L’Amico del Prigioniero

It is thanks to Costanzo Melino that I know about L’Amico del Prigioniero. His daughter Rosa wrote Anzaro: The Home of my Ancestors which included her father’s memoirs of his time as a prisoner of war.

Costanzo said, “In 1943, Italy surrendered but we had to go to Australia [from India] to work on the farms.  We boarded an English ship which took us to Melbourne and then eventually by train to Cowra and Hay.  At that time we had an Apostolic Delegate who was from Lecce, also Pugliese, and he gave all the prisoners a book that I still have called the ‘Amico del Prigioniero’ (‘Friend of the Prisoner’’).”

The Apostolic Delegate was Monseigneur Giovanni Panico and he published this book through Pellegrini, Sydney, 1943.  It is a prayer book written in Latin and Italian containing the service of the mass, important prayers, Catholic Calendar of Holy Days from 1943 to 1951 and hymns.

Holy Days.jpeg

The book being written in Italian and Latin is significant.  As mass was said in Latin until Second Vatican 1965, ensuring that the Italian prisoners of war had a prayer book in Italian was a significant show of concern for  their spiritual welfare.

Also, while the Italians had access to books in Italian in the libraries of Hay and Cowra, when they were on the farm, a book in Italian was an important gesture on behalf of Giovanni Panico.


There are six copies of L’Amico del Prigioniero are held in museums and libraries in Australia.  I spent a morning in the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW and felt honoured to view this special relic pertaining to Italian prisoners of war and internees.

To understand the importance of this prayer book in Latin and Italian, a little background is necessary, “…the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (also called Vatican II) to discuss how the Catholic Church would face the modern world. Until 1965, all Catholic Mass was said in Latin, and the Church realized that may alienate parishioners who spoke Latin only in church. So the Church had to translate the Catholic Mass into a variety of different languages. from http://www.dictionary.com/e/catholic/

(photos courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

6 thoughts on “L’Amico del Prigioniero

    1. JoanneinTownsville Post author

      Thank you for your interest in this history. Italia, many stories will soon be shared. First, I have tried to give the background to this history, so that people can understand the journey of the Italian prisoners of war.


  1. Pingback: Dedication to All | Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Australia

  2. Chris Cullinan

    When a slight lad I often saw POW at Mass in Newstead, a suburb of Launceston, Tasmania. Their uniform’s were dyed a Deep Red and when the service was over the formed up on the street next to the Church. My mother told me that they were Italian POW’s waiting to be marched back to their barracks.

    Have been unable to find any information as to where the barracks were located. Can anyone assist with with information as to the location of their barracks?


    1. Joanne in Townsville Post author

      Hi Chris, the situation was ‘fluid’ as you can see by the article (link included). In April 1944, there was a centre at Launceston T2 PWCC Launceston but by June 1944 it was at Scottsdale T2 Scottsdale.
      The Centre (rather than barracks) was an office space, business premise, hall which was leased by the Department of Army for the administration of the Italian prisoner of war workers. It was from this centre that the PWs were taken to farms, bought in for detention, medical and dental treatment and transfers. There are mentions that on a Sunday, after the farmers brought the Italians in to town for church, they would be taken back to the centre: for socialisation and games of cricket etc and the AMF staff arranged paperwork and canteen truck visits. For Launceston, I have not found a reference to where this ‘PWCC’ (prisoner of war control centre) was: for Scottsdale it was the Drill Hall. You might need to ask around and/or contact the local history group. You are looking for business premises, a hall, a boarding house, drill hall or a building that could be repurposed for the operations of a centre. Each PWCC did have temporary ‘detention cells’. Brighton was the only ‘barracks’ camp for Italian prisoners of war. But your mum’s memory might be because the centre was close to an Australian army site eg drill hall or showgrounds hall which were also used for many purposes during the war.



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