Author Archives: Joanne in Townsville

Gentilissima Signorina Irma

A trainee nurse, Irma Vettovalli was working at the Ayr General Hospital during 1944 and 1945 when Italian prisoners of war from Q6 Home Hill Hostel were admitted to the hospital. While the military rule was that Italian prisoners of war were not to fraternise with women, Irma was not about to let military regulations get in the way of her nursing duties.

Pane Irma.jpeg

Trainee Nurse: Irma Vettovalli

(photo courtesy of Pina Vettovalli)

Agostino Leto was admitted to the hospital for chronic appendicitis 29th May 1944.  The story goes that the senior doctor at the hospital refused to operate on a prisoner of war, but the junior doctor, Dr Kelly had no hesitation in acting according to the ethical obligations of his profession.

Once he was admitted to the ward, Irma Vettovalli, realising Agostino had little English, went out of her way to speak with this patient. The Matron ordered Irma to cease her contact with this prisoner and under no circumstance was she to talk to or nurse Agostino again.  A plucky 18-year-old, Irma offered her resignation to Dr Kelly, without reason.  Upon questioning Irma, Dr Kelly identified the issue and told Irma to continue as before.

Agostino spent one month at the Ayr Hospital before returning to Q6 Hostel on 29th June 1944  but he did not return home to Prizzi Italy until January 1947. Upon his return to Italy, his recount of his one month hospital stay to his mother, prompted her to write a letter to Irma. Irma’s care and ability to speak Italian, was remembered and retold with great affection and appreciation by Agostino.

Prizzi 20 February 1947

Gentilissima Signorina Irma,

…As a mum it softened by heart and I feel an ache in which I must thank you through this sheet of paper.  I hope you accept my poor letter writing… [my son] says that yours [your visits] as a nurse were special.  He found you and only you will remain in my heart and you will be unforgettable to my dear son.  I wish that I could see you in person so I can tell you all that my poor heart feels, that I cannot put on paper.

And so my most gracious Miss, this is a small token of my esteem and from all my family to pass on to your dear ones.  I wish you good fortune and every kind of good.  Consider me your unknown friend. Rosa Leto.”

Pane, Irma Envelope

 

Mail from Rosa Leto to Irma Vettovalli

(photo courtesy of Pina Vettovalli)

Held in high regard, Dr Kelly, the medical superintendent wrote in December 1945, “she [Irma] gave eminent satisfaction, on account of her obedience, application to duty and intelligence.”

In 1992, Irma Vettovalli (now Mrs Irma Pane) received an award from the Alpini and Friends Group “expressing their profound gratitude for Irma’s ‘Noble gesture of Human Dedication for Italian Prisoners of War recuperating in hospital during the war period’.”

Irma wrote about those times, “Because of my dedication to Nursing in Ayr, I came in contact with people from all walks of life, colour and creed and having had respect and compassion for all during their illness, I too gained their respect.  Re- the war years, on some occasions only the ignorant would make hurtful remarks…”

Those war years were complicated years for Irma’s family.  Enrico Vettovalli, Irma’s father, was interned in February 1942 and sent to Gaythorne for processing and then to Loveday Internment Camp.  He was a naturalised British Subject and had been resident in Australia since March 1922.  Enrico was interned until May 1943 when he was released to work for Manpower SA.  In November 1943, he returned to Queensland.

Adding to the complexity of war, Irma’s brother Donato had in January 1942, been called to duty in the Australian Army. He was released for discharge in May 1945. Born in Italy, he was three years old when he migrated to Australia with his mother 1924.

Agostino Leto is seated first on the left.

 

Leto 3

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49115 C. Trentino; 49354 G. Ippolito; 49592 A. Poggi; 49107 G. Zunino; 48833 R. Bartoli; 49212 R. Papini; 48863 S. De Micco.

Front row: 48939 A. LETO; 49172 A. Mandrini; 57531 B. Protano; 49923 F. Carlone; 45196 A. Ciofani. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial Image 030173/11)

 

 

 

At the last minute…

The last main repatriation ship to leave Australia was the Orontes which left Melbourne 21st January 1947.  The official records document that there were 779 Italian prisoners of war onboard: 19 officers and 760 ORs. German prisoners of war were also onboard to be disembarked at Cuxhaven.

