A gardener from Tursi in the province of Matera, Salvatore Targiani was in Australia for less than two years. He arrived in Sydney on the Queen Elizabeth on 15th October 1941 and departed from Sydney on the 29th March 1943.
His grandson Salvatore Di Noia has shared with us a wool embroidered portrait of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Portrait of Sacred Heart of Jesus
(photo courtesy of Salvatore Di Noia)
This is our ‘virtual’ museum’s first embroidered item sewn with the word Australia. Before Salvatore sent me this photo, it appeared that embroidery was only done in the camps of India. Every day, I learn something new about this history.
Salvatore has not only embroidered the words Benedico questa famiglia a me lontana: Ricordo della prigionia in Australia but he has also embroidered his Middle East prisoner of war number: 69876.
Queen Elizabeth disembarked 948 Italian prisoners of war on 15th October 1941. There were 25 Italian officers among the group.
The National Advocate (Bathurst NSW) reported the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth:
NERVOUS OF PLANE
WAR – WEARY ITALIAN PRISONERS
Another Batch in Sydney
War weary Italian prisoners thrust their heads nervously out of their train windows after they had been landed at Sydney when they heard a Brisbane-Sydney air liner overhead.
Ragged ill shod and with sullen eyes, they looked even more dejected and wretched than earlier arrivals who had also been rounded up by the AIF in Libya.
Some still wore their field grey uniforms. Others not so fortunate wore drill overalls and others still less fortunate were dressed in old trousers and odd coats or jackets.
Some stepped out boldly in their march from ferry to train in hobnail boots on which still lingered the dirt and grime of the Libyan desert.
Some wore sandshoes or sandals while others shuffled along in makeshift footwear.
Their headgear was also of a wide ranger, including sun helmets, caps, berets, and pieces of blanket fashioned into queer shapes.
Apparently to help pass the time on the voyage to Australia an artist had decorated his sun helmet with drawings of ancient Athens, the Acropolis, a woman’s face and two hearts.
Goatee beards were popular. One soldier sported an excellent moustache of 1900 vintage.
There was a small number of German prisoners all of whom were officers. They were well dressed and contrasted sharply with the Italians. [1941 ‘NERVOUS OF PLANE’, National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), 15 October, p. 1. , viewed 19 Apr 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160507243%5D
All internees and prisoners of war were issued with uniforms coloured burgundy as part of the clothing kit. The same colour uniform was distributed regardless of nationality: Italians, Germans, Formosans, Japanese, Chinese, Austrian.
BALMAIN, NSW. 1946-03-02. THIS JAPANESE INTERNEE IS HAVING A BIT OF TROUBLE WITH HIS LARGE AMOUNT OF LUGGAGE AS HE STEPS DOWN FROM THE TRAIN THAT HAS BROUGHT HIM FROM HAY TO NO. 1 WHARF AT BALMAIN. HE IS ONE OF THE MANY JAPANESE ABOUT TO EMBARK ON THE JAPANESE REPATRIATION SHIP DAIKAI MARU OSAKU. THE POW ARE DRESSED IN AUSTRALIAN UNIFORMS.
The Big Picture
It is sometimes easy to see this history in small unrelated segments: to think that only civilian internees were forced to wear this colour; or that this uniform was to be worn every day; or that this indignation was reserved for only Italian prisoners of war. The ‘big picture’ is important.
The magenta uniform was to be worn when leaving a camp, a hostel or a farm placement; anytime the internees or prisoners of war were outside of their facility.
Photographs document that there was an Australian army salvage unit at Fishermen’s Bend in Victoria and another salvage unit at Loveday Internment Camp South Australia.
Loveday, Australia. 11 March 1943. Clothes which have been dyed a burgundy shade by internees at No. 9 Camp, Loveday Internment Group, hanging out to dry. The clothes are discarded Australian uniforms which have been cleaned, repaired and now dyed for issue to internees.
Confusion in Lismore
An interesting situation arose in the Lismore district of New South Wales in 1944. Lismore had a resident population of 700 – 800 Italians. Another 200 Italian prisoners of war were employed in the district to work on farms.
The newspapers reported farmers who breached rules of their employment contract for Italian prisoners of war. Some of the complaints and offences: alleged that Italian prisoners of war had been seen at the pictures, drinking in the pub, walking hand in hand with an Aussie girl, seen at the horse trotting races, talking excitedly in their own tongue with 12 civilian Italians and that two were left to run the farm while the boss lived 20 miles away in town.
As to how many of these allegations proved to be true is unknown.
