Italian POWs on the Nullabor Plain

No. 3 P.O.W. Labour Detachment on Trans-Australian Railways

Parnell Robert Fliker

Sub Camp 6: Nurina

(photo by Robert Parnell, Flickr)

A special thank you to Malcolm Davis who brought to my attention information relating the Italian prisoners of war on the Nullabor; the No. 3 Labour Detachment and providing me with links to information on this group of Italian P.O.W.s. Information from this article has been summarised from the file NAA: B300, 8247 Part 2 Employment of prisoners of war [ Trans Australian…]  in conjunction with information from SA Heritage Survey and photographs are from Robert Parnell.

The establishment of No. 3 P.O.W. Labour Detachment was approved in March 42. The first group of Italian POWs arrived at HQ Cook on 8.4.42 and the last group departed from HQ Cook c. 15.10.43. The POW workforce was drawn from Hay PW Camp.

No. 3 Labour Detachment List of Names

Purpose:

“It is intended to employ the P’s O.W. laying sleepers and ballast on the Watson-Rawlinna Section (Approx 320 miles) of the Trans Australian Railways, and for this purpose six work camps will be established at intervals along the permanent way.  At each work camp there will be 2 N.C.O’s. and up to 16 guards, 20 railways workers in charge of a Head Ganger, and 50 to 60 Italian P’s.O.W., making a total strength at each camp of approximately 100.” Cook was established as the headquarters: HQ Cook with three subcamps in WA and three subcamps in SA.

13.3.42 Approval is given for the formation of No 3 P.O.W. Labour Detachment with Italian POWs drawn from Hay PW Camp NSW

300 POWs = 270 workers, 8 medical orderlies, 8 sanitary orderlies, 14 cooks

Allocation to 6 camps = 45 workers, 2 cooks, 1 medical orderly, 1 sanitary orderly = 49 POWs

5.4.42 Italian prisoners of war leave Hay PW Camp

8.4.42 Italian prisoners of war arrive at HQ Cook Camp for dispersal to six camps (not at stations) over 277 miles established along the railway line

Map

13.5.42 Concern over the scale of rations for AMF staff and POWs is raised.  Scale of rations was the same as that of Italian internees at Loveday.  It was considered inadequate considering the nature of work the POWs were undertaking.

16.5.42 Nine POWs arrive at Camp 13B Murchison: refusal to work (Giuseppe Copia, Emilio di Lallo, Vincenzo di Pietro, Luigi Di Micco, Stanislao Granata, Alfredo Mattera, Luigi Rossi, Antonio Renella, Cristoforo Toscano)

19.5.42 Antonio Renella. Stanislao Granata, Alfredo Mattera, Luigi Rossi and Cristoforo Toscano write  letters to Camp Commandant at Camp 13B  Murchison regarding their treatment. After refusing to work on the basis that they were not obliged under the International Convention [Geneva] to undertake work of a war nature, they endured 7 days of bread and water, were not allowed to take their personal possessions with them to detention, had tobacco, cigarettes, foodstuffs, letters and money confiscated, were threatened with bullet shots, rifles and bayonets in a menacing manner, were abused, insulted, being hit by AMF Captain, while in detention the water for personal hygiene was that that had been used to wash plates and utensils in the Australian camp.

1.6.42  Scale of rations for AMF staff and POWs is adjusted.

food June 42.jpg

2.6.42 Inspection Report submitted by Inspector POW and Internment Camps

From the report: “Nine men refused to work on the grounds that they would be assisting military operations, and that their families in Italy, and they themselves, on return after the war, would be subjected to retaliatory action.  They have been removed….”

“It is understood that the railway authorities are satisfied with the work being done by P.O.W., which they estimate at 60% to 70% of that performed by civilian fettlers.”

“Books and indoor games are available in all camps.  There is a radio set in each camp which is available to guard, P.O.W. and fettlers alike… Soccer balls are being obtained. On Sundays P.O.W. are permitted, under escort to hunt rabbits in the desert.  Provided proper precautions are observed, there would not appear to be any objection to this practice, which affords exercise and entertainment, and provides an appreciated addition to the rations.”

“Small railway tents and bunks are provided for guards and P.O.W. those seen were clean and in good order.  5 blankets per man are now available and will probably be needed during the winter months.”

“Guards, fettlers and P.O.W. share the same mess room [provided by the Railways]. In one case, a hessian partition had been erected.  Proper solid partitions should be erected in every camp.”

