Arrested in Townsville

On the 18th June 1940 114 Italian crew from the Romolo were arrested in Townsville under a Warrant dated 18th June 1940, to be interned at Interment Camp, Gaythorne. Three women who were part of the crew were not arrested: Maria Cebin and Guilia Panzeletti worked as stewardesses, Elena Giovenale worked as a nurse.

Elena Giovenale: Nurse on the Romolo

(NAA: BP313/1, Giovenale E)

The Romolo an Italian merchant ship was berthed in Brisbane on 30th May 1940. On the 31st May 1940, the captain was ready to depart the Romolo at 21 hours but was delayed by Australian officials claiming a directive from Canberra: an inspection of the ship was required.

Between 31st May and 6th June 1940, the Romolo was delayed on claims for the need for ongoing inspections and searches.  Eventually on 5th June 1940, the Captain Ettore Gavino was notified that authorities were searching for “a package which the Allies did not wish to reach Germany.”

Captain of the Romolo: Ettore Gavino

(NAA: BP242/1, Q28607)

Captain Ettore Gavino chronicled the events:

Thursday 6th June 1940

At 1940 hours we received orders from Trieste to seek refuge in neutral waters, In consequence I called the Royal Commissioner, Chief Engineer and 1st Officer to a conference. We decided to alter our course.  We did this as soon as possible at 21hr.  We sailed without light.

Friday 7th June 1940

About dawn we sighted forward to the east a ship without lights, sailing in a convergent direction. … we discovered that the other ship was an auxiliary patrol cruiser, which was evidently detailed to watch us…

At 0900 hours I gather the crew and informed them of the decision agreed upon.  I recommended calmness, courage, economy of water, light, fuel and rations, and stressed that importance for each one to do his duty with the maximum of discipline, efficiency and conscience… I entreated them to show the pilot [an Australian] and the foreign woman passenger [Aida Senac] a correct and generous hospitality.  I reminded them of the duty of every good Italian to be ready to give all for the greatness of the Motherland.  We broke up cheering H.M. The King Emperor, and our Duce, the founder of the Empire.

Saturday 8th June 1940

We are still followed by the Auxiliary cruiser “Manoora” (carrying a hydroplane) sailing about two miles on our right and coming closer during the night.

Sunday 9th June 1940

This morning I signed Capt. R Lloyd Harry’s (the Torres Straits pilot) book…

At 1415 hours the auxiliary cruiser “Manoora” signalled us to disembark the Torres Strait Pilot…

We practiced ‘Abandon Ship” using the regulation siren and allotted the passengers their place in the life boats. Carried out trials with the wireless in the life boats.

Monday 10th June 1940

Rehearsed closure of water-tight doors.

In the morning I gave orders to the crew to paint the ship inside and outside so as to make her less visible…

Tuesday 11th June 1940

We are at war with France and England. We are sailing without lights. The crew is working and painting the ship to render her less visible.

Wednesday 12th June 1940

A few minutes before midday a ship is sighted on the S.W. horizon,… We identify her as the “Manoora”…. I give full instructions for the abandoning and sinking of the ship.  It is about 1215 hours. The “Manoora”… sends me the following radiogram : “Stop immediately or I fire at you.” Consequently, I stop the ship, hoist the Italian flag and send out an S.O.S.

I receive a second message from the “Manoora”. “Do not abandon your ship because I will not pick you up.” I give the order to abandon ship and have the eight launches, which for some days days been swinging from the davits, and ready for use, lowered to the water. This operation being carried out with the greatest of calm and punctuality.

I take every precaution to ensure that the ship will not be captured by the enemy. At about 1300 hours the ship is abandoned…

PACIFIC OCEAN, 1940-06-12. THE ITALIAN MOTOR-SHIP ROMOLO BEING SHELLED BY AN AUSTRALIAN ARMED MERCHANT CRUISER, HMAS MANOORA, IN THE PACIFIC SHORTLY AFTER ITALY ENTERED THE WAR. (AWM Image P00279.003)

The sails are hoisted in the various boats which are driven by the wind towards the “Manoora” – now stationary… lowered her gangways and signalled for us to approach.

Italian prisoners coming from the Italian motor vessel Romolo in life boats. The Romolo was set on fire and scuttled by its crew after being pursued from Brisbane by HMAS Manoora and finally intercepted, 220 miles south west of the island of Nauru.

Shortly before 1500 hours the passengers and crew of the “Romolo” were safe and sound on board the “Manoora”, who had salvaged seven of our launches. 

Italian prisoners from the Italian Motor Vessel Romolo in the bows of HMAS Manoora. The Romolo was set on fire and scuttled by its crew after being pursued from Brisbane by HMAS Manoora. Shells for the ship’s six inch guns are visible on the hatch way.

I, who was the last to climb aboard, was taken to Commander Spurgeon of the “Manoora”.