What is known, is that Lieutenant Chester Snow, the Australian officer in charge of the Italian prisoners of war in the district, had been notified 12 times during August 1944, that prisoners of war were ‘at large’ in the town.
When Lieut. Snow or his control centre staff ‘hurried’ to various parts of town to make arrests, they found that the ‘alleged’ prisoners were [Italian] civilians.
While the prisoner of war uniform was a burgundy colour, it was reported that red clothes, including trousers and slacks were a popular form of dress amongst the Lismore civilians. In fact, many retail stores displayed red clothes in their windows.
I am sure that the Italian prisoners of war who read such newspaper reports could see a little humour in this situation.
One type of prisoner of war uniform is the light-coloured shirt with the black diamond patch on the back and the light-coloured trousers with black stripes down the outside leg. This uniform can be found in the photographic records:
Camp 306 Geneifa Egypt ICRC V-P-HIST-00849-01
Zonderwater South Africa:
Inauguration of Post Office Zonderwater ICRC V-P-HIST-03363-19A
Bangalore Camp 2 India:
Bangalore Camp 2 ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-19A
Cowra, NSW. 1944-02-03. Italian prisoners-of-war from No. 12 Prisoner-of-War Camp using a heavy duty pulley block and tackle to pull down a large tree in a paddock near the camp. (AWM Image 064137, photographer Geoffrey McInnes)
one uniform has survived the passing of time. The uniform was saved from a bonfire of disposal prisoner of war uniforms by a camp guard. It is now in the hands of Anthony who has graciously shared photos.
Prisoner of War Uniform: Trousers (photo courtesy of AC)
Prisoner of War Uniform: Jacket (photo courtesy of AC)
Anthony has also shared photographs of Prisoner of War Capture Tags. Printed by the US Government February 1942, they raise the question: Was a similar tag used for those Italian prisoners of war captured 1940 and 1941? Looking through archived photos of Italians captured at Sidi el Barrani, Bardia, Tobruk and on the move in Palestine, no capture tags are seen. Did the British forces in Libya, Eritrea and Ethiopia use capture tags?
It would be interesting to know if any Italians wrote about the capture tags in their journals or memoirs.
Giovanni Marzullo arrived in Australia on the Queen Mary 27th May 1941 and was repatriated on the Otranto 10th January 1947. He arrived into Sydney and departed from Sydney and in those five and a half years his travel in Australia was limited to Hay and Cowra Prisoner of War Camps.
Giovanni was in the group of the first 2006 prisoners of war to Hay Camp 28th May 1941. He was part of a small group of 200 who remained at Hay Hostel – a sub-camp/hostel and agricultural project- until 27th December 1946. Hay Camps 7 and 8 had been vacated on 28th October 1946.
So a little history about Hay Camp, Giovanni’s Australian home …
In a July 1941 report, two months after the arrival of the Italian prisoners of war at Hay, there were no Australian army interpreters on site. “There are no interpreters in this Camp and not one of the P.O.W.s can speak English… The need for interpreters was obvious from every angle of administration, discipline, medical, dental, control of working parties, etc. This lack of interpreters places a great strain on the effective administration and is one that calls for immediate adjustment.” In quick response to this report,two sergeant interpreters had been dispatched to Hay, but “the appointees are not Italians”.
There were other shortcomings:
“No pay is being made available to P.O.Ws though the bulk of them are actively engaged on road work, ditching and agriculture as well as camp administration work in connection with the running of the camp. In the absence of any pay for men the personnel have been unable to purchase tobacco, which at the moment seems to be the main hardship, and the supply of which would, no doubt, bevery helpful in the maintenance of discipline. Following a recent visit by the Apostolic Delegate, a cheque for £200 was received from him for the purchase of tobacco for the P.O.Ws. We also learnt that £66 had been donated by the late Civilian internees for the same purpose. Tobacco has now been ordered.”
“There was no reading matter for the P.O.W., but the Apostolic Delegate is arranging to supply several cases of books for their use. As books are not allowed to pass between the Compounds, the C.O. arranged with the donor to supply duplicates for each Compound.”
“ A large recreation hut is established and is controlled by the S.Army [Salvation Army]. This had a small stage, various games, and a three-quarter Billiard table was presented during our visit by the Local Welfare Committee. The C.O. realised the unsuitability of the hut (owing to height) for cinema which is desirable for the entertainment of the Garrison, and is making arrangements for increasing the height.”
