Baldo’s War

Baldo Valeri was with an infantry division when he was transferred from Italy to Libya.  He is seated in the front row, first right with his friends.

His time in battle was short; he was captured on the second day of the Battle of Bardia 4th January 1941.

When he arrived in Australia in May1941 he had been in the army for 40 months.

Libya: Baldo Valeri seated front row right (photo courtesy of Geremia Valeri)

Fortune was his. It is documented that 40,000 Italians were captured at Bardia. Like winning the lottery, Baldo was lucky to be directed to board the Queen Mary on 6th May 1941 for Australia. Only 2,016 Italian prisoners of war were on this voyage: the first group of Italians to be sent directly to Australia.

From Sydney Harbour he boarded a train for a journey to Hay Camp.

Then Yanco Camp became Baldo’s home for two and a half years.  Yanco Camp was home to 700-800 Italians growing vegetables, tending to a dairy herd and piggery as well as producing supplies of vegetable seeds for the Commonwealth Government.

Eight hundred men need feeding.  The supply of meat per 100 men per week was recorded as: 300 pounds beef, (136kg) 255 pounds mouton, (116kg) and 35 pounds sausages, (16 kg).  A quick calculation equates to 1088 kg beef and 928 kg mouton for 800 men per week. The photo below taken at Yanco Camp illustrates that butchers were important to the operation of the camps.

It seems reasonable to assume that Baldo, a butcher, worked in the meat room at Yanco Camp.

Yanco, NSW. 1944-02-01. Two Italian prisoner of war (POWs) butchers cutting up the day’s meat ration in the butchers shop of No. 15 POW Camp. (AWM Image 063945 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Yanco, Australia. 23 January 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 15 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 46978 Baldo Valeri; 46655 Guido Rosato; 46688 Pasquale Montepara; 45351 Nicola Catalano; 46891 Ernesto Tamburino; 47902 Raffaele Blasioli; 45248 Donato Cipriani. Front row: 45585 Luigi Di Cioccio; 46271 Andrea Moscatelli; 48096 Emilio Grisanti; 45719 Antonio Fafone; 45043 Pellegrino Acquaviva. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

The Yanco kitchen was situated within the barracks used  as a dining room.  The kitchen had a large oven and cookers, four rooms for provisions, a cold room and a bakery where four bakers baked bread daily for the men.

The photo of the kitchen at Yanco below, highlights the industry of the men. It must have been a sense of relief for bakers, cooks, pastry chefs and butchers to work in their field of experience.

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoner of war (POWs) cooks at No. 15 POW Camp preparing a meal in one of the camp kitchens. (AWM Image 063915 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Baldo was also accommodated at Cowra and Liverpool Camps.  Upon his return to Naples on the Ormonde 27th January 1947, Baldo had been a prisoner of war for six years.

Baldo’s son Geremia writes about his father’s life after return to Italy, “La sua vita è stata difficile,ma una volta tornato in Italia ,ha dedicato tutte le sue energie sul lavoro, per il benessere di noi figli.

Le uniche cose che lui ha riportato dalla prigionia, sono una ciotola di alluminio,dove mangiava,un piccolo vocabolario inglese-italiano, e un pezzo di stoffa bordoeux, che usavamo come coperta. Mi raccontava sempre un episodio, dove lui cercava di sottrarre qualche patata dal magazzino, perché aveva fame. Il vigilante del campo se ne accorse e lo colpi con il calcio del fucile. Lui avrebbe voluto tornare in Australia per lavorare, ma non trovò nessuno che gli facesse l’atto di richiamo.”

Baldo Valeri outside his shop in Vittorito (photo courtesy of Geremia Valeri)

Baldo and Cesira celebrating 50 years of marriage with their son Geremia (photo courtesy of Geremia Valeri)

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