of war, under special arrangements. Salvatore worked in the 17th Hygiene Unit in Bardia.  His skills as a medical orderly is most likely the reason for his early repatriation.

In Australia, the Italian prisoners of war were issued with 4 blankets for their bedding.  An extra blanket was issued in winter.

The topic of blankets is interesting.

Italians at Sandy Creek Transit Camp in South Australia complained about the quality of the blankets they had been issued. It was claimed that the blankets were made India and were of poor quality.  They requested that these blankets were substituted for Australian made blankets which were of a better quality.

On 27th September 1946, a newspaper reported that the Italians being repatriated on the Chitral from Western Australia, had been given army blankets at Northam Camp but they were to return them to the Australian guards upon arrival in Naples. I see a logistical problem in this directive.  There were up to 3000 Italians repatriated on ships: 4 blankets x 3000 men = 12,000 blankets.  Was it possible that the Australia guards could count every blanket?

 Pasquale Landolfi and Vincenzo Di Pietro from the Home Hill Hostel in north Queensland used their army blankets for suits.  They were found 110 south of Home Hill outside the town of Bowen.  They were dressed in grey suits made from blankets.  There were five Italian tailors at the Home Hill Hostel.

Italian officers in Myrtleford Camp in Victoria made coats from blankets. The photo below shows a rather stylish yet practical coat.  Myrtleford is in the alpine country of northern Victoria: winters have maximum temperature 12 degrees C and minimum temperature 3 degrees C.

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. Groupe numéro 27. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp. Group number 27.

1-6-43 Myrtleford Officers Camp (ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-27)

Domenico Modugno’s souvenirs from Australia were blankets. Domenico was sent to Tasmania for farm work and then was sent to V25 Hume Hostel to await repatriation.  His daughter Lucrezia recalls, “From captivity, my father brought home grey-black blankets date 1945 which we used as children in the cold winters.”

A report on a group of Italians from Liverpool Camp mentions that the men were taking home items such as soap, cotton and wool goods purchased from the canteen.  These items were in short supply in Italy. Wool army blankets would have been an appropriate and practical item to ‘souvenir’.

The men boarding the Moreton Bay repatriation ship in 1946 found many ways to strap their blankets to luggage or to make a swag to hang from shoulder to waist.

4-8-46 Repatriation of Italian prisoners of war on the Moreton Bay      

Italians in Greece and Albania

Italian soldiers captured in Greece and Albania arrived in Australia on 13th October 1941 on the Queen Mary into Sydney. A number of Italian officers from the Greek Campaign arrived in Sydney on the Queen Mary’s previous voyage: 16th August 1940.

Unfortunately, these Italian prisoners of war, due to clerical processing oversights, are not clearly identified. It is difficult to know how many Italians from the Greek Campaign arrived in Australia. It appears that they were processed as prisoners of war in Egypt and the clerical staff recorded their place of capture as LIBYA.  Some Italian soldiers must have requested the addition of Greece or Albania, so we have this confusion: Place of Capture- Libya (Greece) or Libya (Albania).

A special thank you to Giulia Sigon. Her nonno Vinicio Sigon was the impetus for me to delve into this theatre of war. 

2nd Lieut Raimondo Uda serving with the airforce was captured on 30th July 1940: Antichitera Greece.

Italians Invade Greece

At 3 p.m. on Monday 28th October 1940, Italian troops crossed the border into Greece. In the first18 hours the Italians captured one small border town, but the Greeks counter attacked and advanced eight miles into Albania.  

On 30th October 1940, the newspaper reported Italy’s invasion of Greece: with the headlines: Italy Invades Greece, Duce’s Ultimatum Rejected.

On 30th October 1940 2nd Lieut Francesco Tieri an accountant serving with the 18th Regiment is captured

On 1st November 1940, Gino Volpi 2nd Lieut, a student from Firenze is captured.

On the 3rd November 1940, Gabriele Masulli a mechanic from Portenza is captured in Greece.

On 7th November 1940, Captain Alfredo Moricone from Ascoli Piceno is captured.

Reported 7.11.40

ITALIANS’ SLOW PROGRESS IN GREECE SHATTERS AXIS PRESTIGE

LONDON, Wednesday

Greek artillery is shelling Korca from the heights, six miles to the south of the city…  The newly captured heights mentioned in today’s Greek communique- are believed to be south-west of Korca.