Michael Lewicki, photographer, captured Giovanni on camera 9th September 1943. He is standing first on the right. The scheme to place Italians on farms had begun in June 1943. By September 1943, farmers in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria were being recruited to sign up to employ Italian workers. It was at this time that group photos of Italians were taken, like the one below.
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: 46181 Giuseppe Musto; 45685 Bartolomeo Fiorentino; 46799 Angelo Scoppettuolo; 46188 Giovanni Marzullo; 47941 Donato Cendonze; 45519 Giuseppe Dello Buono; 45174 Andrea Cavalieri; 45290 Carmine Cogliano; 45363 Pasquale Cappello and 47996 Mario Cioccolini. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030143/10 Photographer Michael Lewicki)
In November 1943 the Red Cross Delegate visited Hay Camps. There were 485 Italians in Camp 7 and 483 Italians in Camp 8. At that stage, “the camps did not have any organised schools which is mainly due to numerous arrivals and departures. However, many prisoners of war are studying privately or in small groups. For the purchase of the necessary books, they generally address themselves to the Red Cross Delegate. These purchases are made at the expense of the interested parties.”
On the 24th December 1943, Giovanni wrote on the inside of his Collins Italian-English Dictionary his details. The stamp on the inside cover of the dictionary is interesting: ‘Approved for Transmission’ . All books had to approved and in the light of the above information, Giovanni paid for his dictionary. Without organised schools, the learning of English was left up to the individual.
Giovanni Marzullo’s Italian-English Dictionary (photo courtesy of Daniele Marzullo)
Building and construction of facilities for Hay POW Camp was an ongoing process. Perhaps Giovanni’s skills as a carpenter were required and the reason for him spending almost all his time in Australia at Hay Camp.
In 1942, there is mention of ‘skilled Italian prisoner of war tradesmen’ building poultry runs, a piggery and a dairy. In 1944, tradesmen were needed to construct farm buildings at Hay Camp. Giovanni was transferred to the Hay Hostel: an agricultural project near the town of Hay on 30th August 1944. He remained at the Hay Hostel until 27th December 1946.
HAY, NSW. 1944-01-17. FARM BUILDINGS IN THE COURSE OF CONSTRUCTION AT THE FARM OF THE 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. (AWM Image 063390 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)
On the 9th January 1947, Giovanni boarded the Otranto in Sydney for Naples. His record card is stamped 10th January 1947: Repatriated. The event was reported in the newspaper:
“SOME ITALIAN P.sO. W. SORRY TO LEAVE
The 448 Italians who sailed in the Otranto yesterday were the last to leave New South Wales, apart from escapees who are still at large. They will be disembarked at Naples.
The prisoners appeared well fed and healthy. All of them carried suit cases with blankets strapped neatly to the sides, with bulging kit bags and other luggage. Many had musical instruments. Some of the prisoners said they were sorry to leave Australia and hope some day to return. The ship will pick up 3,000 more prisoners at Melbourne…
The run to Naples will take 27 days, then the Otranto after the troops have disembarked, will proceed to London…” (1947 ‘GUARD WITH ITALIANS ON OTRANTO’, The Manning River Times and Advocate for the Northern Coast Districts of New South Wales (Taree, NSW : 1898 – 1954), 18 January, p. 2. , viewed 15 Mar 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172278675)
Arthur Delves was a passenger on the Otranto and wrote to his parents about his voyage:
“ Very rough one day crossing the Australian Bight. The last point of vantage is Cape Lewis [Leeuwin] and that is closely watched as Aussie. fades from view. Ten days brought us to Columbia [Colombo] but did not stay, only delivered and received the mail. The day’s travel is put out on the notice board every morning, “Speed seventeen, sometimes eighteen knots an hour, distance travelled, time and date for the previous day, 380, sometimes 400 miles. Suez Canal is near and we go through at night, so will miss seeing one of the outstanding sights… the Pyramids. On one side of the sea is the River Nile and on the other the Jordan… I am a good sailor and finished one of my letters through the rough part of the trip in the Mediterranean. We were to have landed at Athens in the morning, but on arrival the signals were up that it was too rough to come into the pier. We landed our big army of soldiers [Italian prisoners of war] all right and the gangway was clear by 9 am…” (1947 ‘A TRIP TO THE OLD COUNTRY’, The Northern Champion (Taree, NSW : 1913 – 1954), 31 May, p. 6. , viewed 15 Mar 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162166470)
Giovanni had arrived in Italy. His short journey home from Naples to San Giorgio Del Sannio (Benevento) must have felt like one of his longest journeys.
