Category Archives: Cowra PW & I Camp

What a journey!

Today I introduce you to Pasquale Landolfi from Frattaminore Napoli. Pasquale was 20 years old when he was captured at Tobruk 21.1.1941.

From 13.10.41 and his arrival on the Queen Mary into Sydney NSW until his departure on 28.6.1949 from Sydney NSW on the SS Surriento Pasquale travels through five states of Australia.

Tracing his journey Pasquale went from NEW SOUTH WALES: Sydney to Cowra Camp to VICTORIA: Murchison Camp. He transited through SOUTH AUSTRALIA on his way to WESTERN AUSTRALIA: No 8 Labour Detachment Karrakatta and Marrinup Camp.

Pasquale then crossed Australia again and returned to VICTORIA: Murchison Camp and then NEW SOUTH WALES: Hay Camp.

The next stage of his journey took him to QUEENSLAND: Gaythorne Camp and Home Hill* Hostel. After escaping from the Home Hill Hostel, he briefly ‘visited’ Bowen until his arrest and return the Home Hill Hostel.

He returned to Gaythorne Camp before a return to VICTORIA: Murchison Camp and the Dandenong after he escaped from a Murchison working party. Upon capture he was sent to NEW SOUTH WALES: Holdsworthy Military Barracks for detention.

Three Italian prisoners of war boarded the SS Surriento in Sydney on 28.6.49: Pasquale Landolfi, Giacomo Tagliaferri and Isidoro Cammaroto. The ship sailed from Sydney to Brisbane QLD before departing for Italy.

The newspaper article below records this unusual situation of a passenger liner carrying three prisoners of war and two political deportees.

Brisbane Telegraph (Qld. : 1948 – 1954), Thursday 30 June 1949, page 8

1949 ‘Line­­r Has Unwelcome Quintette’, Brisbane Telegraph (Qld. : 1948 – 1954), 30 June, p. 8. (CITY FINAL), viewed 20 Jul 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212190014

*Home Hill is 97 km south of Townsville. Bowen is 104 km south of Home Hill and 84 km north of Whitsundays.

Nonno Peppino

Memories from Ippolito Moscatelli (Messaggero di Sant’Antonio July-August 2021)

A special thank you to Sara Bavato for her continued support of the Italian prisoner of war research project and her article in the latest publication of Messaggero di Sant’Antonio. Click on the link below to read the article…

Every Italian prisoner of war took something small home to Italy. It might be a memory of flying fish and dolphins, a button from the POW uniform, a dictionary, a theatre program or a chess set.

The history of Italian prisoners of war is enriched by these items. Each item adds new understanding to the life of the Italian prisoner of war in Australia.

Ippolito’s granddaughter Francesca continues to discover bits and pieces of her nonno’s collection and each one brings new meaning to her nonno’s life.

Pastel by Ippolito Moscatelli 11 November 1945 (courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)

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.

Dedication to All

Monsignor Giovanni Panico’s work was essential to both Australian and Italian families.  As Australasia’s Apostolic Delegate he coordinated requests to find Australian soldiers held in prisoner of war camps in Italy and south east Asia. He also was the intermediary to help to locate Italian soldiers held in Australia’s prisoner of war camps as well as sending messages to families in Italy.

From the Prisoner of War Bureau at North Sydney, Dr Panico, the Delegation secretaries, six women and one man were employed to liaise between families and prisoners of war to locate missing Australian, New Zealand and Italian troops.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

In November 1935, Dr Panico was appointed as the new Apostolic Delegate for Australasia.  He came with a wealth of experience from his previous postings to Bavaria, Prague, Czechoslovakia. He was reported to be an authority on canon law and could speak all the modern languages.

With Italy’s declaration of war on France and Britain in June 1940, it was made clear that Dr Panico was a citizen of the Vatican and that he held a Vatican passport. On the 20th June 1940, Dr Panico made wartime radio history with a broadcast directly with the Vatican radio station.  In this inaugural broadcast, Dr Panico received from Vatican City Radio the names of 26 member of the A.I.F. (Australian troops) with messages for their families.  He asked Australian families looking for information about sons or husbands, missing in action, to advise of the location eg Libya, Greece, Crete. This service was offered to Australians regardless of religion.

Dr Panico worked tirelessly throughout the war years.

Australia’s Attorney General and Foreign Minister HV Evatt wrote to the Holy See on 1st June 1946:

To His Holiness

Great gratitude from myself and Government for patient, untiring and invaluable assistance given throughout the war by Mons. Panico in noble work or relieving the lot of prisoners of war and anxieties of their relatives specially in connection with Australian prisoners of war in Japanese and German hands.

The workload of this service increased dramatically.  June 1940 saw the arrests and internment of Australian resident Italians in internment camps with families in Italy looking for information on their Australian relatives.  In May 1941, the first Italian prisoners of war from Egypt arrived and the service was extended to assist Italian POWs to send messages home to Italy as well as receiving messages from Italy for the whereabouts of ‘missing’ Italian troops.

By April 1944, it was reported that over 300,000 messages had been received.  The service expanded to a one-hour broadcast six days a week.  The transmissions included lists of prisoners of war and messages from them for their families in New Zealand and Australia.  For Italian prisoners of war held in Australian camps, Dr Panico would arrange requests from Australia via air or surface mail of telegram.

Visitation to prisoners of war and internees was also an important role played by Dr Panico.  He made journeys across Australia to report on the conditions in camps and to offer spiritual solace.  He distributed thousands of books, purchased musical instruments and donated money on behalf of the Vatican to the camps.

