Against all odds, brothers Luigi and Anselmo were reunited in an Egyptian Prisoner of War Camp.
Anselmo Franchi served with an artillery unit when he was captured at Bardia on 5th January 1941.
His older brother Luigi served with an infantry unit when he was captured at Tobruk on 16th April 1941.
With over 100,000 Italian prisoners of war under the control of the British Command, how do brothers find each other?
Anselmo’s son-in-law Roberto Pardini provides the answer, which was shaped by a series of unrelated and random events.
“On 28 May 41, Anselmo had been a prisoner for almost six months and he is loaded onto an English truck, along with 50 other prisoners, to go and set up tents. During the trip, due to the too high speed, the driver of the truck loses control of the vehicle. The vehicle overturns causing nine deaths and several injuries, including Anselmo, who is taken to the hospital for a head injury, and he will remain there for a month.
During his hospitalization, he sees other prisoners and sick arriving at the hospital, among these there are some who wear the insignia of his brother’s regiment and the battalion on their hats.
Anselmo tries to ask these men if they know Luigi, but being from another company, they don’t know who he was. Every now and then a sergeant of that battalion passed by, who came to see the wounded and the sick and not even he could give news to Anselmo about his brother, but the sergeant asked for his name and surname, promising that he would try to search.
The Italian prisoners were divided into 24 camps of 1000 people each, the sergeant spread the name, so Anselmo discovered that Luigi was a prisoner in camp 19.
After leaving the hospital, Anselmo returned to his camp and a few days later was able to see his brother in the other camp through the fences. At this point Anselmo turned to a marshal of the Italian Navy, who was the head of his camp, to ask if there was the possibility of having them reunite. This happened on 25 June 41. Since that day they were not separated.”
Yanco, Australia. 23 January 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 15 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 46738 Guido Santunioni;46909 Giovanni Venturelli; 49725 Guido Tantini; 46788 Mario Salvini; 45698 Eugenio Ferrara; 46852 Archemede Montanari; 46087 Giuseppe Martari. Front row: 46904 Gino Uguzzoni; 46124 Olindo Magagni; 48050 Luigi Franchi; 48051 Anselmo Franchi; 45878 Adolfo Giottoli. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030171/03
The reuniting of Luigi and Anselmo is remarkable if you consider the many variables which could have kept the brothers separated: Bardia soldiers arrived in Australia in May 1941, Bardia soldiers were sent to India, there was more than one prisoner of war camp site in Egypt: Qassassin, Ismailia, Geneifa- Camp 306 (capacity 19,200), 307, 308, 309, 310 (capacity 10,000).
One can only image the reaction of Anselmo and Luigi’s mother when she received news that her sons had been reunited.
Throughout their journey from Egypt to Naples, Luigi and Anselmo remained together except for Anselmo’s 14 days detention in 1943 and his 10 days hospitalisation in 1946.
Luigi and Anselmo were transferred to Hay Camp then to Yanco Camp. Roberto continues the story with memories from Australia, “They were in a team of woodcutters of about 20 people and every day they went to the woods to cut wood. Anselmo said they were eucalyptus trees.”
It happened that during the tomato season they were destined for harvesting these fruits on farms. The problem in this case was that Luigi, being colour blind, exchanged the colour green with red, so Anselmo had to keep an eye on him, otherwise he only picked unripe tomatoes.”
Yanco, NSW. 1944-02-01. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) from No. 15 POW Camp harvesting Tatura Dwarf Globe tomatoes on the Leeton Experimental Farm. These tomatoes are a special seed crop and will be distributed throughout the Commonwealth. On horseback is Private G. A. Lawless, a guard of the 15th Garrison Battalion. No POWs have tried to escape from this camp. (AWM Image 063935, Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)
Close to sixty years later Anselmo and Luigi were reunited with one of their friends from their days at Hay and Yanco Camps. Roberto relates, the circumstances and events,
“In 2003, the granddaughter of Camillo Lazzeroni, another of Hay’s prisoners, made a search for those men with whom her grandfather had made friendships with. Two of these men were Anselmo and Luigi. After a great deal of work, she managed to get in touch and my wife and I accompanied Anselmo, not Luigi because it was a too long journey, to San Sepolcro, in the province of Arezzo, for them to meet after 57 years.
You can imagine the emotion!!!! Even now, while I’m writing, I have shivers thinking about that day.”
Camillo and Anselmo 2003 (courtesy of Roberto Pardini)
About two years later, Camillo returned the visit and accompanied by his daughter, came to visit Anselmo, and was able to hug Luigi again.”
Anselmo, Camillo and Luigi 2005 (photo courtesy of Robert Pardini)
…a remarkable and emotional series of events…