The Australian War Memorial has a comprehensive collection of photos of Hay Prisoner of War Camp. I acknowledge photos in this article as being from the AWM Collection.
Pasqua 1943: Apostolic Delegate in Australia Giovanni Panico wrote the preface for his publication
L’Amico del Prigioniero
L’amico del Prigioniero was distributed to Italian prisoners of war in 1943. It contained prayers, hymns, service of the mass and the liturgical calendar. In 1946, 75 years ago, Easter was celebrated on 21st April.
Did the Italian prisoners of war see Anno 1951 and ponder: is the war going to last this long!
My research into Italian prisoners of war in Queensland has a number of public faces: the book Walking in their Boots, the website: italianprisonersofwar.com and the facebook page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia
It was through the facebook page that I received notification from Nino Amante in Italy. On 23rd March 2018, Nino wrote, “Sono il figlio di Angelo Amante, il più alto nella foto.” Nino had not only found a photo of his father on the facebook page but he then found the website’s article, A Day in the life of … and comments about his father’s time working on a farm ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian via Gympie 72 years ago.
This was an accident. Nino had been searching the internet for an article about his son, named for his grandfather, Angelo Amante, and instead found his father. Nino was overwhelmed.
I believe that things happen for a reason. I do not know the chances of bringing together the son of an Italian prisoner of war and the son of a Goomboorian farmer. But a google search and a phone call* has brought together the two sides to this history.
Nino Amante’s words and contact has brought this story ‘full circle’. “E’ stata per me una grande emozione avere delle informazioni da aggiungere a quelle raccotle dall sua viva voce, quando mi parlava del period della sua prigionia,” Nino reflects. Nino not only has knowledge about his father’s time on this farm, but he has a connection to Jim and John Buchanan who were young boys at the time and who have fond memories of Angelo.
More importantly, Angelo’s story before and after ‘Redslopes’ emerges. At 19 years old, Angelo Amante began his military training, first in Turin and then in Bolzano. He was a member of the 7th Reggimento Bersaglieri(marksmen). He was then transferred to Taranto and in 1941, he left Italy by ship for Libya. He was lucky to survive the journey to Libya, as many soldiers died after the fleet was bombed by the British.
Angelo Amante: 19 years old
(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)
Angelo was captured at Gialo, a Libyan oasis town on 25th November 1941. Gialo was taken by British and Punjabi troops on 24th November 1941, but a small group of Italian soldiers continued fighting in the north east El Libba sector. After four hours of combat, two Italian had been killed and 27 Italian soldiers were taken prisoner.
Possibly the photo below of a relaxed Angelo was taken at Benghasi, his first experience of Libya. Like many of his generation, Angelo spent ‘his youth’ in foreign and difficult circumstances. He returned home to Italy when he was 25 years old. Nino explains, “Sei dei suoi anni piubelli trascorsi fra guerra e prigionia.”
Angelo Amante in Libya 1941
(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)
Angelo’s journey is like many of his peers. Italy to the battle field to Egypt to India to Australia to Italy. Angelo arrived in Melbourne Australia 29th December 1943. The next day he was in the Cowra PW & I Camp. His time there is recorded in a group photo Cowra 6th February 1944. Ten days later, Angelo was sent to Gaythorne Queensland 16th February 1944.
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57037 A. Amante; 57273 G. Guarnaccia; 57288 G. La Iacona; 57252 S. Giambusso; 57051 C. Avola; 46957 S. Vizzini; 57257 G. Giarratano. Front row: 57268 M. Gordini; 57070 L. Bloisi; 57046 R. Armentano; 57038 S. Amoroso; 57226 D. Foringo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial Image 030173/15)
Before Nino’s internet search, he had one photo and the stories about his father’s time in Australia, but he did not know dates or places. Nino says, “Sapevo che mio padre era stato in Australia, ma in quale parte di Australia? Che era vissuto in una fattoria, ma quale fattoria?” But his time in Australia was always remembered with fondness, a place to which Angelo wanted to return. In 1956, Angelo made preparations to emigrate to Australia with his wife and family. During a medical visit, it was discovered he had a small heart problem and his dreams of going to Australia ended. But his family kept safe a small photo of three men and two boys, knowing that it was an important part of Angelo’s memories of Australia.