Yugoslav reports state that the Greeks captured a  bridge on the Bechlista-Korca road above the Devoli River. The Greek advance in this sector was resumed after consolidating the positions beyond Bechlista, and attacks were continued throughout the night. Monastir, a point on Lake Presba, where the Yugoslav and Greek frontiers meet, was again bombed to-day, but there were, no casualties.

1940 ‘ITALIANS’ SLOW PROGRESS IN GREECE’, Glen Innes Examiner (NSW : 1908 – 1954), 7 November, p. 1. , viewed 19 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article178545565

Antonio Damiani serving with an Alpine division is captured on 10.11.40 as is Luigi Mattei a Doctor, Corrado Celbrin, Ventruino Bacchschi Infantry.

Corporal Giovanni Bassignani with the 42 Fanteria is captured at Tepeleni on 13th November 1940.

Reported 21.11.40

The War in Greece Italians on Defensive

Threatened Supply Line Threatened

LONDON, November 12.

Latest reports of the fighting between the Greek and the Italians disclose that the Greeks have consolidated their positions on the centre front. It is also reported that Italian attacks on the Macedonian front have been repulsed.

The weather is clear on the Greek-Albanian frontier and the battle is still raging on the heights of Coritza. A Greek official statement claims farther successes in the air, Greek bombers being reported to have blown up ammunition dumps. The report also claims the further capture of Italians.

A message from Athens states that the smashing of the Italian Alpine divisions in the Pindus sector is considered an important victory. Italian generals pinned their hopes in the Alpine divisions being able to penetrate the Pindus mountains… The main Italian offensive against the Greek centre has been liquidated one week after the date set by Mussolini for the triumphal entry of Italian troop into Athens. The Italian drive against Salonika from Korca has also been flung back.

Only 8000 Alpine troops out of 12,000 escaped the Greek trap. A relieving infantry column was also routed.

1940 ‘THE WAR IN GREECE’, The Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 21 November, p. 15. , viewed 19 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75441236

Giovanni Brondo was captured in Albania on 26th November 1940.  On the 29th November 1940, Raffaele Carrozzo and Giovanni Formasieri were captured. On 30th November 1940, Pietro Lazzarin, Alfredo Bianchi, Pietro Bruscagin, Giuseppe Bellon were captured in Greece while Angelo Fattorello was captured in Albania.

Reported 7.12.40

3 ALBANIAN TOWNS FALL TO GREEKS

ARGYROKASTRON, last of the main bases from which the Italians launched troops for the invasion of Greece, fell to Greek troops yesterday, completing a black week for the Italians. Premeti on the Voyusa River, north of Argyrokastron, fell on Wednesday, night  and Santi Quaranta, the seaport base in the south-west was occupied just before Argyrokastron.  This straightens the Greek line’ in the southern sector. 

In the northern sector the westerly wing of the Greek Army, operating

from Koritza and Pogradetz, has pushed into Albania’s main oil

territory, the valley between the Skumbi and Delvino rivers.

1940 ‘Black Week For Italians’, Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 7 December, p. 1. , viewed 19 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48366880

Between 9th December 1940 and 23rd February 1941 the following soldiers are captured:

Vinicio Sigon (Nevizze). Luigi Cremaschi, Angelo Crippa (Pogredes), Riccardo Minari, Rodolfo Morelli (Pogradecci), Rocco Dolci, Francesco Lima, Primo Facchielli (Progradecci), Bettino Betti, Vitale Bartalucci (Pogradec), Adriano Bergamini (Goriza), Lodovico, Mario Barollo, Nello Avanzini (Nevizze), Luigi Di-Filippo (Clisuro), Gino Grandi (Chiusure), Gaetano De Mario, Antonio Pignatelli (SPI-Camarate) Donato Di Gregorio (Clisuro), Armando Continenza (Tepelene), Giuseppe Curti, Francesco Bernardini, Ezio Giorni, Alfredo Bellini, Pietro Franco, Gaetano Pavone, Giovan Battista De Gandenzi

Reported 3.3.41

SNOW ON THE BATTLEFIELDS

With mountain battlefields covered by fresh snow and hidden in storm clouds, and with visibility nil, operations in the Telelene area have been seriously hampered.

Ousted-from strongpoint after strongpoint and reeling back under the hammering of Greek artillery and the relentless pressure of tireless Greek infantry, the Italians once again found the weather an ally when they needed it most.