At about 1600 hours seven shells were fired along the “Romolo’s” waterline.. At 1815 hours my ship with the water up to her batteries, appeared to be breaking amidships.  Rapidly she listed to starboard, the tricolour flying from h er mast.

At 1820 hours only the railings, illuminated by the “Manoora’s” searchlight, were visible above water.

At 1825 hours the “Romolo” disappeared…

Unlike her sister ship the Remo, Romolo would not be seized as a war prize.

(NAA: MP1103/2 Cereseto, Giuseppe)

Under a Warrant, the Romolo crew was transferred from Townsville Jail to Gaythorne Internment Camp on 22nd June 1940. One hundred and thirteen crew were then transferred to Hay Internment Camp on 6th November 1940.

Pasquale Bottigliero, seaman, arrived in Gaythorne Camp on 22nd June 1940 but was directly transferred to General Hospital Brisbane. On 2nd July 1940 he was transferred to Goodna Hospital where he stayed until his death on 11th January 1941. 

From Hay Internment Camp the Romolo crew was transferred to Loveday Internment Camp on 11th June 1941. One document records that on 15th April 1942 the status of this group of men were changed from ‘internees’ to ‘prisoners of war’.

 On 5th May 1942 the crew was transferred to Murchison Prisoner of War Camp. Other documents identify the 22nd June 1942 as the ‘official’ date of status change.

Officers were sent to Myrtleford Officers’ Camp Victoria.  First Officer Tullio Tami is standing third from the left in the photo below taken at Myrtleford.

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Bonifazio; Voltolini; Tami; Staiano; Donato; Rea. Front row: Migliore; Massimino; Talamanca; Maiolino; Bobbio; Bosi. (AWM Image 030152/05 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Natale Amendolia, one of the Romolo’s cooks was employed in Camp B at Myrtleford Camp. Other crew members were sent from Murchison Camp to farm placement in Victoria and Tasmania.

MYRTLEFORD, VIC. C. 1943-11-06. THE PRISONERS’ KITCHEN IN “B” COMPOUND, 51ST AUSTRALIAN GARRISON COMPANY, PRISONER OF WAR CAMP. SHOWN ARE:- PWI.47727 G. SEMINARA (1); PWI.7133 N. AMENDOLIA, SHIP’S COOK MV ROMOLO (2); PWI.47795 P. VITULLI (3); PWI.47664 G. ROMANO (4). (AWM Image 059303 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Francesco Lubrano was also a cook on the Romolo.  He was sent to work on the farm of Wilfred James Stuart at North Morton Tasmania.  He was remembered by Valerie Stuart for his cooking, particularly introducing the family to pasta. Read more about Francesco Lubrano on page 6 of the document following…

Go to page 90 of the following document to read more about the female crew: Maria Cebin, Guilia Panzeletti and Elena Giovenale.

Andrea in Australia

Andrea Favatella arrived in Australia on 26th April 1944 and by 29th August 1944, he was working within the State Conservator of Forest plantations in South Australia.

There were three forestry areas where Italian prisoners of war worked: Mt Burr, Penola and Mt Gambier. The hostel camp sites were at Rocky Camp-Millicent for Mt Burr, Nangwarry for Penola, Wandilo for Mt Gambier.

Additional information from Peter Dunn at ozatwar.com indicates that Andrea was at Nangwarry [Penola]. Andrea departed the S13 Hostel on 22nd March 1946.

Forestry Work Nangwarry South Australia: Andrea Favatella is the first standing on the left.

 (photo courtesy of Nino Favatella)

There were a number of state and commonwealth government projects throughout Australia which employed Italian prisoners of war.  Forestry work was one project; others were wood cutting for firewood, rice growing, vegetable production for armed forces; railway maintenance on the Trans Australian Railway Line. The relevant government department was the employing authority and responsible for providing appropriate accommodation.  Numbers of Italians in these hostels ranged from 75 to 250.  Andrea’s Australian books indicate that he used his free time in learning a little English and reading about Australia. Nino shares that his father had an elementary education, but he used language books to study a little English. Piccola Guida was issued free to Italian Prisoners of War.  Produced for Italian migrants in Melbourne it contained relevant information about Australia and also information to assist migrants to learn English.  Andrea’s copy was distributed by the Apostolic Delegate in Australia: Giovanni Panico.

The other two language books: Hugo’s Dictionary and Grammatica-Enciclopedia would have been purchased by Andrea.

Andrea Favatella’s Italian-English Language Books

(photo courtesy of Nino Favatella)

Andrea departed Australia 4.35 pm 8th November 1946 on the Strathmore which was moored at Outer Harbour Adelaide. It was reported: “The first large scale embarkation of Italian prisoner of war from South Australia was carried out smoothly…Clad in burgundy POW uniforms which many of them have worn for six years, [they] marched in from a special train from Loveday Internment Camp… Each man is allowed to take two kit bags containing his personal belongings”. Records report that there were 1500 Italian prisoners of war onboard.  The Strathmore arrived in Naples 6th December 1946.