Angelo Amante , Salvatore Scicchitani (Schichitano), Vincenzo Cannavo with John and Jim Buchanan at Redslopes Goomboorian via Gympie
(courtesy of Nino Amante)
For over seven decades, this photo did not have a context. Nino knew that the photo was from his father’s time on a farm, but he did not know where in Australia this farm was located. Angelo told his family a story about chilli plants he had grown on this farm and now he knows it was Jim, a little boy who tasted the chilli with severe repercussions. Angelo told his family about a trip to the city, to undergo a medical visit at the hospital and the wonder of seeing so many kangaroos on the way.
Jim’s memories and Angelo’s stories to his family are being slotted together. Nino writes that his father arrived in Australia from POW camps in India with very poor health. Angelo had contracted malaria and Nino remembers the story of an old lady on the farm who realised the seriousness of his condition and encouraged him to eat and the need for him to regain his strength. Jim knows exactly who this lady was, his Aunty Mag [Margaret], who was the matron (supervisor) for the Land Army girls on the farm. Angelo’s visit to the Gympie Hospital is recorded in the farm diary: August 21 1944 – Angelo going to hospital. And the stories travel back and forth between Italy and Australia and across the decades.
Upon Angelo’s return to Italy, he made his way home to Fiumefreddo di Sicilia and his widowed mother. Angelo married in 1953 and moved to Mascali, his wife’s home town. He continued to work the land and raised his family: Nino and Giuseppina. In 1984, Angelo passed away at the age of 63.
(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)
The sharing of stories and memories, the answering of questions and the ‘Miracoli di Internet!’ is like finding those missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle and finally being able to put them in place.
*In September 2017, I telephoned Jim Buchanan in Gympie. I had been told that he was the person to speak to about some of the Italian prisoners of war in the Gympie district. Jim’s words to me were, “I think you will be surprised with what I have to tell you. I don’t think you will have found another one like this.” And surprised I was!
Jim’s father Neil Buchanan had kept a farm diary for ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian. Peppered through the entries from 7th March 1944 to 1st January 1946 are references not only about farm life, but also to the Italian prisoners of war at ‘Redslopes’. This diary offers a very unique and firsthand account about the employment of Italian prisoners of war.
On 24th March 2018, I telephoned Jim again. I told Jim that I had some extraordinary news for him. Angelo’s son had sent me an email. It took a few minutes for the news to sink in. Jim is rarely lost for words. I said to Jim, I wonder if Angelo took any photos home to Italy with him. Nonplussed, Jim felt that this is not probable as very few photos were taken in those days. Like Nino Amante, this journey for the Buchanan family is emotional and remarkable.
In a beautiful tribute to his nonno, Damiano Lumia recorded the voice of Antonino Lumia telling his story as a soldier and a prisoner of war.
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: 46032 Raffaele Lomonaco; 46627 Giuseppe Restivo; 46007 Antonio Lumia (front row second left); 45586 Isidoro De Blasi; 46206 Gaetano Mineo; 45360 Giuseppe Cannata; 45103 Leonardo Barbera; 45997 Pietro Lomonte; 46221 Antonio Rondi and 47999 Leonardo Ciaccio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.
(Australian War Memorial Lewecki Image 030143/33)
Antonino’s journey begins in Sicily and listening to his voice, we follow in his footsteps from his home town of Bompensiere to Toburk and Benghazi, then Australia. Finally, Antonino takes us back to Italy and his family.
Antonino Lumia begins his story with,
“My dear grandson, I had a lot of trouble. When they called us…”
and ends with…
“I saw your grandmother. I came down. I came home. I rushed to your father. Here is my story, dear grandson. The sufferings were severe, dear grandson”.
Damiano’s video Antonino Lumia POW in Australia 1941-1946 combines images of Bompensiere with photographs and documents from Australian War Memorial and National Archives of Australia to take the viewer on an intimate journey through time.
Antonino’s memories are told with humour and melancholy. English subtitles combined with Antonino’s voice, makes this accessible for those who only speak English. More importantly for those Queenslanders who have memories of ‘their’ Italian POW, it brings back to life their voices: the timbre and musicality of the Italian language.
“Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland” has always been about connectivity between people, with the past, between Italians and Australians, with memories and history.
I am honoured and humbled that Damiano Lumia’s video has become part of this project for the oral histories of Italian prisoners of war are paramount to adding depth and perspective to this project.
Another aspect of the project has been to connect people with information. Research has provided Damiano with details about Antonino’s time in Queensland. Antonino Lumia was assigned to Q3 PWCC Gympie along with Giovanni Adamo. They were employed by Mr R – Mr Kevin John Rodney of North Deep Creek from 14 March 1944 to 4 January 1946. Miss Gloria, mentioned by Antonino is Miss Gloria Davis from Auchenflower. Mr R and Miss Gloria were married in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Brisbane on 6th May 1944.