The Italians arrived at Station Pier [Port of Melbourne] on six special trains which had come from Sydney, Adelaide and Victorian country centres.

Station and Princes Pier Port of Melbourne 1939 from Victorian Places (https://www.victorianplaces.com.au/node/64947)

An Argus newspaper article reported that “a few Italian prisoners who had been missing, surrendered to Russell Street police station [Melbourne]” at the last minute.

Another two escapee Italians ‘surrendered at Station Pier Port of Melbourne’ on 21st January 1947.  Nicola Boraccino (b. 1916 Barletta (Bari)) had escaped from Liverpool Camp in NSW on 20.4.46.  Pasquale De Masi (b. 1912 Oppido Mamertino (Reggio Calabria)) escaped for a second time from Liverpool Camp NSW on 10.10.46.

1947 ‘LAST CALL FOR ORONTES’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1955), 24 January, p. 4. (CITY FINAL), viewed 26 Jul 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article78552469

A Perth newspaper published the above cartoon in Daily News on the 24th January 1947. In the bottom corner of the cartoon, you can see a man hiding with another man hiding in the trees at top right.  The Australian military, in an effort to get escaped prisoners of war to surrender to authorities emphasised this was a last opportunity for a ‘free’ trip home to Italy. Additionally, if they surrendered, they would still be considered for migration to Australia at a later date.

The newspaper article on 24.1.47 explains that the majority of escaped Italian prisoners of war were in Western Australia. These men were given the opportunity to return to custody to board the Orontes.

1947 ‘LAST CALL FOR ORONTES’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1955), 24 January, p. 3. (CITY FINAL), viewed 26 Jul 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article78552469

An additional three escapee Italian prisoners of war did surrender themselves to military police at Karrakatta Camp WA on 23.1.47 to be boarded at Gages Wharf Fremantle Harbour. 

They were Antonio de Matteis (b. 1917 Cubertino (Leece)) : escaped 22.7.46; Desiderio Greggio (b. 1918 Possonovo (Parma)) : escpaed 23.10.46 and Carmine Buonocunto (b. 1920 San Giovanni a Teduscio Napoli): escaped 23.10.46.

Carmine Buonocunto NAA: K1174

One of the first and last…

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. 

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Hay, camp No 8. Groupe de prisonniers de guerre italiens. World War II. Hay Camp. .

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.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Hay pour prisonniers de guerre italiens, détachement de Yanco. World War II.

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. 

Otranto (https://passengers.history.sa.gov.au/node/933331)

The Burgundy Parade

LG Hoey, a journalist wrote a series of informative articles about the Italian prisoners of war in Western Australia. On 12 January 1947, he wrote: Anthony in Adversity and included the photo below of one Italian eating dinner with two little girls.

WA POWs

1947 ‘The Burgundy Parade’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 12 January, p. 10. (SUPPLEMENT TO THE SUNDAY TIMES), viewed 05 Jun 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59470264

Anthony in Adversity captures the essence of this history providing stories of Italians and their farm experiences. Click on the link to read about some of these men:

  • the artist who was grief stricken as his hands became coarse and rough with farm work;
  • the hairdresser whose farm work was disrupted because the women of the district become his customers;
  • the tailor who made a suit for his farmer and yet the farmer still complained;
  • the farmer who was going to return his POWs until he found out one was a chef and one a dressmaker;
  • the Italian who was left in charge of the farm when the farmer went on holidays and disasters struck.

And then there is the story about Anthony: Antonio [Tony] was obsessed with washing, or so his boss said, and on many occasions the farmer had threatened to give Tony the “sack” [terminate his employment].

When the journalist asked Tony about his capture, Tony replied, “It was in Abyssinia.  One day I felt very happy, so I went to the river and do some washing. I wash a little, then a voice say, ‘come’.  I look around and 2 very big Indiani there with a knife.  I say, ‘I come’, and I come.”

LG Hoey capably sums up this history: when Australian farmers and Italian prisoners of war were thrown together into new and strange situations and learnt to adapt.

NB The Burgundy Parade is in reference to the burgundy coloured uniforms that the Italian prisoners of war were given to wear in Australia.  The official colour was magenta but these red uniforms were loathed by the Italians for obvious reasons.