Andrea in India

Andrea Favatella had c. 3 years in India.  As many families have found, information on these ‘India’ years is difficult to locate.

For some Italians sent to Australia, depending upon the version of A.A. Form A111, that is used, the From whom received section will provide the details of the previous camp the Italian prisoner of war was at: Andrea’s last India Camp is No. 5 (Bangalore).

Favatella Andrea (NAA: MP1103/2)

The ICRC audio-visual resources offers a glimpse of Bangalore Camp 5 as seen below:

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp no 5 de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Vue entre les baraques d’une aile du camp. Word War II. Bangalore. Italian prisoners of war camp 5. General view between barracks in one of the wing of the camp.

1943 View between the barracks of a wing in Camp 5 Bangalore (ICRC V-P-HIST-03469-36)

Amongst Andrea’s collection of books he returned to Italy with, is a copy of Breve Raccolta di Preghiere per I Prigionieri di guerra italiani in India.  A special thank you to Nino Favatella for sharing a photograph of his father’s prayer book. 

Religion was important to the Italian prisoners as is highlighted by the art work produced with religious images, the prayer cards the Italians kept, and the prayer and mass books prepared specifically for Italian prisoners of war in Egypt and Palestine, India and Australia.

Andrea Favatella’s Prayer Book from India

(photo courtesy of Nino Favatella)

Religious devotion is also illustrated with the chapels constructed within the prisoner of war camps.  The chapel below was built at Camp 5 Bangalore.

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore, camp de prisonniers de guerre N° 5. Extérieur d’une chapelle.

Exterior of the Chapel at Bangalore Camp 5 1943 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-0420-7)

Connecting Italian families to this history is difficult after the passing of 75 years. 

William Shakespeare wrote: “There is a history in all men’s lives.”

Equally important: there is a history in every item your grandfathers and fathers brought home to Italy.

Internment Cost a Wife

The cargo ship Felce was seized by Britain in Haifa Palestine on 11th June 1940.  The 19 crew onboard the Felce were interned in Palestine and arrived in Sydney Australia on the Queen Elizabeth 23.8.41. Italian and their families who were resident in Palestine and subsequently interned were also on the Queen Elizabeth.

The ship was renamed Empire Defender, her original name, and used by the British Ministry of War Transport. She was put in service across the Atlantic. On 14th November 1941 she was torpedoed and sunk by aircraft off Galite Island north of Tunisia.

On 22nd June 1942, the crew of the Felce were reassigned as prisoners of war.

With the exception of Costantino Bergonzo, all crew were repatriated to Italy. Costantino was ‘released to Melbourne’ and in 1947 married Antonina Maggiore. In 1961, Certificates of Naturalisation were issued to Costantino and Antonina. They settled in Melbourne.

Salvatore D’Esposito was originally ‘released to Melbourne’ but within eleven months he was repatriated to Italy on the General Heintzelman which also repatriated Italian internees to Palestine.

Another crew member of the Felce, Federico Calosso visited Brisbane in October 1950 onboard the Iris. His comment, “internment cost a wife” would resonate with many Italians who were interned during WW2. He continued working as a wireless operator and in two and a half years had only had ten days in Italy.

1950 ‘INTERNMENT “COST” A WIFE’, Brisbane Telegraph (Qld. : 1948 – 1954), 1 November, p. 23. (LAST RACE), viewed 05 Jun 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article217273094

War Prize

The Italian motorship Remo was in Fremantle harbour on 10th June 1940, the day of Mussolini’s declaration of war.

The ship was seized on 11th June 1940 under international rules. The 229 passengers were a diverse mix of nationalities: Italians, Hungarians, Poles, Greeks, Bulgarians Jugoslavs, Estonians and Finns. Italian women and children together with those of other nationalities were transferred to Melbourne.  The Italian men were interned together with merchant seaman onboard.

Remo was loaded with cargo for several Australia ports including new machinery for a factory in Newcastle and technical equipment for Postmaster’s General Department. The ship was awarded to the Crown as Allied prize after the matter was heard in the Prize Court. By early July 1940, the Australian flag was flown from the Remo.

1940 ‘Australian Defence: Parachute Patrol: Britain’s Food Supply:’, Chronicle (Adelaide, SA: 1895 – 1954), 4 July, p. 25., viewed 04 Jun 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92396089

The crew of the Remo presented an interesting situation for Australian authorities. Were they prisoners of war or internees? In the first instant they were processed on 11.6.40 as ‘internees’. Officers were transferred to Fremantle Prison while the crew were transferred to an internment camp on Rottnest Island.  On 24 and 25th September 1940, officers and crew were transferred to Harvey Internment Camp.