Antonino remembers with clarity when he first met Miss Gloria. “The farmer was back. You could hear the horn of his car in the distance. His wife was with him. I had planted very beautiful flowers near the hut. I mad a bouquet of flowers. When they arrived near us… I offered flowers to his wife. He introduced us to his wife: Miss Gloria. They went home. For us the work continued. The next morning Madame served us the meal. A very nice woman. Every morning I brought wood to this woman for cooking”, speaks Antonino.
Antonino Lumia’s testimony is not only a voice from the past but also an important window into the past. Click on the above link and take a walk with Antonino through history.
HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR HAVING A MEAL IN THEIR MESS AT NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. PICTURED ARE: 46007 ANTONIO LUMIA (1); 45824 BRUNO GALLIZZI (2); 46734 ALMO STAGNARO (3); 48355 GIUSEPPE ARRIGONI; (4); 45087 ANTONIO BACCIGALUPO (5); 46620 MICHELE RIZZO (6); 46626 EMILIO RUOCCO (7); 46635 FRANCO RONDELLI (8); 45900 ALESSANDRO IANNOTTA (9).
(Australian War Memorial, Geoffrey McInnes Image 063371)
Liborio Bonadonna was a private in the Italian Army, serving with the 231 Legion Militia when he was captured at Buq Buq on 11th December 1940. The Battle of Sidi Barrani was the opening battle of Operation Compass and 38,300 Italians were captured at Sidi Barrani and Buq Buq from 10 – 11 December 1940.
(NAA: A7919 C101539 Buonadonna, Librio)
A young farmer from Gela Caltanissetta, Liborio was living in Tripoli along with his wife and his parents when he joined Mussolini’s war. His father, desperate for his son’s safety, fell prey to unscrupulous agents who, for a sum of money, promised the repatriation of their family members who were prisoners of war.
In a letter sent to Liborio, his father Carmelo Bonadonna wrote on 21st December 1943:
Dear son, here it was said that prisoners who are sons of farmers, were to be repatriated on the payment of six thousand lire, and I, for the great affection I bear you, was one of the first to pay; in fact they asked us for one of your letters in order to have your address. Up to the present, we have seen nothing. Imagine, dear son, how happy we all in the family were for just then I did not know what I could do for the love of you.
Liborio had spent almost three years in camps in India and would not arrive in Italy for another three years. The actions of his father however highlight how anxious the family were to ensure a safe and early return of Liborio.
From Cowra, Liborio was assigned to work on farms at N8 PWCC Orange and N24 PWCC Lismore. Suffering on-going health issues, he was sent to local and military hospitals and was eventually transferred to Murchison for consideration for early repatriation on the basis of medical grounds.
Such was his health, he was on the list to embark on the Andes which left Australia on 3rd August 1945. Unfortunately, on 16th July 1945 he was sent to 28 Australian Camp Hospital at Tatura which was part of the Murchison POW complex. He missed early repatriation and was to stay in hospital for two and a half months.
28th Australian Camp Hospital Tatura
(AWM Image 052452)
The irony of his situation was that while he was approved for early medical repatriation he was too unwell to travel. His medical condition had deemed him ‘medically’ unfit to work and gave him priority for repatriation on medical grounds. During 1946, several transports for special circumstance cases, left Australia for Naples but Liborio was overlooked.
While he considered himself to be well enough to travel, he was identified as having need for specialist medical attention during the voyage to Italy. He could only be repatriated once as specially fitted out ship became available.
On 10th September 1946, in a letter to the Camp C.O. he presented his case:
Just at the time when the repatriation of the sick was to take place I was in the Waranga military hospital whence I was discharged early in September…
The present repatriation lists from which I have been exclude because repatriation is to be effect by ordinary means (i.e. in ships not especially adapted for transport of the sick) include nearly all the sick who, like me, were then considered as needing attention during the voyage.
Today I will to inform you that, notwithstanding a year’s stay in camp without any special treatment, my condition is such as to enable me to stand the possible discomforts of the trip home; I therefore request to be reinscribed on the above mentioned list, taking upon myself the full and complete responsibility in the event of any possible deterioration of my health.
My family live in Tripolitania and it is my urgent wish to rejoin it in the shortest possible time. To the above I can only add the prayer that you will kindly consider my request.