On battlefields a mile above sea-level snow once again lies deep, shrouding unburied dead and covering shell-scarred slopes and ridges with a mantle of dazzling white. Biting winds like blasts from the Arctic howl down ravines, and it is cold-bitterly, terribly cold.

Pack-mules slip on mountain paths treacherous with ice. Soldiers find snowdrifts five feet deep in front of their posts, making movement well-nigh impossible. Artillery observers trying to watch the enemy’s lines from positions carefully selected, can see nothing but a blanket of impenetrable fog.

It has been raining heavily for days. The Drinos and Aoous rivers are running bankers…

ITALIAN MORALE LOW

The Italians badly needed the respite the weather afforded them. Despite a stiffening of reinforcements of Bersaglieri and Blackshirts fresh from Italy they had lost position after position, and there had been convincing evidence that their morale was very low.

I saw a paper which was taken from a dead Italian officer. It was a long general order, exhorting Italian soldiers not to abandon their arms on the battlefield. The order stated: “Guard the arms which have been entrusted to you by the Fatherland. Cherish your cannons, machine-guns, and rifles. Those who abandon them are cowards and traitors. The enemy will use weapons you leave on their field of battle against you and your brothers.”

Considering the quantity of material of all kinds the Italians invariably jettison when defeated, the order was not without point.

The Greeks are using not only hundreds of Italian lorries, but Italian cannons, mortars, machine-guns, hand grenades, and even rifles captured since the war began.

I also saw papers found on a lieutenant colonel who was captured in this sector some days ago, when the Alpine battalion he commanded was smashed in a Greek attack. They included an order to captains of companies stating that it had come to his attention that men were surrendering and abandoning their lines. The colonel ordered the captains to post men with automatic rifles, with orders to fire on any soldier attempting to surrender

or retreat.

 Prisoners frequently tell me they have been machine-gunned by their own troops when attempting to surrender. They say that this task is usually given to Blackshirts, who are posted to the rear of the front line.

1941 ‘SNOW ON BATTLEFIELDS.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 3 March, p. 10. , viewed 19 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17728649

The shaded section of the map indicates the territory now in Greek hands. Progress of the fighting since the Italians invaded Greece in October is also shown.

1941 ‘HISTORY OF ALBANIAN CAMPAIGN’, Examiner (Launceston, Tas.: 1900 – 1954), 17 March, p. 1. (LATE NEWS EDITION), viewed 19 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article52408671

From the 1st March to the 17th March 1941, the following men have been taken prisoners: Albertin Almerino (Monaster), Calligari Angelo, surgeon Boldrini Walter (Albania Pesdani), Graneri Lazzaro, Gaiassi Eugenio, Fraschini Bruno,  Cacciamali Giovanni and Gabrieli Stefano (Telepeni) Tancredi Domenico (Albania Anivinocasit) Benzoni Bartolo, Giuseppe Gentile, Michele Locantore (Greece/Albania)

For a more comprehensive account:

Il Fronte Greco was published in February 1942.

Camp 379 Qassassin

Prisoner of War Camp Quassassin was situated 35 kms by rail west of Ismalia on the Suez Canal; 230 kms SE of Alexandria and 74 kms from Geneifa.

On the map below, El Qassasin, Ismalia and Geneifa are identified.

(http://www.sunsandcanal.co.uk/canal-zone-map.html)

One Italian prisoner of war, Leonido Tassinari and his documentation assists us in understanding the journey of Italians serving with the navy at Tobruk.

Leonido Tassinari

Leonido was a gunner on the San Giorgio which was stationed in Tobruk Harbour when he was ‘captured’ on 22nd January 1941.

TOBRUK HARBOUR, 1941. ITALIAN GUNNERY TRAINING SHIP SAN GIORGIO WHICH WAS REDUCED TO A WRECK BY ATTACKS OF NAVAL AIRCRAFT AND RAF BOMBERS AT TOBRUK BETWEEN 1940-06 AND JANUARY 1941. (AWM Image P00090.026)

Leonido was processed at Quassassin on 5th March 1941.  His form is stamped in Geneifa Camp 15th September 1941. 

On 24th September Leonida and 988 other Italian prisoners of war boarded the Queen Mary. Around this same time, 948 Italian prisoners of war boarded the Queen Elizabeth.