The internment camp in Harvey where up to 1,000 Italians were detained during WWII. (Source: Harvey Historical Society)

In transit to Victoria, officers and crew were then sent from Harvey Camp 2nd April 1942 to Parkeston Transit Internment Camp.  This camp was situated 2 km north-east of Kalgoorlie on the Trans Australian railway line. It is recorded that the camp had accommodation for 20 internees in small cells.

The next stage of the journey was from Parkeston WA to Murchison Camp Victoria. One document records that these ‘internees’ were reassigned as ‘prisoners of war’ on 15th April 1942 as they departed for Murchison Camp. Other documents give the date 22nd June 1942 as the date of reassignment to POW.

The men arrived in Murchison on 18th April 1942.  The officers and their batmen from the Remo were sent to an officers’ camp at Myrtleford and the crew joined Italian soldiers at Murchison and other work placements in Victoria and Tasmania.

Cosmo Valente was an oiler on the Danish tanker Anglo Maersk when it docked in Fremantle Harbour. He was 60 years old when he was ‘arrested’ on 25.6.40 and sent to Rottnest Island Internment Camp.  As a lone Italian on the Anglo Maersk, he travelled with the group from the Remo.

The Remo was renamed the Reynella. It was used to transport foodstuffs and war materials from Australia to Great Britain. Some of the items on a 1940 run were jams, canned fruits, flour, wheat, tallow, hides and lead. In February 1949, the Reynella was no longer suitable for Australian services and the Federal Government offered the ship for sale to the Italian government for £1,875,000.

(1949).  Passenger-cargo ship Reynella anchored in Newcastle Harbour, New South Wales, 12 November 1949

By November 1949, newspapers report the ship had been sold to an Italian company and had returned to its original name Remo.

Does Glen Innes Want War Prisoners?

Domenico Ippedico was one of the Glen Innes POW workers.  A handsome young mason from Gravini [Bari] he told his family that working on a farm after being in camps with barbed wire was a good situation.

His daughter Anna shares that the farmer’s daughter fell in love with her father. But like many such romances between an Aussie girl and an Italian POW, the relationship could not continue.

Domenico was in the Glen Innes district from June 1944 to January 1945. He had two admissions to the Glen Innes District Hospital during that time.

(https://www.beardieshistoryhouse.info/glen-innes/)

Unfortunately for prisoners of war who were in Queensland or New South Wales, there is no extra file containing identity photos or the name of the farmer.  Domenico’s stories to his daughter Anna about life on an Australian farm were happy memories.  Through her father’s stories, Anna feels a connection to Australia; a place where Domenico lived for two and a half years.

Domenico came to Australia as a ‘forced migrant’; a group of Italian who because of circumstances out of his control temporarily called Australia home. For the Ippedico family, there will always be a special connection with Australia.  Many decades later, Domenico’s granddaughter found her way to Australia. Francesca teaches Italian at a bilingual school in Melbourne.

Domenico as a prisoner of war lived in a bilingual world. Like many of his peers, he took opportunities to learn English. Living with a farming family would have assisted his mastery of English together with the lessons in his book “L’Inglese in Tre Mesi”.

L’Inglese in Tre Mesi (photo courtesy of Anna Ippedico)

Read more about Italian Prisoners of War in Glen Innes district: https://www.gleninnesexaminer.com.au/story/6276170/italian-prisoners-of-war-in-glen-innes/

A little of the background history:

Against a backdrop of anti-Italian sentiment, in December 1943 a POW centre was approved for Glen Innes. The POW centre office (Prisoner of War Control Centre: PWCC) was situated besides the Grand Theatre. Captain JJ Owens was in charge of the administration of allocation of Italians to farms.

For the centre to be established 30 district farmers had to submit applications. In November 1943, only 8 applications had been received by Mr Furby from the District War and Agricultural Committee. The application form was comprehensive, detailing the regulations of the scheme: Prisoner of War Control Centres: Without Guards. Below is an example of a form used in South Australia.

Employment Agreement to Employ Italian Prisoners of War (NAA: D2380)

Fear of the ‘unknown’ is a powerful influence.

One Glen Innes farmer declared, “My idea is that we would be better without prisoners of war.” His concern was that when he was in the paddock working, his wife might be left at home on her own with a couple of prisoners who could not speak English.

Other farmers feared the power of trade unions.  If a farmer employed Italian prisoners of war, then in the future, no unionised worker would want to work on that farm.

Despite opposition for Italian POW workers and threats by locals that they would rather their farms go bankrupt than employ the POWs, approximately 100 Italians worked on district farms from December 1943 to December 1945.

Necessity is a powerful motivator: farmers needed labourers.

In March 1944, Mr Furby reported lack of evidence against the use of POWs was the best explanation as to why the Italian prisoners of war were of no threat to local residents. At that time, there were 69 Italian workers in the Glen Innes district and ‘everyone says they work like sons of guns’ and that one farmer says ‘he can’t knock them off from working.’