The Empire Clyde* returned Liborio to Italy. It was a Royal Navy Hospital Ship which departed Sydney for Naples on 12th December 1946. There were 226 Italian prisoners of war on board who had embarked at Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle.
But Liborio’s return to his family in Tripoli was further delayed. Once he arrived in Naples, he required an operation. Fighting bureaucracy, he tried to gain permission several times to reach Libya and his wife and parents.
Liborio’s grandson, Liborio Mauro says that “He told her [my grandmother] if I’m not able to join you, I would like to go back in Australia. After 3 times, he finally joined my grandmother in Libya where my father Carmelo was born in Tripoli in 1949.”
Tracing Liborio’s journey as a prisoner of war has not been an easy on. His grandson explains that his records have his name spelt incorrectly: BUONADONNA instead of BONADONNA, LIBRIO instead of LIBORIO.
But passion and determination on the part of grandson Liborio has ensured that Liborio Bonadonna’s story is told and his records and photographs of his time as a prisoner of war in Australia are with the family.
Liborio Mauro says, “All my family are happy and my father is crying for happiness. My grandfather was the most important person in my family. He was a true gentleman, well-educated and everyone fell in love with him. He was a strong and simple man.”
*The Empire Clyde was a British Navy war prize from the Abyssinian campaign. It was formerly an Italian passenger liner Leonardo da Vinci.
Liborio Bonadonna with his family c 1979, grandson Liborio Mauro on his grandfather’s lap
Sometimes it is the little items which catch my eye.
Prisoner of war uniforms has left me quite perplexed.
For a few years now, I had noticed the black stripe down the side of trousers. This however only seemed to be for Italian POWs who had time in India.
This was confirmed by Domenico Ferulli’s recollections:
Ad Ismailia, località al centro del canale di Suez, sono cinque giorni chiusi un un recinto nel deserto. Sono spossati fisicamente e con il morale a terra. La notte è talmente freddo che molti sono costretti a bruciare la giacca o le scarpe per riscaldarsi. Per cucinare si usa la paglia. Fatti spogliare e fare una doccia tutto il vestiario è ritirato e bruciato in alcuni forni. Periscono incenerite anche le migliaia di pidocchi, che da mesi hanno tenuto fastidiosa compagnia! Assegnano a ciascun prigioniero: una giacca leggera color cenere con una toppa di stoffa nero quadrata cucito dietro le spalle, pantaloni lunghi con banda nero, scarpe nuove, sapone per la pulizia e persino dentifricio con spazzolino da denti.
Italians Taking Communion in a British Camp in India 1943
Suddenly, everywhere I looked, I saw the black diamond sitting squarely between the shoulders of a light colour jacket and shirt, as well as the black stripe down the leg of shorts and trousers.
Many of the clothing items the Italian soldiers brought into the camps in Egypt were infested with lice or fleas. It makes sense that these uniforms were burnt and new ones issued.
In May 1943 it was reported that Italian casualties (deaths, missing and prisoners of war) were 400,000.
Logistically, how did the Allied Forces procure 400,000 replacement clothing and find staff to sew on patches.
And what did these patches represent! Was there a code relating to intended destinations for the prisoners? Or was the allocation of uniforms random?
Prisoners of war in England wore a dark coloured uniform with either a pale coloured circle shaped patch sewn on the right leg or a diamond patch on the right leg.
Emilio Clemente is standing on the right of the photo
Prisoner of War Uniforms with patch on right trouser leg
English Prisoner of War Camp courtesy of Mimosa Clemente
Then I noticed an Italian prisoner of war in November 1941 at Cowra camp wearing a black diamond shaped patch on the backside of light coloured trousers.
The Italians who arrived in Australia during 1941, was transferred directly from Egypt to Australia. Did they receive these pants in Australia or Egypt? Answer: Egypt, because once in Australia, the Italians were issued with their Australia POW uniform.
The strap is taken from a uniform jacket issued to enemy prisoners of war and civilian internees held in Australian camps during the Second World War. (AMW Relic 32594)
The official Australian prisoner of war uniform was disposal Australian Army khaki uniforms which had been dyed burgundy as is illustrated in the above photograph. The men were allowed to keep other clothing to be worn only inside camp or for farm work, this included their national uniforms.
Canteen at Cowra Camp November 1941
(ICRC V-P-HIST-01879-32B 1941)
At Campo 306 Geneifa Egypt prisoners of war were photographed wearing the black diamond pants with dark shirts and there are groups of Italians wearing the black stripe pants and black diamond shirts. A pattern seems to emerge: prisoners once processed in Egypt were given clothing: 1. pale coloured pants with a black stripe and pale coloured shirt with a black diamond OR 2. dark coloured shirt and pale coloured pants with a black diamond on the backside of the pants.