Elio Spandonari

Elio Spandonari also served in the Italian navy at Tobruk. He wrote that from the Tobruk airfield which was used as a temporary prisoner of war compound, a group was taken to the port of Tobruk and boarded on a rusty boat.  The boat landed the men in Alexandria and they were taken to a concentration camp near the sea which was guarded by Polish soldiers*.  After a short stay, a group of marines were taken to a camp near Ismailia: El Quassassin (El Kassassin). Elio recalls that after many months, he was transferred to a camp close to Suez then the men in total about 2000 were transferred to the Port of Suez to be boarded on a ship: destination unknown.

“Il traghetto procedeva lentamente, però man mano la cittadina di Suez incominciava a rimpicciolirsi sino a diventare una striscia continua e incolore. Le navi ferme alle boe furono sorpassate e davanti a noi e, al di fuori di un enorme scafo poco distante non vi era più nulla, solo mare aperto.

Mai più pensavamo che quello fosse il mezzo destinato a trasportarci verso la destinazione che finalmente ci avevano comunicato: Australia, terra così lontana. Altre incognite, si andava verso posti sconosciuti…

Quel grande scafo con tre grossi fumaioli con una grande ‘C’ (Cunard Line) era la nave destinata al nostro trasporto. Era la Queen Mary, allora il più grande transatlantico del  mondo, stazza 80000 tonnellate, una montagna di acciaio.” (from Diario per Laura by Elio Spandonari)

Together, Tassinari’s documents and Spandonari’s testimony provide a timeline from capture at Tobruk Libya to arrival at Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Australia.

Port Tewfik was where the Italians boarded a ferry to be taken to the Queen Mary. The Queen Mary departed Suez on the 24th September 1941.  It arrived in Ceylon at Trincomalee, a deep-water harbour on 1st October 1941.  On the 7th October 1941, the Queen Mary sailed into Fremantle Harbour Western Australia. Coming in through Sydney Heads and sailing under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Queen Mary disembarked her passengers on the 13th October 1941.

On the 14th October 1941, the first residents of Cowra Prisoner of War Camp arrived.

The Italian prisoners of war on the Queen Elizabeth arrived in Sydney on the 15th October 1941 and ‘marched in’ to Cowra Camp 16th October 1941.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle-Galles du sud, camp de Cowra. N°12, Section D. Les tentes. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, n°12, section D. The tents.

1st November 1941 Cowra PW Camp 12 Section D (ICRC V-P-HIST-01879-25)

Elio Spandonari, Ippolito Moscatelli , Leonido Tassinari Giuseppe Loprieno.

All four men served in the Italian Navy and were captured 21-22nd January 1941 at Tobruk.

There were a total of 339 marines from Tobruk on board the Queen Mary’s voyage to Australia in October 1941. It was almost nine months from the time the marines were captured to their arrival in Australia.

*Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade – a group of Polish soldiers, trained by the British in Latrun Palestine; they assisted the Australians and British during the Siege of Tobruk April 1941- December 1941.

Captured in Albania… where to next?

It is with special thanks to Vinicio Sigon that we know the answer to this question. Vinicio was captured in Nevizza Albania. He was transferred from Albania to Greece to Egypt to Australia.

 Possibly, this is a similar journey to other Italians who were captured in this theatre of war. Nevizza [I think] is Nevich or Neveçisht now on the outskirts of Korca [Korytza].

Vinicio Sigon served with ‘Alpine Troops’ when he was captured at Neviza Greece on the 30th December 1940. He was a 2nd Lieutenant and had served six years in the army. He is seated second from the left in the photo below.

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Sambo; Rabusin; Fabiano; Papa; Marchi; Nebiolo. Front row: Vergani; Sigon; Lanza; Rosano; Socini; Bandirali. (AWM Image 030153/14 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Vinicio Sigon kept a log including his movements and dates.

Vinicio Sigon’s Journey

30.12.40 Captured at Nevizza

31.12.40 Agrinorasto [Argyrokastro]

1.1.41 Gianina [Janina/Ioannina]

5.1.41 Prevese [Preveza]

6.1.41 Patosso [Patras]

7.1.41 Atene [Athens]

11.1.41 Piseo [Pireas]

2.3.41 Creta- Canea [Crete- Chania]*

3.5.41 Alexandria**

17.5.41 Geneifa

26.7.41 Suez

27-28.7.41 Mar Rosso [Red Sea]

2.8.41 Selon [Ceylon – Trincomalee]

5.8.41 2 Antimeridiane passagio equatore

10.8.41 Porto Commerciale di Perth [Fremantle]

15.8.41 Arrivo a Sidney

*Italian prisoners of war Crete: Reported that 16,000 Italian prisoners of war including 576 officers were held in four camps: Heraklion sector, Agio Thomas sector, Chania sector and Rethymno sector.