 “Mr Furby said there had been excellent reports about the cleanliness and general suitability of the prisoners made available.  In some instances it was considered they looked after the farmers better than the farmers themselves.

As to safety of the womenfolk, the opinion had been expressed that women were safer with most of the Italian prisoners than they would be with many Australians.” [1943 ‘P.O.W. LABOR’, The Inverell Times (NSW : 1899 – 1907, 1909 – 1954), 17 November, p. 5. , viewed 22 May 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article263355284%5D

Employment Contract for Italian Prisoners of War (NAA:7919)

Fear of the ‘unknown’ also relates to the Italian prisoners of war. What did they know about Australian farming methods? How were they going to communicate with the farming family? Would they be treated like a slave? It was a ‘leap of faith’ for the Italians to transfer from their known world: camp life behind barbed wire to the unknown: living on a farm with an Australian family.

The Department of Army was committed to ensuring that this employment scheme would work. Inspections of proposed accommodation for the Italians were made before the prisoners of war were sent to a farm. A language book, Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War was published to assist with communication between farmer and worker. Regular visits to each farm by Australian army staff ensured that any minor concerns could be discussed and/or rectified.  The commanding officer of the POW centre would respond immediately to any complaints of major discipline issues a farmer might have experienced.

Across Australia approximately 13,500 Italians prisoners of war worked on farms or on government projects. This workforce of ‘forced migrants’ made a valuable economic, social and cultural contribution to war time Australia.

Domenico Ippedico (photo courtesy of Anna Ippedico)

Storia di un soldato

In Memoriam- Cesare Sottocorno

(photo courtesy of Cesare Sottocorno)

Quelli che sono nati dopo la fine del secondo conflitto mondiale hanno vissuto e ancora vivono in un periodo di pace, il più lungo, dicono gli storici, che abbia attraversato il vecchio continente. Il merito, sostengono sempre gli studiosi, è anche di quel documento noto come il Manifesto di Ventotene, Per un’Europa libera e unita, scritto da Ernesto Rossi, Altiero Spinelli, Ursula Hirschmann ed Eugenio Colorni, al confino sull’isola dove scontavano la condanna perché socialmente pericolosi. Non è questa la sede per ripercorrere le vicende che hanno portato alla creazione dell’Unione Europea una realtà politica da tenere cara nonostante le difficoltà sorte tra i diversi stati e in situazioni come nel caso della recente pandemia.

WW2 Memorial Rivolta d’Adda (photo courtesy of Cesare Sottocorno)

Non possiamo dire che nel nostro Paese quella pace abbia significato tranquillità e che gli anni passati siano stati sereni. Ricordiamo i contrasti sociali, il terrorismo, le vittime delle mafie, le   povertà vecchie e nuove, le convivenze difficili e problematiche con le diversità di lingua, di cultura, di religione o di genere. Problemi che esigerebbero lunghe analisi, ma pur sempre lontani dalle distruzioni, dalla fame, dalle migliaia di morti che ogni guerra porta con sé.

Occorre peraltro affermare con forza che, insieme agli intellettuali illuminati e a quelli fra i politici che hanno garantito la pace e un sostanziale benessere, tantissimi  cittadini, come ha affermato il presidente Mattarella, si sono dimostrati, nel tempo, consapevoli di appartenere a una comunità capace di risollevarsi dalle avversità e di rinnovarsi nello spirito della democrazia: donne e uomini, contadini e operai, casalinghe, infermiere, medici,  insegnanti, giudici, operatori del commercio, impiegati… e tutti ne abbiamo conosciuti.

Se per fortuna la guerra è lontana, non possiamo dimenticarla. Non possiamo dimenticare i soldati che hanno lasciato le loro vite in battaglia, tra le trincee, nei campi di concentramento e nelle gelide steppe di un’Europa in fiamme, per ordini assurdi di politici aggressivi e di comandanti inetti, oppure sulle montagne a difesa della libertà.

I loro nomi sono scritti sul marmo, in ogni località, sulle vie e sulle piazze, perché non siano dimenticati. Li hanno letti, per tanti anni, a voce alta quelli del nostro paese, e li ho letti anch’io, da solo, dopo la messa dell’aurora, qualche mattina fa, il 25 aprile, l’anniversario della liberazione che vogliamo continuare a ricordare, inizio e simbolo della riconquistata libertà.

WW2 Memorial Rivolta d’Adda (photo courtesy of Cesare Sottocorno)

Tra questi un nome mi è familiare perché è stato dato anche a me. Soldato di leva, della classe 1920. Data di nascita, come è nel mio caso, incerta: il 31 maggio o il 1° giugno.  Arruolato in anticipo e chiamato alle armi il 5 febbraio 1940 a Livorno. Sul foglio distrettuale è annotato: contadino, di religione cattolica, abitante a Rivolta d’Adda in via Paladino n. 44, occhi castani e così anche i capelli dalla forma ondulata, mento diritto, colorito roseo, dentatura sana e una doppia cicatrice, una al labbro superiore e una alla fronte. Sapeva leggere e scrivere, aveva frequentato le scuole fino alla quarta elementare e non era ammogliato.

