Letters from Myrtleford

From Intelligence Reports – 15 July 1943

Myrtleford Camp No. 5 was divided into two compounds: A and B. A compound housed those aligned to fascism and B compound was the Royalist compound. Two years after their capture, their letters highlight where their sympathies lie.

2nd Lieutenant Fortunato Donnini was a teacher by occupation.  He was captured at Sollum in June 1941.  He wrote:

“You can imagine the sort of life I am living, exactly the same as the life of collegiates of Regina Cocli” [Regina Cocli = gaol in Rome]

Lieutenant Carlo Pescatori records his occupation as Regular Army Officer.  He was captured at Agedabia in February 1941.  He wrote:

“We are excited about the news of the landing. Nobody talks about anything else.  I am hoping that everything will turn out in our favour and I feel miserable not being able to do a thing for my country.  Camp activities continue fortunately on a bigger scale and we have the opportunity to divert our thoughts to something else.” [Landing = Operation Husky was the Allies’ invasion of Sicily beginning on the night of 9-10th July 1943]

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Stella; Talamo; Moretti; Pescatori; Cavanna; Torti. Front row: Laccetti; Brugnoli; Barbaranelli; Cagnoni; Bonelli; Celestino.

Major Ubaldo Quaranta lists his occupation as Official R.E.I. in S.P.E.  He was captured at Spi Camerad Grecia in March 1941.  He wrote:

“Not even hot showers are missing. We have built a marvellous little church, tennis courts, bowling greens, and an amphitheatre for open air picture shows which we have twice a week for payment… The food, even if no longer the same as when we first came to Australia, is till good and sufficient.  Is there anything to complain about?  I show not only my moral superiority to the intriguers and inventers of tall stories but I show that the true soldier is always honest and proud of the foe whom he is fighting.” [Comments made the IO… speaks enthusiastically of the facilities and convenience of the camp, the letter is typical of the old officer of pre-Fascist era.]

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Panvini; Piragino. Front row: Pietravalle; Bertelli; Papandrea; Faga; Castellano; Quaranta.

2nd Lieutenant Antonio Cau states his occupation as student. He was captured at Giarabub in March 1941.  He wrote:

“The essential thing is that our friend from PREDAPPIO should make it snappy up there, then everything will turn out alright.  However, maybe PREDAPPIO himself will look after you and your people and he will tell you what to do.” [IO notes that PREDAPPIO is a small village in central Italy and Mussolino’s birthplace]

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Napoli; Lecis; Puggioni; Uda; Birocchi; Maccio. Front row: Maglietta; Motzo; Tonizzo; Correnti; Montalcini; Cau.

Over the next eight months, 2nd Lieutenant Antonio Cau allegiances shift.  In July 1944, he requests a change from Compound A to Compound B. 

In a letter to his family 6th March 1944, Cau wrote: “You ask me if I was satisfied with events? I do not know whether you realise that, since the end of 1937, when I was called up, I underwent a slow change.  Even the finest steel bends when in contact with granite. So it was with me. And also with others.  Then, when in Africa I saw and came into personal contact with all our miseries, veiled by pomp and empty talk, “full of nothingness’, I understood what we were and what we thought we were. And so did others. As a result even here at 12000 miles distance I felt Italy’s sigh of relief coupled with my own and those of others here (even if there were not many of us).

By April 1945, Cau was working on a farm in the Corryong district of Victoria. He wrote to 2nd Lieutenant Della Foglia B Cpd on 1st April 1945: “ Here they are mad about me, firstly, because have no children and secondly because I keep them in good spirits.  By now I speak Australian and if MOTZO knew about this he would cut my tongue…” [Both Motzo and Cau are from Sardinia. MOTZO is in the same photo as CAU]

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