** The date of Vinicio’s arrival in Alexandria Egypt on 3rd May 1941 is significant. 

***In the last week of April 1941, the British Commonwealth Forces were evacuated from Greece via Crete.

Allied Evacuation of Greece

Most likely the Italian prisoners of war held in Crete were evacuated under threat of a German assault on Crete. The German assault on Crete began 20.5.41.

Canea (Hania), Crete. 1941-04. Members of the 6th Division Signals stand on the wharf next to a ketch which is moored there. Two of these boats delivered 120 men from Greece during the evacuation to Crete. (Original print housed in AWM Archive Store) (Donor G White)

Khania (also known as Canea), Crete, photographed in May 1941 by Corporal Goodall.

1941-05. ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT. TROOPS OF 6TH AUSTRALIAN DIVISION ENTRAINING FOR CAMPS IN PALESTINE AFTER DISEMBARKING FROM CRETE FROM WHERE THEY HAD BEEN EVACUATED.

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT. 1941-05. DISEMBARKATION OF TROOPS OF 6TH AUSTRALIAN DIVISION AFTER EVACUATION FROM CRETE.

***Greek Campaign 1941

Australian and New Zealand troops (redesignated the ANZAC Corps) undertook some very successful local fighting [in Greece] but withdrawal was soon inevitable. The occupation of historic Thermopylae Pass by Vasey’s 19th Brigade was merely a respite in the retreat down to Athens. The evacuation began on 24 April and over 50,000 troops were removed over five successive nights. A number of small, isolated groups and individual Allied soldiers who had been cut off from the retreat were left behind in Greece. Many of these escaped largely owing to the bravery of the Greek people who assisted them.

Over 26,000 weary Allied troops landed on Crete in the last week of April 1941. They remained on the island for less than a month. In a brief, savage campaign, the Australians inflicted heavy losses on the German paratroopers. One German battalion lost more than two-thirds of its men. Another rearguard action by the 2/7th Battalion, AIF, and the New Zealand Maori battalion left 280 German dead and allowed the retreating forces to reach the evacuation point in Suda Bay. HMAS Perth was hit while carrying members of the AIF back to Egypt. The British admiral in charge of evacuation called it “a disastrous period in our naval history”.

Although 15,000 men were evacuated by ships of the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy, some 12,000 Allied troops, including 3,000 Australians, were left on Crete and most became prisoners of war of the Germans. As in Greece, some made daring escapes. Many were sheltered by the people of Crete.

 (https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/greek_campaign)


L’Amico del Prigionieri

Arthur Henry Patrick enlisted in the Australia Army 21st July 1941 and detached to Cowra Prisoner of War and Internment Camp. On 20th March 1942 he was detached to the 3 POW Labour Detachment. 

3 POW Labour Detachment is also known as No. 3 Labour Detachment Cook SA. A group of 300 Italian prisoners of war from Hay PW Camp were assigned to work in 6 railway camps along the Trans Australian Railway Line. This labour detachment was approved on 13th March 1942 and the first group of Italian prisoners of war arrived on 8th April 1942.

Arthur Henry Patrick was a young man of similar age to the Italian POWs, having been born in 1919*. He was assigned to Camp 1, also known as Camp 1 The Plains SA.

His family donated photographs and two items to the Australian War Memorial.  It is thanks to Arthur Patrick that we have photographs of one of the camps and an understanding of the impact this Australia soldier had on the Italians: “His family relates that he developed a good relationship with many Italian POWs while he was guarding prisoners helping to build the railway line across the Nullarbor Desert. Such was his rapport with the Italian prisoners that he was presented with two hand crafted items, a tank carved from part of a railway sleeper and a belt that had been plaited from 18 pairs of boot laces.”