Allo scoppio delle ostilità, il 10 giugno 1940, è partito, con il 7° Reggimento Artiglieria, per la Libia, territorio allora italiano dichiarato in stato di guerra.  Sei mesi più tardi, il 5 gennaio 1941, secondo le fonti italiane, è stato considerato disperso durante le operazioni militari in Cirenaica. Lo stesso giorno, dicono i documenti inglesi, è stato catturato a Bardia e dichiarato prigioniero di guerra.

In una valigia di cartone ho trovato le sue lettere. Il giovane soldato racconta ai genitori il suo viaggio di otto giorni con il mare in burrasca. Dice a suo padre d’essere in compagnia con altri cinque di Rivolta e che la terra che lui ha conquistato è poco di bello, è tutta sabbia, la gente è mezza nuda, ci sono bestie che non conosce, non si capisce niente, dorme sulla paglia, di giorno fa molto caldo e di notte molto freddo. Come tutti i militari viene vaccinato e la febbre a quaranta lo costringe a letto. Mangia pane e cipolle perché il ghibli, il vento del deserto, solleva la sabbia che finisce nella minestra. Scrive alla mamma che essere malato sotto le armi è una vita da martire perché lei è lontana: per la cura e per tutto il resto bisogna fare da solo. La informa d’essere guarito, di aver dovuto tagliare i capelli perché nella sua tenda c’erano i pidocchi, ma anche di fare l’allenamento e di andare ogni festa a giocare a calcio in città. Aspetta con ansia le loro lettere e quando non arrivano si rattrista e piange.

Trova conforto nell’amicizia e smentisce chi ha detto che sono in pericolo dal momento che sono al sicuro. Non nasconde la sua felicità  a suo fratello che un giorno si è trovato con undici militari di Rivolta e che si sono messi tutti a piangere come bambini. Il suo paese è sempre nei suoi pensieri. Ride dopo aver saputo da suo fratello di una recita all’oratorio in cui il protagonista rimane in mutande e la sera di Sant’Alberto, guardando il cielo, gli è sembrato di vedere, anche nel deserto, i fuochi artificiali. Per far passare la malinconia si rivolge al nonno e gli dice che è un ortolano da poco perché raccoglie solo le zucche e le cornette e gli domanda se la sua bicicletta è ancora appesa al soffitto.

I libri di Storia narrano che dal dicembre 1940 al gennaio 1941 le truppe del generale Geroge J. O’Connor sferrarono un’offensiva di sorpresa e il giorno 5 conquistarono la guarnigione di Bardia, costituita da 45.000 soldati. Le truppe italiane si arresero e il generale Annibale Bergonzoli che aveva affermato: a Bardia siamo e ci resteremo, fuggì e raggiunse a piedi Tobruk che distava 120 chilometri.

Il  nostro soldato fa sapere alla mamma che ora si trova prigioniero e che sta bene e le chiede di dire qualche Ave Maria alla Madonna di farlo stare sano.

Il 13 ottobre 1941 viene trasferito a Sydney in Australia e internato a Cowra. Ricoverato all’ospedale militare del campo di concentramento, muore il 22 gennaio 1942, alle undici di sera, per un ascesso al polmone destro.

In una lettera della Segreteria di Stato del Vaticano indirizzata alla Pregiatissima Signora  ***

si precisava che il *** morì di dissenteria ed è stato sepolto nel cimitero cattolico di Sidney e la lapide porta l’iscrizione alla memoria di *** il primo prigioniero italiano morto in Australia all’età di 21 anni.

Grave of Cesare Sottocorno in Rockwood Cemetery New South Wales Australia

(photo courtesy of Cesare Sottocorno)

Il fratello, al quale spesso raccontava le difficoltà della vita militare e che, come alpino del reparto sanità, stava per partire per la Russia, ottiene, grazie anche al parroco, un anno di licenza per stare vicino ai genitori.

A guerra finita, il 27 novembre 1947, il professor Lambert Yonna, medico dell’Ospedale Militare racconta che il caro e simpatico giovane venne operato il 13 gennaio, dopo aver sentito il parere di Sir Charles Blackburn, un rinomato specialista per tali malattie. Il soldato, invece di reagire per il meglio cominciò a declinare e, ricevuti gli onori militari e i Sacramenti, rese la sua giovane anima a Dio, mentre mi serrava la mano e cercava di parlarmi.

                                                                                    Cesare Sottocorno

One of the first and last…

Vincenzo Nigro from Tursi [Matera] was among the first group of Italian prisoners of war to arrive in Australia directly from Egypt: May 1941.