Lost and Found

Alcide Stucchi arrived in Naples in January 1947. Over seventy five years later, I spent a beautiful spring day in Milan with Miriam Stucchi. We talked about her father’s memories, photos and a button and did a little sightseeing.

Miriam told me that she has a memory from her childhood of a button from her father’s Australian prisoner of war jacket.  The button was memorable because of the map of Australia on the button.  Miriam remembered that this Australian button was in a coffee tin with hundreds of other ordinary buttons, but she reflected that over the years it had been lost.

Alcide Stucchi had told his daughters that besides a few photos, this was the only souvenir he saved from the inspections when he arrived at Naples.

It is interesting to note that Alcide was one of 115 Italian prisoners of war transferred from Murchison Camp Victoria to Adelaide South Australia to board the Moreton Bay

Moreton Bay

(passengers.history.sa.gov.au)

This was the first batch from Victoria (apart from Andes) to be repatriated. The total group included 41 officers and 733 other ranks.  Accompanying the Italians were Captain F.E.R. Kafehagen and Roman Catholic Chaplin F.J. Conlan.  At Fremantle, one man was taken from the ship by ambulance for xrays at Hollywood Hospital.  He did not return to the ship.

Another interesting fact is that four of the Victorian prisoners of war on the Moreton Bay were men ‘whose priority repatriation was requested by the Italian authorities.’

In July 2022, I received a message from Miriam, “…at last, I found the button from my father’s jacket as a prisoner in Australia.”

Alcide Stucchi’s Australian Button

(photo courtesy of Miriam Stucchi)

Although the information below is from the Routine Orders: Repatriation Alcantara the orders were the same for each repatriation ship:

PW Clothing

Officers will wear their uniforms

Other ranks who possess uniform will wear them.  Those without uniforms will wear regulations issues [burgundy Australian uniforms].

The Australian ‘red’ uniforms were a symbol representing ‘prisoner of war’. I wonder how many Italians still had in their possession items of their Italian uniform. Possibly one of the first purchases in Naples with money received at the accommodation centre was a set of civilian clothing.

The Moreton Bay departed Adelaide on 14th December 1946. The group of prisoners of war consisted of 659 Italians from Loveday Camp South Australia together with the 115 from Murchison Camp Victoria.

Captured at 20

Antonio Ciancio, a chauffeur from San Giovanni a Teduccio Napoli was one of many thousands of Italian prisoners of war to reside in Hay Prisoner of War Camp.

Having arrived in May 1941, a nominal roll places him in Camp 7 Hay [11th November 1942].  There were three camps at Hay: Camp 6, Camp 7 and Camp 8. Each camp was built to house 1000.

The camps were designed in an octagonal layout and were separate from each other. The history of Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp began in July 1940, when the Australian War Cabinet agreed to build two camps at Hay to accommodate 1000 persons per camp. Camps 7 and 8 were filled with internees sent to Australia from Great Britain. On 2nd November 1940, Camp 6 opened with Italian civilian internees.

Italian prisoners of war from Egypt arrive in Hay 28th May 1941. Antonio Ciancio was in this group.  They were accommodated in Camp 7 and Camp 8. The next major development was the commencement of the River Farm in April 1942. I have used a 1962 aerial photo to highlight the positions of the camps and River Farm. If you look at Hay NSW on google maps and choose satellite view you will see an octagonal outline for Camp 6 and the extent of the River Farm.

Rough Location of Camps and River Farm Hay New South Wales

In August 1942, the newspapers reported that Hay Prisoner of War and Interments Camps had become a “model of what such a camp should be like in all countries.” In particular the produce from the farm/s were praised for its ‘experimental area of cotton which yields over 900 lb to the acre, the prison has 308 acres of vegetable, 20 acres of poultry, 16 for pigs, and 740 for mixed stock and crop farming.’

Dr Georges Morel reported in March 1943 that the Italian prisoners of war worked inside and outside the camp. Work outside the camps in addition to agriculture, consisted of building roads, erecting water pumping plants and fences, construction irrigation channels and sewerage works.