1943 Studio portrait of NX148826 Private (Pte) Arthur Henry Patrick, 9 Works Company. Pte Patrick.

The plaited belt made from shoelaces is new information for this project.  The Australia War Memorial records: “This belt is associated with the service of NX148826 Private Arthur Henry Patrick. This belt was made from leather bootlaces by Italian prisoners of war working on the railways in South Australia during the Second World War. The belt was presented as a gift to Patrick as a sign of regard from the prisoners and is said to have been made from 18 pairs of their bootlaces. At the time, Patrick was stationed at ‘The Plains No.1’ internment camp six miles outside of Watson in South Australia, supervising prisoners working on the track there. He had enlisted with the Militia in July 1941 and initially served at the prisoner of war camp in Cowra. He was transferred to 3 POW Labour Detachment in March 1942 and served with them until September. It was probably during this period that he received this belt. Patrick transferred to the AIF in March 1943 and was discharged from service in March 1946.”

c1942 Brown leather plaited belt with brass buckle. There are six stud holes in the tongue of the belt which is crafted out of plain leather. On the inside of the tongue the wearer’s name – ‘ARTHUR PATRICK’ – is written in black marker.

The Italians were resourceful. With little in the way of possessions and money, they found ways to make gifts from everyday items.  This belt is one such example. 

I wonder if the Australian Quartermaster found it odd that 18 men were asking for new shoelaces.

*The records do not register a camp number for the Italians.  But the youthfulness of the group is evident by this sample: Gennaro Agrimi 1918, Luigi Agnello 1919, Armando Accica 1920, Natale Vitale 1920, Alfredo Mattero 1918, Sergio Barigarriz 1920, Giuseppe Bruno 1920.

A Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Every document, relic and memory relating to this history is special. Each item is invaluable.

A special thank you to Giuseppe Lutro’s family for sharing another ‘missing piece to our historical puzzle’.

Giuseppe was from Albidoni Cosenza and is seated third left in the photo below.

Yanco, Australia. 23 January 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 15 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49640 Luigi La Favia; 47004 Luciano Zanon; 47915 Giovanni Bronzi; 49591 Pietro Perazzi; 49913 Quinto Spognetta; 49663 Carmine Ialongo; 48679 Angelo Tergorelli. Front row: 49858 Lorenzo Laurenti; 45570 Cesare De Angelis; 48160 Giuseppe Lutro; 46813 Pietro Salerno; 46889 Mario Paolocci. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030171/11 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

His Service and Casualty Card record his repatriation date: 31st December 1946 “Ormonde” but with thanks to Giuseppe we also know his arrival date in Naples Italy: 27th January 1947.

Giuseppe kept his arrival card Nave “Ormonde” 27-1.47. This card also confirms that part of the process upon arrival in Naples was to report to the Accommodation Centre in Naples (San Martino).

Recognition of Landing 27-1-1947 (photo courtesy of Nicola Lutro)

Logistically, I have always wondered how the Italian prisoners of war were processed upon arrival in Naples.  How did the Australian guard unit convey to the Italians the next stage of the process?  The Ormonde landed 2231 Italians. 

Now I know. With thanks to Giuseppe Lutro, I now know that the Italian military officials had printed cards, to be distributed to each man as he disembarked.  The card provided information for the next stage of the journey: to report to the Accommodation Centre.

This was most likely the first official document written in Italian the men had read in seven years.  Finally, they were almost home.

Ricordo della mia prigionia Australia

Ian Szafranek has shared two beautiful embroideries sewn by his grandfather Giuseppe Spagnolo while he was in Australia.  Giuseppe arrived in Australia on the Queen Elizabeth 15th October 1941 and departed on the Oranje (a hospital ship) on the 29th March 1943.

The initials within the red heart V G in the Arcangelo work represents Giuseppe’s love for his wife Vita. It was sewn in Cowra 1942.

Arcangelo 1942 (photo courtesy of Ian Szafranek)

Giuseppe  completed Santa Lucia in 1943. Santa Lucia is the patron saint of the blind and her name means light.

These embroideries are poignant and personal reminders of a Giuseppe Spagnolo and treasured keepsakes for his family.

Santa Lucia 1943 (photo courtesy of Ian Szafranek)

Read more about Giuseppe Spagnolo as told by his grandson Ian:

The Incredible Life of Giuseppe Spagnolo

An Alpine Ice Pick

Giuseppe Noal and Pietro Marcon crafted a special gift for Colonel Montague Ambrose Brown, Commandant of Cowra Prisoner of War and Internment Camp: an alpine ice pick.