His Australian adventure began at a wharf in Sydney, most likely Pyrmont Wharves. Once disembarked the men were given a pannikin and an overcoat before boarding a train for Hay Camp. He was registered as No. 1305 on the Queen Mary list.

1941 ‘No title’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 27 May, p. 9. (CITY FINAL LAST MINUTE NEWS), viewed 21 May 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article186639501

Hay Camp’s first residents were Italian internees.  These internees departed Hay Camp to make way for the Italian prisoners of war. The photo below was taken in January 1942 in Camp 8. 

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Hay, camp No 8. Groupe de prisonniers de guerre italiens. World War II. Hay Camp. .

Hay Prisoner of War Camp 8 January 1942 (ICRC 1942 V-P-HIST-E-00239)

By 1942, there were c. 5000 Italian prisoners of war in Australia. Groups of men at Hay Camp were sent to Cowra Camp and Murchison Camp to assist with construction of these camps and additional buildings. 

Vincenzo was sent to No. 3 Labour Detachment Cook for maintenance work on the Trans Australian Railway line from South Australia to Western Australia. He worked seven months in one of the six subcamps but after a transfer to the Camp Hospital at Cook for rheumatism, he returned to Hay Camp in March 1943.

NAA: B300, 8247 Part 2 Employment of prisoners of war

Vincenzo was then sent to Yanco Camp. The prisoners of war worked on farms to produce vegetables for the allied forces.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Hay pour prisonniers de guerre italiens, détachement de Yanco. World War II.

Detachment at Yanco Camp 1.11.1944 ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00225

Vincenzo Nigro is in the back row, first left

Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 45349 Luigi Caputo; 45493 Vincenzo Diovisalvi; 45668 Antonio Lo Frano; 45344 Emanuele Chiruzzi; 48069 Francesco Fiore; 45590 Luigi De Luca; 45100 Giuseppe Blasi; 48201 Antonio Manzella; 45442 Nicola Donnadio and 46326 Vincenzo Nigro. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. Photographer Michael Lewicki

After a placment at Yanco Camp and a return to Hay Camp for hospital admission, Vincenzo was sent to work at N3 Kywong Hostel. This which was a firewood cutting labour detatchment. Kywong had replaced Riley’s Bend firewood camp. Trees were felled and firewood cut to supply the Hay prisoner of war camps. The photo below was taken at Riley’s Bend Hostel but is indicative of the type of facilities at Kywong Hostel.

RILEY’S BEND, HAY AREA, NSW. 1944-01-18. TENT LINES OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR (POWS) AT THE RILEY’S BEND FUEL CAMP, SOME TWENTY FIVE MILES FROM THE 16TH GARRISON BATTALION POW DETENTION CAMP. THESE TENTS HOUSE THE POWS WHO CUT FIEWWOOD FOR THE BASE CAMP. NOTE THE WELL KEPT GARDEN IN THE FOREGROUND. (AWM Image 063523 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Vincenzo’s last 13.5 months in Australia were spent at Cowra Camp from 28.11.45 to 10.1.47.  The war had ended; hostilities had ceased and talk of repatriation to Italy was a common conversation during those months.

Finally, on 10th January 1947, Vincenzo was on the Otranto when she departed Sydney for Naples. Vincenzo’s Australia journey had ended. 

He was amongst the first group to board; in this group were the last 448 Italian prisoners of war from New South Wales.

More Italians boarded at Melbourne and Fremantle making a total of 3709 Italian prisoners of war on the ship. The run to Naples was 27 days. 

Otranto (https://passengers.history.sa.gov.au/node/933331)

Souvenirs

souvenir: an item that is kept as a reminder of a person, place, or event

Eugenio Talamo had a little over two years in Australia as a prisoner of war.

He arrived in Melbourne 29th December 1944 on the Melon; part of a group of 991 Italian prisoners of war from India and the second last group to arrive in Australia.

Upon return to Italy 19th February 1947 on the Otrontes Eugenio had three Australian souvenirs.

A button with a map of Australia is a reminder of the prisoner of war uniforms the Italians wore. These uniforms were second-hand Australian uniforms. 

POW Uniform Button

(photo courtesy of Laura Demartino)

A 1945 Christmas Card is a reminder of the six Christmases he spent as a prisoner of war. The YMCA Australia [Societa Giovenu Cristiana Australia] provided for the Italian prisoners of war: books, sports and musical equipment and Christmas Cards. 

1945 Christmas Card Issued to Italian Prisoners of War

(photos courtesy of Laura Demartino)

A copy of Propagation of the Faith Year Book 1945 is a reminder of the importance of the Catholic faith to the Italians.  As best can be found, it is a book about the work of Catholic Missionaries in promoting the Catholic religion. Money was raised and used to support missionary programs. Two such programs were in Papua New Guinea and aboriginal communities in Australia.

