Many letters written by Italian prisoners of war are held in private postal history collections and Queenslanders’ family history collections. I am grateful and honoured that these letters have been shared with me and have become a comprehensive dossier of prisoner of war letters.
Letters written by the Italian POWs after they left the farms, talk of the health of the family, the state of the harvest and farm work, the POWs that they were still grouped with, news that they would be going home soon, or that they are still waiting to go home, reflections on the kind treatment given to them by the farming families and reflections on leaving Australia and returning home. Two cousins, wrote a thank you letter to their farmer apologising for some of their bad behaviour which was never aimed at the farmer, but more at their situation. They closed with gratitude for the kindness the family had shown them and the gifts they were given.
If there had been children in the family, there is a request for the farmer to send a photograph of the children, words about how much they missed the children, questions about how the children were going or growing, and wishes of being back on the farm with playing with the children instead of being in camp.
Angelo Capone wrote to Mr Bury on 16th January 1946 from Gaythorne. Written with a beautiful hand, the sentiments are simply worded but heartfelt.
Letter Written to Mr Bury Beerwah from Angelo Capone 1946
(letter courtesy of Rosemary Watt)
Letters written by the Italians to their families are interesting. While the men had to be careful of what they wrote (due to censorship), their words are always about concern for their families. One Italian’s wife must have had a disagreement with her sister-in-law, which she had communicated to her husband, because his reply to her was that they would have to sort it out because he could do nothing about it. There were always questions about sending news of the situation in their home towns, questions about who had died and comments as to the length of time it has taken for mail to reach them. Other common messages were: longing to see the family again, the years of separation will be forgotten once they reach home, and five years of separation might mean mums and children might not recognise them.
A lovely sentiment of the day is ‘I close with the pen, but not the heart’.
A summary of the relevant regulations regarding prisoner of war mail is as follows:
Four types of stationery were approved for the use of a prisoner of war in Australia.
- Notelopes which was a combined notepaper and envelope
- Parcel Acknowledgement cards
- Address Cards
Italian POWs were entitled to mail 2 letters or 2 postcards or 1 letter and 1 postcard per week. Protected personnel could send 2 letters and 2 postcards per week.
From 1942 the YMCA provided Christmas cards for the prisoners of war.
1944 Christmas Card
Post cards and letters could be sent airmail, at the expense of the POWs.
‘Express Messages’ could additionally be sent through the International Red Cross services. This service was reserved for POWs who had had no communication from their next-of-kin in three months.
Monthly messages not exceeding 25 words could be sent via His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate in Australia.
Address Cards (Capture Cards) were made available to POWs to send not later than one week after arrival at their camp an/d or in the case of sickness.
Censorship of POW mail ceased from 10th November 1945 but camp commandants had discretionary powers.