An ‘interesting’ gift but a gift with significance.

Background and Connections

Pietro Marcon served with the Alpini. The Alpini is Italy’s specialist mountain infantry and served in battle in the Greek – Albanian conflict of WW2. Pietro was captured 13.2.41 while Giuseppe Noal was captured three days before on the 10.2.41. Giuseppe’s card records his place of capture as Greece while Pietro’s card records Libya. [While an Alpini Corps served in East Africa, I do no know if the Alpini served in Libya]

The complex issues of record keeping implies that not all information for each Italian is correct.  Some men are captured as ‘Libya Greece’ or ‘Albania Libya’. Others have ‘Progradecci Greece’ as place of capture but Progradecci is in Albania.

I have no doubt that Pietro and Giuseppe both served with the Alpini and were captured in Greece.  Their journey is identical from arrival in Australia on the Queen Mary 13.1.041 to their departure on the Alcantara on 23.12.46, including placement at Q6 Home Hill Hostel vegetable project. These are men who forged a friendship before capture.

Looking further for a glimpse of Pietro and Giuseppe, a group photo taken in Cowra Camp highlights further common threads or connections.

The photo below is intriguing: seven out of the ten men were captured in Greece or Albania. All men arrived in Sydney Australia on the Queen Mary 13.10.41

Almerino Albertin from Abano Terme Padova : 1.3.41 Greece

Carlo Dell Antonio from Predazzo Trento: 3.12.40 Greece

Pietro Marcon from Rossano Veneto Vicenza: 13.2.41 (Alpini) [Greece?]

Giuseppe Noal from Via Felice Cavalotti Milano: 10.2.41 Greece

Giuseppe Oldani from Abbiategrasso: 3.12.40 Albania

Carlo Fossati from Lissone Milano: 3.12.40 Premeti [Pëmet Albania]

Riccardo Del Bo from Castrovillari Cosenza; 24.1.41 Greece

Mario Mancini and Giovanni Tadini could well have been captured in Greece or Albania as their dates of capture suggest this: 3.12.40 and 8.12.40.

Interestingly, Riccardo Del-Bo also made a gift for Colonel Brown: a caricature.

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 47841 Almerino Albertin; 48023 Carlo Dell Antonio; 48340 Giovanni Tadini; 48210 Pietro Marcon; 48234 Giuseppe Noal; 48199 Mario Mancini. Front row: 48251 Giuseppe Oldani; 48055 Carlo Fossati; 48106 Riccardo Del Bo; Unidentified (name cut off list). Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030149/22 Photographer Michael Lewecki)

The Ice Pick

The ice pick signifies the Alpini Corps and its connection to Pietro and Giuseppe. They decorated it with a hat badge and star.  The alpine hat and feather are the most recognised features of the Alpini uniform.  

They engraved their names, Colonel Brown’s name and a quote in Italian: ‘ABBIAMO ISSATO I PEZZI, LA, DOVE ALL’ UOMO, PESAVA PERFINO IL PANE NELLE TASCHE’.

The words are from a patriotic speech by poet Gabriele d’Annunzio: “Hanno portato I loro cannoni e issato I loro pezzi la’ dove all’uomo commune pesava perfino il pane in tasca”

A special thank you to Ermanno Scrazzolo for doing some background research for me and correction of place names.

Ermanno explains the quote in English: “we pulled up the pieces (cannons), up there where for the men even the bread in their pockets was a burden.”

Ermanno adds, “Normally the Alpine troops had mules for carrying cannon barrels, but where the mules could not go, the men had to pull up the barrels using ropes and their manpower.”

This was Pietro and Giuseppe’s journey: into the mountains of Greece and Albania during one of the coldest winters on record; dragging the cannons through the snow and high-altitude conditions; exhausted.

The ice pick is poignant and important, not only to Colonel Brown but for all families whose fathers fought in Greece and Albania. We are blessed that Colonel Brown’s family donated this item to the Australia War Memorial, giving another insight into the life of a soldier and prisoner of war.

In Libya…

Matteo Casdio has a remarkable collection of photos which belonged to his grandfather Marino.

Marino and his brother Mario were both captured on 11th December 1940 at the Battle of Sidi Barrani.