Prisoners of war were encouraged to be engaged in work parties.  Dr Morel recorded that for Camp 7, 94 men worked inside the camp and 320 men worked outside the camp and for Camp 8 87 worked inside the camp and 470 worked outside the camp.  The total number in residence for Camp 7 was 651 and for Camp 8 646.

1942 ‘War Prisoners Grow Cabbages’, Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), 3 November, p. 6. , viewed 02 Jun 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article132815787

It was reported that the Italians at Hay Camps in three months had grown 193,500 lbs of vegetables on 1000 acres of virgin soil. The men had also gained a stone in weight since arriving in Australia [during 1941]. 

Antonio was transferred to Cowra Camp on 13th August 1943.  The placement of Italian prisoners of war on farms was gaining momentum in New South Wales and Queensland. The movement of Italians from Hay to Cowra was based on geography and the need to have men available for easy transfer into districts north of Cowra.

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49305 E. Alunni; 46486 F. Palladino; 48249 G. Olivares; 46433 G. Polise; 49690 A. Rea; 45169 C. Catuogno. Front row: 49310 A. Argento; 49566 A. Di Pala; 49670 G. Joime [Ioime]; 45256 A. Ciancio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030148/10 Photographer Michael Lewicki)

Antonio was sent to a farm in the Coonabarabran district of New South Wales on 31.10.43. A newspaper report positively describes the Italian workforce. They were performing remarkable work, conduct was excellent, manners were most impressive, most were learning English very quickly and with guidance they were operating agricultural machinery.

By the time Antonio boarded the Alcantara to return to Italy on 23rd December 1946, he had spent 5 years and seven months in Australia.

His home city of Naples had been heavily bombed during 1944.

Naples Harbour 1944 (Imperial War Memorial)

Antonio would have been able to see San Giovanni a Teduccio on the journey into Naples harbour: a bittersweet moment.

Otranto sails for Naples

On the 8th /9th January 1947 about 500 Italian prisoners of war left from No. 7 Woolloomooloo Wharf in Sydney Harbour on the Otranto.  The Italians had arrived by train from Cowra with a military guard of four officers and 50 other ranks.

Pietro Gargano was disheartened to leave Australia.  Pietro had married a Cowra girl, Joyce Slocombe after escaping from the camp.  His wife persuaded him to give himself up and representations were made to allow Pietro to remain in Australia. Pietro returned to Australia in 1949.

Alessio Matonti [Matoni] told reporters that he had spent three years working on orchards in Orange. He left Australia with these words: “Best wishes to everybody in Australia.”

Another Italian prisoner was photographed by a journalist in Sydney.

Ladened with his personal possessions, many Italians also took home items not available in Italy such as canned food, material and boots.

A Heavily Bearded Italian Prisoner of War Boards the Otranto

[The Sydney Morning Herald January 8th 1947]

Civilian passengers who boarded the Otranto in Sydney were told by the  officers that passengers would be put off the ship if they fraternised with Italian officers during the voyage.  Italian officers were quartered in passenger cabins and Italian troops were isolated from passengers in troop decks. One female passenger from Sydney stated that she found the order to not fraternise was ‘most rude’.  Her logic was that should an Italian officer bump into her accidently and apologise to her, she could hardly refuse to reply. Some of the 200 civilian passengers were war brides travelling to Britain.

The OC British Lieut. Col. At T McCullogh was in charge of the Italians and stated, “I fought Italians and know them.  Women can find them very attractive. I will not hesitate to stop fraternisation.”

Italian officers were not allowed to attend dances on the voyage, though an eight-piece POW orchestra were engaged to play at the dances.

10th January 1947 arrived at Station Pier Melbourne from Sydney to embark a further 3000 Italian prisoners of war.  About 150 friends and relatives of the POWs waited at the Station Pier gates which were locked.  Australian farmers and their wives had made the journey from country Victoria to say goodbye to prisoners who had worked well on their farms for two years. It was reported that some women managed to get through to hand the prisoners parcels and take letters to mail from them.

Raffaele Caprioli had boarded the Otranto in Sydney.  Suffering from appendicitis, he was carried ashore at Station Pier and transferred to 115 Heidelberg Military Hospital.  He was repatriated on the Orontes on the 21st January 1947.