The Kitchen at Geneifa Camp 360 Egypt (ICRC VP-HIST-00851-25)
The photo below was taken in 1943, Italian prisoners of war in Melbourne after arriving from India….black stripe on pant!
(1943). Italian Prisoners of War – Italian prisoners of war on their way to a prisoner-of-war camp, following their arrival in Australia.
(National Archives of Australia)
Cowra, NSW. 1944-02-03. Italian prisoners-of-war from No. 12 Prisoner-of-War Camp using a heavy duty pulley block and tackle to pull down a large tree in a paddock near the camp. (AWM Image 064137, Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)
Was the allocation of clothing random?
Was the use of stripes and diamonds random?
Did your father or grandfather mention the POW uniforms?
Has anyone else noticed these uniforms with patches or stripes?
Have a look at photos taken of nonno or papa in the camps of India?
The USA appear to have adopted a completely different approach as is indicated by the P.W. stamped on both shorts and shirts of these German prisoners of war.
German Prisoner of War Uniforms
(from Military Law and Vigilante Justice
in Prisoner of War Camps during World War II
Mark M. Hull, PhD, JD, FRHistS January-February 2020 MILITARY REVIEW)
I am not sure if you have noticed the names of the army photographers who took the group photos of the Italian prisoners of war: Geoffrey McInnes, Ronald Leslie Stewart and Lewecki.
Why did Steward and McInnes have their first names identified but not Lewecki? A little puzzle…
Once I started to look for more information about these army photographers, I found the answer to another puzzle:
why did the Italian prisoners of war look like criminals in their identification photos?
The answer is simple: these identification photos were standard army photographs.
Australian soldiers and Italian prisoners of war had the same type of photos taken. There was no stigma or negative aspect to these identification photos. This was just a process.
Read the article below to find out further information…
The man behind the camera and named as Lewecki is Michael Nicholas LEWICKI. When he arrived in Australia in 1928 on the Cephee, he identified his nationality as Polish; his last residence as Germany and his occupation as agriculturalist. By 1936 he was operating a successful business in partnership with Herman Schϋtze: The Leicagraph Company. They took street photographs, and were “skilled in sport, ballroom, commercial, portrait, outdoor and other branches of this art.”
By April 1940, Michael Lewicki was the official Defence Department photographer and the following article is from the Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW: 1931-1954), Saturday 27 April 1940, page 5:
Pictures 350 A.I.F. Men Daily
Australia’s busiest cameraman is Mr Michael Lewicki, official Defence Department photographer.
He takes on an average of 700 pictures of A.I.F. recruits every day.
“Since war began, I have taken 19,000 pictures of soldiers,” Mr Lewicki said yesterday.
Mr Lewicki is a Pole by birth. He left Warsaw for Australia 12 years ago and is now a naturalised Australian.
He is engaged by the Defence Department under contract to take pictures of soldiers.
Every A.I.F. recruit has to be photographed twice – once full face and once profile.
From each negative four prints are taken. One of these is pasted in the soldiers’ pay-book, and the rest are for Defence Department records.
Mr Lewicki’s studio was recently transferred from Ingleburn camp to the A.I.F. recruiting depot, Moore Park.
Recruits are enlisted and officially photographed on the same day.
At present 350 men ae being photographed daily, but Mr Lewicki’s single camera equipment is capable of photographing 1200 men a day.
It stands to reason that the identification photos of the Italian prisoners of war were also taken by these same photographers. For those of you lucky enough to have copies of your father’s identification photos, you will notice that they were taken in the same manner as the Australian soldiers: one full face and one profile.
At first, it is easy to think that the Italians were made to look like criminals in the identification photos. Reality is that it did not matter whether you were an Australian soldier or an Italian prisoner of war, the same photos were taken. This was part of military procedure.
Alfredo Bertini and William Hugh Lewis
(NAA: A7919 C99229 and NAA: A7919 C99409)
Michael Lewicki was taking identification photos of 350 recruits per day.
The first group of Italian prisoners of war to Australia in May 1941, totalled 2006. I wonder how many days it took to take identification photos of these 2006 Italians at Hay Prisoner of War Camp. I wonder if Michael Lewicki took the identification photos of the Italian prisoners of war. He had the equipment; and he had the experience.
If your father was photographed by LEWECKI, now you know a little more about the man behind the camera: Michael LEWICKI.