27th May 1941
Also on board were 6 budgerigars, 7 canaries and 1 parrot
Here are photos of the Queen Mary as she sailed into Sydney Harbour bringing to Australia the first group of Italian prisoners of war. For 2016 Italian families, these photos are a very personal connection to their father or grandfather’s arrival to Australia.
While the men shown in the photos, would more than likely have been armed forces personal from Australian and New Zealand, the images none-the-less reflect the moments of sailing in to Sydney Harbour and arriving at a destination, far away from the battles of Libya.
Sydney, NSW. Troops line the rails on board the troop transport ship Queen Mary as she arrives at the wharf to embark troops for overseas service. C. May 1941 (AWM Image 007205 Photographer Unknown)
Sydney siders were used to seeing the Queen Mary enter the harbour as she had already made many journeys to and from Sydney carrying troops and passengers: Trincomalee (Ceylon), Bombay (India), Singapore and Suez (Egypt).
Sydney, NSW. Bow view of the troopship Queen Mary being escorted by tugs as she enters the harbour to embark troops for service overseas. c. May 1941 (AWM Image 007210 Photographer Unknown)
Service and Casualty Forms can be a bit of a puzzle. Italian prisoners of war in the first group to arrive in Australia, will have the same two lines as below. Q.M. = Queen Mary. And technically, while they were captured in Libya, they embarked at Suez. From Sydney they were trained to Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp.
The photos of the Queen Mary taken by an Australian Official Photographer add the description: Sydney, NSW. Bow view of the troopship Queen Mary as she enters the harbour to embark troops for overseas service. c. May 1941. This series of photographs are part of the Australian War Memorial collection. There was much secrecy surrounding the transport movements from and to Australia during WW2. It is therefore not surprising that there is no mention of Italian prisoners of war.
c. May 1941 Sydney, NSW. Bow view of the troopship Queen Mary as she enters the harbour to embark troops for overseas service. (AWM Image 007209 Photographer Unknown)
The lists of passengers onboard this voyage of the Queen Mary are available from the National Archives of Australia. The document’s title is QUEEN MARY [Departed Middle East 6th May 1941, arrived Fremantle 21 May 1941 – nominal rolls of passengers] [inlcudes lists of Italian prisoners of war, AIF, RAN, NZEF, RAF, ACCS and UWCA personnel embarked Middle East for return to Australia] NAA: PP482/1, 16
There were 3088 people onboard: 761 crew, 290 troops, 2016 prisoners of war, 15 civilians, 6 D.B.S. Immigration also noted that there were 6 budgerigars, 7 canaries and 1 parrot.
Interesting notations on some of the documentation for troop transports are H.T. “N.N.” H.T. “K.K.” H.T. “L.L.” H.T. “P.P.” The names of the ships have been omitted and one reference states that ‘details have been excluded which might compromise the convey’. This seems to be the case for transports for Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Mauretania and Aquatania voyages; likely reason for non disclosure of ship’s name is secrecy of troop movement.
H.T. “N.N.” voyage from Suez to Sydney in May – June 1941 offers an insight into conditions onboard the transport ships. On this voyage, which left Suez 24th May 1941 and arrived in Sydney 15th June 1941, 1000 Italian prisoners of war were boarded and who were to be disembarked at Trimcomalee: “22nd May 1941 1,000 Italian prisoners of war were brought on to the ship with what appeared to be a rather inadequate guard of 130 Ciganlese troops under the command of two British Officers. The prisoners, however were small, and for the most part very young, and seem thoroughly dispirited… During the severe heat of the voyage from Suez, it had been necessary to bring the prisoners on deck during the day and allow them to sleep there at night.” AWM2018.8.411
Part of this journey’s report are general comments about the hammocks and washing. The daughter of one Italian prisoner of war remembers her father saying that while they were on a luxury liner, in his case Queen Elizabeth, the toilets could not cope with the number of men onboard these transports and they would have to walk through ankle deep sewerage, a most unpleasant and unhygienic situation.
Hammocks, instead of bunks, were alloted in certain sections, and those troops allocated to them suffered considerable discomfort owing to overcrowding and lack of ventilatiohn. The rows of hammocks overlapped at both ends so that a man lay with a pair of feet on each side of his head. this was particularly unpleasant in the hot weather. In addition, the hammocks were slung very close to the ceiling where the foul air accumulated… Owing to the manner in which it was necessary to tie the hammocks in order to hand them so close together, they could not be taken down during the day, with the result that it was impossible to walk upright in the hammock sections.
WASHING OF CLOTHES:
The washing and drying on men’s clothing presented many difficulties. It was not possible to supply fresh water for this purpose, but an issue from the Comforts Fund of soap that would lather in salt water helped matters considerably… Almost the only place where clothing could be washed was the baths and wash basins, and after that there was the problem of drying the garments. Quantities of damp clothing hanging in sleeping quarters increased the already high degree of humidity, but if hung on deck a man had to stand by his clothes until they dried, otherwise there was the danger of them blowing overboard or being stolen. Drying in the sleepign quarters appeared to be the lesser evil. AWM2018.8.411