Vincenzo Nigro from Tursi [Matera] was among the first group of Italian prisoners of war to arrive in Australia directly from Egypt: May 1941.
His Australian adventure began at Pyrmont wharf in Sydney. Once disembarked the men were given a pannikin and an overcoat before boarding a train for Hay Camp. He was registered as No. 1305 on the Queen Mary list.
1941 ‘No title’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 27 May, p. 9. (CITY FINAL LAST MINUTE NEWS), viewed 21 May 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article186639501
Hay Camp’s first residents were Italian internees. These internees departed Hay Camp to make way for the Italian prisoners of war. The photo below was taken in January 1942 in Camp 8.
Hay Prisoner of War Camp 8 January 1942 (ICRC 1942 V-P-HIST-E-00239)
By 1942, there were c. 5000 Italian prisoners of war in Australia. Groups of men at Hay Camp were sent to Cowra Camp and Murchison Camp to assist with construction of these camps and additional buildings.
Vincenzo was sent to No. 3 Labour Detachment Cook for maintenance work on the Trans Australian Railway line from South Australia to Western Australia. He worked seven months in one of the six subcamps but after a transfer to the Camp Hospital at Cook for rheumatism, he returned to Hay Camp in March 1943.
NAA: B300, 8247 Part 2 Employment of prisoners of war
Vincenzo was then sent to Yanco Camp. The prisoners of war worked on farms to produce vegetables for the allied forces.
Detachment at Yanco Camp 1.11.1944 ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00225
Vincenzo Nigro is in the back row, first left
Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 45349 Luigi Caputo; 45493 Vincenzo Diovisalvi; 45668 Antonio Lo Frano; 45344 Emanuele Chiruzzi; 48069 Francesco Fiore; 45590 Luigi De Luca; 45100 Giuseppe Blasi; 48201 Antonio Manzella; 45442 Nicola Donnadio and 46326 Vincenzo Nigro. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. Photographer Michael Lewicki
After a placment at Yanco Camp and a return to Hay Camp for hospital admission, Vincenzo was sent to work at N3 Kywong Hostel. This which was a firewood cutting labour detatchment. Kywong had replaced Riley’s Bend firewood camp. Trees were felled and firewood cut to supply the Hay prisoner of war camps. The photo below was taken at Riley’s Bend Hostel but is indicative of the type of facilities at Kywong Hostel.
RILEY’S BEND, HAY AREA, NSW. 1944-01-18. TENT LINES OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR (POWS) AT THE RILEY’S BEND FUEL CAMP, SOME TWENTY FIVE MILES FROM THE 16TH GARRISON BATTALION POW DETENTION CAMP. THESE TENTS HOUSE THE POWS WHO CUT FIEWWOOD FOR THE BASE CAMP. NOTE THE WELL KEPT GARDEN IN THE FOREGROUND. (AWM Image 063523 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)
Vincenzo’s last 13.5 months in Australia were spent at Cowra Camp from 28.11.45 to 10.1.47. The war had ended; hostilities had ceased and talk of repatriation to Italy was a common conversation during those months.
Finally, on 10th January 1947, Vincenzo was on the Otranto when she departed Sydney for Naples. Vincenzo’s Australia journey had ended.
He was amongst the first group to board; in this group were the last 448 Italian prisoners of war from New South Wales.
More Italians boarded at Melbourne and Fremantle making a total of 3709 Italian prisoners of war on the ship. The run to Naples was 27 days.
It is wonderful to have access to information about the WW2 Italian POWs in Australia. My paternal grandfather Giuseppe was one such prisoner. In 1952 his eldest son Nicola, at 24 years of age,as a single man not knowing anyone, emigrated to Australia and in 1961 Giuseppe his wife and younger son did so too. In time Giuseppe’s two daughters along with their respective families joined them. WW2 had caused so much destruction in Italy that there followed a mass migration out of Italy. As my grandfather had familiarity with Australia and saw the potential for his family it was his country of choice.
Thank you Carmel for your comment and insight. The Italian POWs witnessed first hand while working on farms, the opportunities in Australia. One POWs wrote in glowing terms, how one could live until one hundred years old and never want for anything. He also commented that after the wheat harvest the wheat left on the ground was enough to feed his family for a year. They also saw mechanisation and large scale farming. The life of a migrant is difficult; to take that leap of faith and settle in a new country requires fortitude and tenacity. Ciao Joanne Tapiolas