Propagation of the Faith Year Book 1945

(photo courtesy of Laura Demartino)

Most ex-Italian prisoner of war rarely spoke about their trials of being a prisoner. Some kept a few souvenirs of Australia.

Eugenio’s souvenirs have added three more items to the collection of relics for this history.

Each relic assists families to have a greater understanding of the everyday life of an Italian prisoner of war in Australia.

It is with special thanks to Eugenio’s granddaughter Laura, that these souvenirs have been shared.

souvenirs… memories… family legacy

Nonna and Nonno Talamo (photo courtesy of Laura Demartino)

Made in India

Libya…India…Australia

Settimio Ceppitelli was with the 201 Reggimento Artiglierei Division 23 MARZO when he was captured 11th December 1940 near Bardia.

Crociani and Batistelli record in The Italian Blackshirt 1935-1945, “Blackshirt divisions at Sidi Barrani in December 1940; 3 Gennairo (disbanded on 10 December) was destroyed, while remnants of the ‘28 Ottobre’ withdrew to Sollum and those of the ‘23 Marzo’ to Bardia, where both were mauled and disbanded on 5 January 1941.”

A glimpse into Italian artillery soldiers can be gleaned by photos held in the Australian War Memorial.  Italian troops were equipped with modern guns yet at the same time they used old German guns made in 1916 together with 149 mm calibre guns introduced into the Italian army in 1910.

1st March 1941 NEAR BARDIA. THESE ARE THE MOST MODERN GUNS USED BY THE ITALIANS AND PROBABLY AS GOOD OR BETTER THAN ANY OTHER SIMILAR GUN IN USE IN THE CAMPAIGN. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

5th January 1941 NEAR BARDIA – AN ITALIAN GUN USED IN THE DEFENCE OF BARDIA. CAPTAIN HOWARD (HISTORICAL RECORDS) INSPECTS THE WEAPON WITH R. MASLYN WILLIAMS. THE ITALIANS HAD A CURIOUS ASSORTMENT OF ANCIENT & MODERN WEAPONS – THIS BEING AN OLD GERMAN GUN MADE IN 1916. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

13th December 1940 SIDI BARRANI – AMONG THE THOUSANDS OF TONS OF STORES & ARMAMENTS ABANDONED BY THE ITALIANS WAS THIS GREAT NAVAL GUN IN THE COURTYARD OF THE BARRACKS AT BARRANI. (AWM Image 004439, PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

Transferred to India, Settimio embroidered Santa Lucia. Noticeable are his initials C. and S. stitched into the work and the colours of the Italian flag at the top and bottom of the pillars.

Santa Lucia is the patron saint of the blind. Santa Lucia appears to have been a popular saint as she was embroidered or painted by several Italian prisoners of war in Bangalore India as is shown in the photo below.

Immagine Santa Lucia (photo courtesy of Bruno Ceppitelli)

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. exposition d’objets d’arts fabriqués par les prisonniers. Word War II. Bangalore. Italian prisoners of war camp. Exhibition of works of art and musical instruments made by prisoners.

Objects of Art crafted by Italian prisoners of war at Bangalore India

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03480-10A)

Settimio’s other embroidery is of the Madonna del Prigioniero. It bears a striking resemblence to the statue of the Madonna del Prigioniero in Bangalore Camp Group 1. 

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Groupe I. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Monument “Notre-Dame du prisonnier”. Word War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp. “Notre-Dame du prisonnier” monument.

Madonna del Prigioniero Bangalore Camp Group 1, India

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-05A)

The Madonna is standing on the world with a snake at her feet, her head is adorned with a crown, an Italian prisoner kneels at her side praying and wearing beige clothing with a black stripe, two vases of flowers sit upon the pedestal.

Madonna del Prigioniero India 1942 (photo courtesy of Bruno Ceppitelli)

Settimio arrived in Australia on 26th April 1944 onboard the Mariposa. Tranferred from Melbourne to Cowra Camp New South Wales by train, Settimio was to spend the next 2 years and 8 months at Cowra Camp.

Settimio’s nephew Bruno provides the following details: As an assistant to an officer, Settimio remained in Cowra Camp.  He returned home to Italy with a handmade banjo; he had learnt to play music by ear.

Possibly Lieut. Mario Conti from the 233 Legion CCNN Division 23 MARZO, who was also on the Mariposa, was the officer Settimio was assigned to.

No doubt Settimio prayed in the Cowra Chapel with the beautifully painted altar panels and sat in the audience of the June 1946 performance of L’Antenato [The Ancestor] a Commedia in 3 Atti by Carlo Veneziani.

Settimio returned to Italy on the Alcantara and to farming in his hometown of Soccorso Magione Perugia. His embroideries from India are now framed, a memory of those tumultuous and ‘lost’ years when young men spent their youth as prisoners of war.

Settimio Ceppitelli with his wife, Soccorso Magione Perugia

(photo courtesy of Bruno Ceppitelli)