From the records, Marino served with the 81 Batt. CCNN [81st: Alberico da Barbiano (Ravenna). This battalion was part of the 21 Aprile Division. Mario served with the 250 Leg. CCNN. [part of the 3 Gennaio Division]

Marino and Mario Casadio in Libya (photos courtesy of Matteo Casadio)

There was no consistency with information documented in the Australia records. For Marino and Mario the category on their card is SERVICE but the answers can be generic: Army, Battalion or Legion. Other forms have a category UNIT and the answers range from anti-aircraft, infantry, artillery, navy. Such is the complexity for Italian families trying to piece together the journey of their fathers and grandfathers.

The pieces of the puzzle slowly begin to fall into place. The Blackshirt Divisions are abbreviated as CCNN or CNN. Volunteers filled their ranks and MVSN refers to the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale or Voluntary Militia for National Security. One report suggests that in 1940, the MVSN consisted of 340,000 first-line combat troops.

There were four divisions which served in North Africa: 1. 23 Marzo CCNN, 2. 28Ottobre CCNN, 3. 21Aprile CCNN and 4. 3 Gennaio CCNN.

In Italy

Marino Casadio and friends at a training camp in Italy (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)

Preparations for War

Marino was a soldier with the 21 Aprile Division while Mario served with the 3Gennaio Division. Both divisions had arrived in Taguria [Tajura/Tajoura] Libya in 1939 which is 14500km west of Sidi Barrani.

One of Marino’s photos is identified as being taken at Derna Libya.  Derna is 400 km east of Sidi Barrani and from June 1940 suffered aerial attacks by the British with bombs landing at an aerodrome and the jetty. Derna was one of Italian military staging camps in Libya and housed motor parks, garages, petrol dump, barracks and a police HQ.

A 12th October 1939 photograph from Crociani and Battistelli’s The Blackshirts shows men from the 71st Blackshirt Battalion marching between Derna and Martuba.

According to Crociani and Battistelli, the 21 Aprile was disbanded in May 1940 and used to replenish the other three divisions.  The 81st Battalion replaced the 154 Battalion from the 3 Gennaio. This meant that Marino and Mario were now serving together in the 3 Gennaio.

Marino at Derna Libya (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)

At War

The Libyan Blackshirt divisions were part of the 10th Army’s invasion of Egypt in September 1940.

The Italian army advanced 75 miles in five days from Libya to take Sidi Barrani in Egypt. This advance was spearheaded by the Blackshirt divisions.

It was reported:

General Graziani now appears to have as many troops as he can handle in Egypt and is concentrating on the supply situation, particularly water.

Tank wagons and barrel laden lorries lumber across the dusty tracks.

There is no other explanation of General Grazani’s sudden aggression in the extremely unfavourable climatic and strategic conditions. September is one of the hottest months in tile western desert. Each soldier needs a daily ration of two thirds of a gallon of water, all of which must be carried on lorries. The machines need several gallons a day. The Italian tanks are not as good as the Germans used in France and the fine dust of the desert is an inveterate enemy on the land.

GENERAL’S BOAST

General Graziani, however, boasts that he and his men marched and

fought on only a litre of water a day. His report to Rome states: “British and Egyptian military authorities claimed that it was impossible to transport over 20,000 men. They declared that our expedition had only a 20 to 1 chance of getting through and then only between November and March. They also declared that only a few mechanised cars could go through, but we got through 2000.”

Despite General Graziani’s confidence, the Italians are suffering severely

from the unceasing bombardment from the land, sea and air which is taking heavy toll of men and machines and causing havoc among the supply convoys.

1940 ‘MISTAKE IN HURRIED ENTRY TO SIDI BARRANI’, Border Morning Mail (Albury, NSW: 1938 – 1949), 21 September, p. 1., viewed 15 Aug 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article255030685

Capitulation

The Allies under the command of General Wavell launched Operation Compass on 9th December 1940 to reclaim Egyptian territory from the Italian forces and advance into Libya.

During the day of 11th December 1940, one group after another of the 1st Libyan and 4th Blackshirt Division [3Gennaio] surrendered. For Marino and Mario, the war was over.

The Battle of Sidi Barrani

(https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/UK-Med-I/UK-Med-I-14.html)

13th December 1940 Sidi Barrani – the only thing left standing complete in Barrani was this monument proudly commemorating the liberation of Libya by the Italians (AWM Image 004418 Photographer: F. Hurley)