A group of Italian prisoners of war were photographed by a representative of the International Committee for the Red Cross, waiting to board a repatriation ship.  One man’s kit bag shows his name: LALLA. There were only two Italian prisoners with the surname LALLA: Ettore Lalla, 26 years old from San Buono Chieti  and Attilio Lalla, 46 years old from Liscia Chieti. Both boarded the Otranto in Melbourne.

Guerre 1939-1945. Rapatriement de prisonniers de guerre italiens.

Repatriation of Italian Prisoners of War ICRC VP-HIST-03235-24

15th January departed Fremantle F Shed

While in Fremantle Harbour it was reported that there were 3708 Italians on the Otranto, which included 21 officers.  When the ship berthed, the wharf was barricaded, and the Italians POWs were kept below. Some talked through portholes to 30 Italians who came to farewell them.  Otranto sailed at 1pm.

2nd February 1947 arrived at Suez

5th February 1947 arrived in Naples

Weather conditions forced the Otranto to stand off Naples Harbour until the winds abated.  Gale force winds tore other ships in Naples Harbour from their moorings.

Fine War Service for Otranto

From September 1939 to August 1945, the Otranto was in ‘war service’.  During that time, the ship carried 132,1919 troops, 10,076 prisoners of war and 3,181 civilians. Her first engagement carried the first Australian contingent to the United Kingdom.

On her voyage from Sydney to Italy to England in January/February 1947 she transported 523 passengers, 3708 Italian prisoners of war and an Australian guard of 46.

Repatriation: Alcantara

Today’s article is with thanks to Rocco Martino in New York.  After I published the article about the Ormonde  titled: Sailing Home,  Rocco made his generous offer to pay for a copy of the Alcantara Nominal Rolls of Italian Prisoners of War.Thank you most sincerely Rocco on behalf of the 3321 Italian families whose fathers and grandfathers were on this ship.

There were over 20 ships which transported Italian prisoners of war from Australia to Italy but not all lists have been digitalized by the National Archives of Australia.  The four main transport ships were Alcantara, Ormonde, Otranto and Orontes, sailing the end of 1946/ beginning of 1947.

The Alcantara departed Sydney on 23rd December 1946.  Official military documentation records that there were 3321 Italian prisoners onboard: 77 officers and 3244 ORs.

The group of Italians were transported in six train from Cowra to Sydney where they embarked the Alcantara from Pyrmont Wharf.  The event was reported in the newspapers and no doubt the Italians would have seen the humour and irony in the situation where the Italians ‘munched hard-boiled eggs, tarts and sandwiches’ while the ‘guards went without food‘. Upon arrival in Sydney, the Italians were given a mug of tea and fruit.

1946 Dec 23 The Telegraph

The Telegraph, Prisoners Eat: Guards Starve, 23 December 1946.

The Italians were allowed up to 90 lbs of  personal possessions and the photo below show all manner of baggage.  Some Italians had used their cash funds to buy up essential items like soap, toothpaste, clothing for their family, boots and canned food, as they already knew these items were in short supply in Italy.  “Most of the Italians wore camp made felt slippers and carried one or two pairs of new boots.  One in every twenty had a musical instrument, a violin, mandolin, guitar or accordion.”  

1946 Dec Daily Advertiser

Daily Advertiser, Back to Italy, 25 December 1946

The departure of the ship was held up waiting for the crew (Australian guards who no doubt went in search of food).  Scheduled for a 4 pm departure, the Alcantara sailed at 6.30pm. In the article below, you can see one of the Italians enjoying his sandwich and cup of tea.

Nicola Auciello is pictured on the bottom right.  He had reason to smile as he was engaged to an Australian girl. Nicola’s fiancee Muriel travelled to Italy at the end of 1947 and married Nicola in Bari in April 1948.  They returned to Australia in December 1948 taking up residence on a sheep property at Wee Waa.

Each of the 3321 Italians would have their own special story.  One Italian, showed the newspaper reporter a picture of his 11 year old son, who had never seen. Other Italians commented that they wanted to return to Australia and they were not looking forward to seeing ‘how bad’ the situation was in Italy.

Alcantara Four Italians

The Sun, Italian POW’s Leave for Home, 23 December 1946

The Alcantara according to Domenico Masciulli’s testimony, arrived into Naples on 22nd January 1947.