“Apart from the lack of accommodation, the Canteen Service appears to be adequate, under the circumstances.  The Canteen Sergeant, or his representative, travels by the weekly ration train, which enables him to spend a short time in each camp, during which he hands over bulk supplies to the Sergeant in charge and collects cash and tokens from him.  Actual sales are conducted by the Sergeant in each camp.”

“A ganger interviewed assured me that any sabotage to the line was impossible… I am by no means confident that he is right.”

“At one camp, a man became unintentionally lost in the desert after rabbitting.  After a search of several hours had proved unsuccessful, he found his way back to camp.  On the following night, two men escaped from the same compound and, after wandering around all night, returned to camp of their own volition.  It would not be impossible for a man to be lost in the desert and die of thirst.”

“It was suggested that any clergymen who might come to Cook from time to time, might be invited to visit the camps.  Nothing further seems practicable, except that I was informed in one camp that the P.O.W enjoyed listening to broadcasts of church services.”

“There is far too great a tendency to rely on the desert as providing all the security necessary.

5.6.42 Military Court of Inquiry begins for the purpose of “inquiring into and reporting on (a) the general administration of No 3 P W Labour Detachment (b) allegations regarding the intoxication of OC Detachment in the presence of members of the guard, P W and civilians; and (c) allegations that OC Detachment has used violence on a prisoner of war.” The above POW complaints were not under investigation.  Witnesses were AMF staff and Railway employees.  Captain Naughton was exonerated on all charges.

June 1942 There are 299 POWs attached to No. 3 Cook Labour Detachment

18.9.42 35 additional POWs arrive at Cook.  Fly menace and rabbit problem is raised.

31.1.43 PW numbers: 297 with 22 unfit and 12 others awaiting transfer to Hay.

12.2.43 Directive: one work camp to be vacated for accommodation of alien labour.

2.3.43 Camp 1 to shifts to 507 mile.

16.2.43 Imperative that Pw not be permitted contact with alien workers

25.2.43 Camp 6 (802 mile) closed.

11.3.43 28 Italian POWs are recommended on medical grounds to be returned to Hay.

18.3.45 Four Italian POWs are returned to Hay

March 43 Report-Camp 6 is closed and POWs distributed amongst remaining camps

18.3.43 24 Italian POW depart Cook for Hay

18.3.43 4 Italian POWs depart for Hay

Cook Numbers

15.4.43 45 Italian POWs are returned to Hay

May 43 200 POWs attached to Cook

15.5.43 Commonwealth Railways request to retain 4 subcamps.

20.5.43 Intention to vacate two more camps by 15.6.43 leaving 130 POWs working on the project.

26.5.43 Agreement made that the POW labour force would be replaced with men employed by the Civil Aliens Corps (in the majority, these men were released from internment and allocated to work for the Civil Aliens Corps)

15.6.43 Partial evacuation of 3 camps and 130 POWs; 44 returned to Hay; 42 returned to Hay

21.6.43 Camp 5 at 752 miles and Camp 4 at 682 miles are vacated.

21.6.43 44 Italian POWs leave Cook for Hay

23-24.6.43 44 Aliens arrive to replace POWs

24.6.43 42 Italian POWs leave Cook for Hay

1-3.7.43 52 Aliens arrived to replace POWs

15.8.43 Camp 3 vacated 56 POWs to Hay

16.8.43 Camp 2 vacated 56 POWs moved to Cook. Total strength at Cook = 4 AMF officers and 52 ORs; 56 PW

20.9. 43 Evacuation of Cook HQ is postponed

  1. 15.10.43 53 Italian POWs leave Cook for Adelaide

Geographic Location of Sub Camps and

Numbers of AMF Staff and POWs

June 42

Location of camp and subcamps for No.3 Labour Detachment Cook

2nd June 1942 Secret Report

Section of Trans Australia Railway along which the No.3 Labour Detachment Operated

Place names in bold correspond with place names on the map

WA

Rawlinna; Wilban; Haig; Nurina; LoonganaMundrabilla; Forrest

Reid; Deakin

WA-SA Border

SA

Hughes; Denman; Koonalda Block Point; Cook; Thomiar;

Fisher; O’Malley Block Point; Watson

Cook Plan

 

No 3 CampTents  

No. 3 Camp west of Cook

(Twentieth Century Heritage Survey, Stage Two 1928-1945 Volume Two

Report to Department for Environment and Heritage

Peter Bell, Carol Cosgrove, Susan Marsden & Justin McCarthy

Historical Research Pty Ltd

Adelaide)

Parnell Flicker.jpg

Sub Camp 6: Nurina

(photo by Robert Parnell, Flickr)

 

 

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