The Financial Situation

The purpose of this article is to present the facts.

I have purposely avoided this topic because it is complicated.

Money is always a difficult topic because lack of money equates to hardships. Additionally, emotions are attached to discussions on money.

I present the information about the financial situation for Italian prisoners of war to provide the facts.

These facts are from primary source documents:

Dr Georges Morel’s reports for the International Committee for the Red Cross

Pay Sheets for Queensland

Camp Order No. 13

Various documents from the National Archives of Australia and personal records.

  • Pays for Prisoners of War

There were three levels of income for prisoners of war:

  1. Prisoners of war were paid on behalf of their government at a rate agreed to by relevant countries.

This meant that on a monthly basis, Italian prisoners of war received a stipend [allowance]. This was deposited to the cash accounts of each man.

As of March 1945, the rate set was:

£-/15/5 for combatants (N.C.O.s) (fifteen shillings and five pence)

£-/10/9 for ordinary ranks (ten shillings and nine pence)

£37/14/1 for doctor (thirty seven pounds, fourteen shillings and one pence)

How do we verify this?

Pay records for Italian prisoners of war in Queensland have survived.

The extract from the March 1945 Pay Sheets for Home Hill Hostel displays the rate per levels of prisoners of war.

(NAA:  J2255, 12)

2. Prisoners of war would be paid for work duties (other than fatigues while in camp)

In camps, work details were offered inside and outside camps.

This rate per day was £-/-/7 (seven pence) for unskilled work and

£-/1/3 (one shilling three pence) for skilled work.

For farm work and on government projects

The rate set was:

£-/1/3 per day

How do we verify this?

When a prisoner of war control hostel was approved, documentation was submitted which included the rate of pay. The example used is a document for the establishment of the Hume Hostel in Victoria.

NAA: A373, 6221

3. Income from the camp canteen profits.  

This was used to purchase communal items for the use of men inside the camps.

This money was used for special foods for Christmas, books, records, musical instruments and sport equipment.

For the month of: December 1942 canteen proceeds for Camp 7 Hay was £232 and for Camp 8 Hay £188

January 1943 canteen proceeds for Camp 7 Hay was £135 and for Camp 8 Hay £102

  • Debit charges

Money debited was also debited from individual accounts. This could be for a breach of discipline [a fine] or damages to Commonwealth property (buildings and boots). 1946 saw fines for ‘boots beyond repair’. The authorities perceived this as a deliberate action to obtain a new pair of boots before repatriation as opposed to genuine ‘wear and tear’.

Umberto Liberto escaped, and the Department of Army had drawn up an invoice for money owed for his army issue clothing and kit. Presumably, if he was not ‘found’ or surrendered, then he would be charged for government property.

  • Accountability while in Australia

Camp Order No. 13 sets the following rules regarding the financial accountability of prisoner of war accounts:

16.–     (1) As soon as practicable after the arrival of a prisoner of war at a prisoners of war camp a cash account shall be opened in his name by the Camp Paymaster in accordance with regulation 13.

            (2) The Camp Paymaster shall be responsible for seeing that each cash account is kept in accordance with a proper system of accountancy and is kept up to date.

            (3) Prisoners of war shall be informed as soon as practicable of the receipt of moneys sent to them and shall be informed from time to time upon request as to the state of their cash accounts.

            (4) A prisoner of war shall be permitted to withdraw from his cash account (several provisos were provided regarding permission and limits)

 How do we verify this?

Financial accountability was integral to the custodial situation for Italian prisoners of war.  The Australian Department of Army held prisoners of war on behalf of the War Office in Britain. Every penny spent or claimed was accounted for. An example is the request for supply of Italian prisoner of war labour to work on army sties.  This expense had to be costed and approved.

(NAA: SP196/1, 19 Part 3)

Another document highlights the income earned from the sale of lettuce which had been produced by Italian prisoners of war at Liverpool Camp.

NAA: SP196/1, 19PART 1

Dr Georges Morel makes note that Italian prisoners of war were able to access a statement of their account.

  • Money held in accounts at time of repatriation

At the time of repatriation, prisoners of war were issued with credit receipts for amounts in cash account. This would have included money relinquished at the time of arrival in Australia as per Property Statement. A copy of the Property Statement for Salvatore Fuino is attached.

(NAA: MP1102/1, PWI48983)

Arrangements were made by the Australian Department of Army to transfer all moneys held on their behalf to the War Office in the United Kingdom.  The War Office in the UK then had the responsibility to transfer these funds. Eventually these funds were transferred to Italian authorities. The Italians then presented their credit receipts.

How do we verify this?

Statement of Account documents for Stefano Lucantoni and Umberto Cofrancesco have survived.  It was not unusual to balances to be zero. Some Italians purchased items from the canteen which they knew to be in short supply in Italy eg boots, clothing material, soap, toothpaste, tinned food.

Statement of Account for Stefano Lucantoni (photo courtesy of Marco Lucantoni)

Property Statement for Umberto Cofrancesco (Umberto’s War
by Pacifico Cofrancesco)

It is assumed that amounts were transferred to Italian prisoners of war when they returned to Italy and/or at some part of their discharge process.

Documentation exists regarding German prisoners of war having not received their money. An investigation was held by United Kingdom authorities.  The issue was finally resolved in 1950.

  • Rate of Exchange from Pounds Sterling to Italian Lire

It appears that this rate was set via negotiations between the UK War Office and the Italian government. 

The only reference found is from Australian War Diary log for a ‘cable’ received from War Office, London dated 15.7.44. “rates of pay converted to Stg. (pounds sterling) at 400 lire equals £1 Stg.; this rate having been officially accepted by Italian Government for general purposes and expenditure, out of date rate of 72 lire equals £1 cannot be permitted.”

Another reference is:

After the Allied invasion of Italy, an exchange rate was set at US$1 = 120 lire (1 British pound = 480 lire) in June 1943, reduced to 100 lire the following month. In German-occupied areas, the exchange rate was set at 1 Reichsmark = 10 lire. After the war, the value of the lira fluctuated, before Italy set a peg of US$1 = 575 lire within the Bretton Woods System in November 1947.

  • Money paid upon arrival in Italy

At the Military Housing Centre in Naples, the POWs were registered and given two months leave together with a payment of 10,000 lire.  Technically, they were still soldiers of the Italian Armed Services.

How do we verify this?

Paolo Santoro wrote to his war time farmer Jim Fullerton in February 1947: “Italian government gave me 10,000 lire not for all my captivity but for 2 months leave in army.”

Post War, high inflation rates, lack of basic necessities and black racketeering devalued the value of ‘money’ the Italian prisoners of war returned home with. 

Some Italians thought ahead. They used the money in their Australian accounts to purchase necessities to take home to Italy. Some farmers also understood the situation. Australians remember their dad sending a suit or shoes to the men once they returned to Italy. One Western Australian farmer wrote to the newspaper explaining the need to send food parcels to their ex-workers

There could never be compensation for loss of personal earnings as a result of war and imprisonment.

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