Take the time to read through the lists of Italians.  You will find men from your village or town; and men who were born in USA, Brazil, Argentina, France, Libya, Switzerland and Scotland.

This is an invaluable document and while looking through the names in the lists, it is difficult not to feel a definite sense of certainty: these men: brothers, fathers, grandfathers and sons were finally going home.

Many a name on the list is familiar to me; I have had contact with their families or spoken with their Australian farming families. I have seen their life through photos: after they returned home, on their wedding day, with their children. And you have been introduced to them through the articles on this website:  Domenico Petruzzi, Domenico Masciulli, Francesco (Ciccio) Cipolla, Stefano Lucantoni, Angelo Amante, Angelo Valiante, Adriano Zagonara, Salvatore Morello, Vincenzo Pace, Fortunato Gobbi, Luigi Iacopini, Paolo Reginato, Ferdinando Pancisi, Giuseppe Mangini, Costanzo Melino, Antonio Lumia, Domenico Tiberi.

Alcantara Troop ship 1942

Alcantara

(Martin Harrison, Medals Research Site, http://martinharisonsmedalresearch.weebly.com/gray-leslie-frank)

You can view the lists of Italian Prisoners of War two ways.

1. 1946 Alcantara Rolls

2.  Go to http://www.naa.gov.au  and search [Nominal rolls of Italian Prisoners of War at Cowra POW camp, for transfer from Australia to Naples, Italy per ALCANTARA] [Box 9]

NAA: SP196/1, 10 PART 15

Stranger in a Strange Land

There are two Italian prisoners of war whose names might not be on any memorial but should be acknowledged.

Fedanzi Primo DELORENZO died on 22nd May 1941, from pneumonia on the voyage from Egypt to Australia May 1941.  He was buried at sea, off the Western Australian coast, with full military honours.

Concettino SANTUCCI was on the repatriation ship “Empire Clyde” when he died: 27th December 1946.  He was from Magliano De’ Marsi L’Aquila.

**************************************************************************

The complexity of  the war time policy of interment in Australia is mirrored by the backgrounds of  the Italian men, woman and child who have been laid to rest in The Ossario.

The list below informs visitors to The Ossario of the Italians buried in the complex. Lists are important but their purpose is limited. Feeling that every Italian laid to rest deserves more than their name on a list, I have delved into each person’s story. What I found while researching these names is  that there is a history lesson in the details.  I have learnt more about the complexity of war.

Tunnel vision, saw me focus on the five Italian prisoners of war who died in Queensland.  The Ossario however is the final resting place for 130 Italians: 128 men, one woman and one baby. Furthermore, one Italian prisoner of war drowned and his body was never recovered; therefore there is no public acknowledgement of this man’s death.

The Ossario List of Italians

Italians Buried at Murchison

(photo courtesy of Alex Miles)

From the names on the list, I have learnt about  Italians, residents of the British Isles, who were interned and sent to Australia on the infamous Dunera.  I have read about the Remo and RomoloItalian passenger ships in Australian waters when Italy declared war and scuttling of the Romolo in the Coral Sea. Italian internees were also sent to Australia from Palestine and New Guinea.

Details of Italian Internees who died in Australia 1941-1946 provides a little of the history for each internee resting at The Ossario.

Details of Italian Prisoners of War who died in Australia 1942-1946 provides a little of the background for each prisoner of war resting at The Ossario.

Three Italians whose freedom was taken from them and died in Australia deserve a specific mention:

MR Librio is Mario Roberto infant son of  Andrea and Giuseppina Librio. His parents were interned in Palestine and they arrived in Australia onboard Queen Elizabeth 23rd August 1941. His life was short: he was born 4th May 1942 and died 12th May 1942.

Librio Family

Mario Roberto Librio’s Family

Tatura, Australia. 10 March 1945. Group of Italian internees at No. 3 Camp, Tatura Internment Group. Back row, left to right: 20091 Andrea Librio; 20092 Giuseppina Librio; 20094 Concetta Librio; 20093 Giuseppe Librio. Front Row: 20095 Umberto Librio; 20096 Maria Librio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM 030247/03 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

Cafiero Veneri was an Italian soldier captured at Sidi el Barrani on 11th December 1940.  He arrived in Australia from India on the Mariposa 26th April 1944. He was the son of Aldreo Veneri and Maria Fabbri from Porto Fuori Ravenna.  He was 32 years old when he drowned at Mornington on 23rd December 1945; caught in an undertow at Point Nepean, his body was never recovered.

