Take a look at four beautiful embroideries sewn in the POW camps in India…
A little background: where did the cloth and thread come from?
Australian POWs in German camps used threads from worn out socks and jumpers as well as cotton from their army issue ‘housewife’.
Indian Publication Volumes 8-9 January 1941, listed items to be included in POW packages eg coloured silks and cotton threads, plain linen or canvas for embroidering.
The Red Cross sent supplies of recreational and educational material in bulk to prisoner of war camps.
The YMCA is also mentioned as a group who not only contributed books to Australian PW camps but were known also to provide material for tapestry, carpentry, embroidery and leatherwork.
The canteen at Camp No. 22 in India sold balls of mercerized cotton (like Coats Mercer Crochet Cotton).
Cloth used was from a variety of sources eg handkerchief, calico, canvas, cotton; salvaged or repurposed materials.
Treasures in Thread
Treasured keepsakes, given as gifts to Queensland farming families or taken home to Italy come in many forms. One does not necessarily pair needlework with Italian soldiers. Possibly a skill taught in the camps to wile away the hours of monotony. The hands of farmers and soldiers were capable of producing the most delicate needlework.
Antonio Fracasso embroided this handkerchief in June 1941 in a camp at Bangalore India. He was captured at Bardia Libya on 6th January 1941. These details give an estimation about how long the prisoners were held in Libya and Egypt before sailing for India… a few months at the most.
Salvatore Morello took his embroidered work home to his wife and daughter. The Sacred Heart of Mary (Sacro Cuore di Maria) was worked on canvas. The angels’ banner reveals that it was created 1942 in India.
Sacro Cuore di Maria
(photo courtesy of Luigi Tommasi )
Knight on Horse was embroidered by Francesco Pintabona who stayed with the Harsant family at Warril View via Boonah. Made into a cushion, the fabric has yellowed with age, but the embroidery shows a calm hand an a good eye. It was made while Frankie was in a camp in India.
Helen Mullan (nee Rackley) explains this about her embroidered gift: Before he left the farm, Domenico gave me the needlework of “Madonna and Child”. He had painstakingly worked on a men’s handkerchief, when in a prison camp in India, I believe. It was kept folded in an envelope for many years. It is my special treasure, a reminder of Domenico, and I felt I needed to share this treasure with everyone, so I had it framed. It has pride of place in my China Cabinet. You can see that is a combination of needlework and drawing with a painted background. I have often wondered if he ran out of cotton as there are sections which have not been embroidered like the feet and the arms of the angel. It looks like he copied the image because you can see his pencilled in grid pattern. As an adult, I reflect upon what it must have been like in the POW camp in India and the hours he spent embroidering this “Madonna and Child”.
Embroidery by Domenico Mascuilli
(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)
Another beautiful embroidery made in Derradoon India in 1942 can be viewed at Embroidery made by an Italian POW
An embroidery sewn in Australia by Italian POW: Gayndah Australia
Bouquet of Australia Wildflowers was crafted by Domenico Petruzzi who lived with the Robinson family at Glen Ellen via Gayndah. The lettering at the bottom was Domenico’s addition: Remember Domenico Petruzzi Prisoner of War.
Embroidery by Domenico Petruzzi Q4 Gayndah
(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)
Crocifisso Salvatore Martinicca’s embroidered handkerchief was sewn while he was in England: Saint Antonio di Padova
Today it is called ‘Embroidery Therapy’ but during WW 2, embroidery was a recreational and theraputic past time; a means to keeping the hands and the minds occupied during the long months of confinement in POW camps.
During WW 1, soldiers recuperating in hospital were given embroidery to help keep them busy.