Attilio Zanier was an Italian soldier captured at Asmara on 28th April 1941.  He arrived in Australia from India on the Mariposa 5th February 1944. He was 42 years old when he was gored by a bull on a farm in the W12 PWCC Narembeen district.  His death notice was advertised in The West Australian, a tribute from the Hall family:

Zanier (Attilio) – Accidentally killed on Frimley Farm Narembeen, on September 3 1944.  Attilio Zanier (prisoner of war). A stranger in a strange land. Husband of Erminia de Comun, fond father of Alcide of Ravascletto Udine Italia. Deeply regretted by the Hall family. (1944 ‘Family Notices’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 5 September, p. 1. , viewed 25 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44976920)

There has been an overwhelming generalisation that there were many POWs who committed suicide especially during 1946 when the men were desperate to return home to Italy. The nature and/or cause of death for the 95 Italian prisoners of war is illustrated in the graph below.  The numbers speak for themselves.

Deaths 95 updated

PS The main focus of my research has been Italian prisoners of war in Queensland. Their history is one small part of the bigger picture.  War is complicated and complex as were the groups of men, women and children who were interned in prisoner of war camps in Australia: Italian and German prisoners of war in other Australian states; Australian residents who were German, Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, Polish, Japanese, Spanish … who were interned; German and Italians who were resident in United Kingdom and interned in Australia; Italian families who were living in Palestine and interned in Australia;  and Italian and Austrian merchant seaman who were interned in Australia.

Planning for the future

November 1946 and there were over 10,000 Italian prisoners of war in Australia awaiting repatriation.

Some of these men had thoughts of returning to Australia and with the assistance of the International Red Cross representative in Australia: Dr Pierre Descoeudres, had completed their Form 47 Application for Permit to Enter Australia and attached theirForm 47 A Medical Examination (For Persons Seeking Permanent Admission into Australia)

In November 1946, Dr Descoeudres wrote to Department of Immigration to obtain another 200 Form 47s.  He had already received 340 completed forms from Italian prisoners of war.

In February 1947, Dr Descoeudres received a reply stating that prisoners of war were: “not eligible for re-admission under existing policy” and that the 340 applications would not be processed.

Form 47 and Form 47A for seventeen Italians are archived and can be viewed online at http://www.naa.gov.au  The file is titled: International Red Cross – General File – Dr Pierre Descoeurdes – Representative. NAA: A434, 1947/3/14

Some of the men included photos of themselves, most likely taken by their farming families.

Bruno Zignego included two photos of himself with his crafted models of ships:

Zignego

Bruno Zignego (Ziniego)

NAA: A434, 1947/3/14

An interesting and perplexing question on Form 47 regarded RACE.  While some of the men wrote European or White, Bruno chose to write LATIN.

This is a list of the Italians for which files exist and who had intentions to return to Australia:

Gesuino SCALAS from Cagliari Sardinia

Giuseppe MOLEA from Sant Pietro Amaida Catanzaro

Giacomo GAGGIOLI from Buriano Grossetto

Nazzareno DIMONOPOLI from Sava Taranto

Aldo DELLANNA from Lecce Apulia

Pietro DAIDONE (DIADONE) from Mazara del Vallo Trapani

Cola ARMANDO from Cerreto D’Esi Ancona

Riccardo ACQUAVIVA from Andria Bari

Bruno Zignego (Ziniego) from Fezzano La Spezia

Salvatore TERENZI from San Clemente Forli

Umberto SALA from Milano

Giuseppe CASTAGNA from Palermo Sicily

Angelo QUACINELLA from Siracusa Sicily

Giovanni PORTARO from Catania Sicily

Erminio Silvio NAVARIN from Casale di Scodosia Padova

Guido LEONORI from Sassoferrado Ancona

Gaetano Mario CAVALLARO from Ramodipalo Rovigo