Distribution of Books at Yanco Camp December 1942.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

Once Italian prisoners of war were placed on farms, Dr Panico visited farms to speak with farmers and the Italians. He was impressed by his experiences: “After such an intimate experience of the conditions of the prisoners and internees in Australia, it is highly commendatory to hear the Apostolic Delegate say that in no country could these men and women be treated better than they have been and are being treated in Australia.” He was concerned about ensuring that Italian prisoners of war had opportunities to attend mass once a week.  To this end, Dr Panico disclosed, in secret, to the Vatican, that he was granted by the Australian government, 1600 litres of oil [fuel] per month to allow the transport of prisoners to Mass or for parish priests to visit the prisoners. As part of his ministry, a special mass and celebration in Gympie Queensland for the district’s prisoners of war was organised by Dr Panico.

In May 1944, Dr Panico reported to the Vatican on his visits to farms. The following was conveyed, “Egli rimase veramente commosso dell’accoglienza a lui fatta anche da proprietari non cattolici, e della maniera con cui essi trattavano i prigionieri. Con molta soddisfazione vide che in alcune case coloniche i prigionieri erano considerati come membri della famiglia, dormendo nella stessa casa dei proprietari, prendendo insieme ad essi il cibo e ricreandosi insieme dopo il lavoro. Il Delegato Apostolico intese con non minor soddisfazione, gli elogi che i proprietari delle fattorie facevano dei prigionieri, i quali, salvo pochissime eccezioni, hanno contribuito e contribuiscono non solo a mantenere alta la tradizione dei lavoratori italiani, ma anche a distruggere molti pregiudizi che i protestanti d’Australia avevano verso il cattolicesimo. Inoltre, l’affezione dimostrata dagli stessi prigionieri verso i bambini delle famiglie presso le quali lavorano, ha portato qualche volta a scene tenerissime.” (Collectanea Archivi Vaticani 52)

Spiritual welfare for prisoners of war was a priority for Dr Panico which he administered in many ways. Dr Panico visited Italian prisoners of war in POW camp and Australian military hospitals. He gave the Last Rites to Cesare Sottocorno at the 113 Australian General Hospital Concord Sydney and ensured that a gravestone was erected on his grave. Dr Panico provided the photo at the left and details of Cesare’s death which was then sent to Cesare’s family via the Vatican.  The following photo shows his visit to the infirmary at Cowra Prisoner of War Camp.

Grave of Cesare Sottocorno (photo courtesy of Cesare Sottocorno)

L’Amico del Prigioniero was published by Dr Panico in May 1943, another example of his care and concern for the prisoners. In the preface he wrote, “L’intento del libro è già chiaramente delineato nel itiolo con ciuamammo chiarmarlo.” This liturgical work was taken home to Italy by many of the prisoners of war.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

Newspaper articles attest to Dr Panico’s farewell to the Italian prisoners of war.  In an unofficial capacity he was at a Sydney wharf to farewell Italian prisoners of war on the repatriation ship Moreton Bay in July 1946.  In November 1946, he was at a Fremantle wharf to say goodbye to those men boarding the SS Katoomba. The photograph records his conversation with one SS Katoomba prisoner of war.

A group photo of Dr Panico onboard an unnamed repatriation ship in 1946 reinforces his dedication to the welfare of the Italian prisoners of war.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

Dr Panico’s work did not finish with the end of war or once Italian prisoners of war were repatriated. He set up the Relief Committee, the Relief to Italy from Australia, which arranged for 50 tons of clothing to be sent to Europe.

In October 1948, after 13 years’ service in Australia, Dr Panico was appointed papal nuncio to Peru.

A special thank you to Rocco Severino De Micheli who has shared the photos of Dr Panico included in this article. Rocco relates that one of Dr Panico’s important and lasting legacies is the Ospedale Cardinale Giovanni Panico de Tricase (Lecce).

Statue of Giovanni Panico in Tricase (Lecce) (photo courtesy of Rocco Severino de Micheli)

Storia di un soldato

In Memoriam- Cesare Sottocorno

(photo courtesy of Cesare Sottocorno)

Quelli che sono nati dopo la fine del secondo conflitto mondiale hanno vissuto e ancora vivono in un periodo di pace, il più lungo, dicono gli storici, che abbia attraversato il vecchio continente. Il merito, sostengono sempre gli studiosi, è anche di quel documento noto come il Manifesto di Ventotene, Per un’Europa libera e unita, scritto da Ernesto Rossi, Altiero Spinelli, Ursula Hirschmann ed Eugenio Colorni, al confino sull’isola dove scontavano la condanna perché socialmente pericolosi. Non è questa la sede per ripercorrere le vicende che hanno portato alla creazione dell’Unione Europea una realtà politica da tenere cara nonostante le difficoltà sorte tra i diversi stati e in situazioni come nel caso della recente pandemia.

WW2 Memorial Rivolta d’Adda (photo courtesy of Cesare Sottocorno)

Non possiamo dire che nel nostro Paese quella pace abbia significato tranquillità e che gli anni passati siano stati sereni. Ricordiamo i contrasti sociali, il terrorismo, le vittime delle mafie, le   povertà vecchie e nuove, le convivenze difficili e problematiche con le diversità di lingua, di cultura, di religione o di genere. Problemi che esigerebbero lunghe analisi, ma pur sempre lontani dalle distruzioni, dalla fame, dalle migliaia di morti che ogni guerra porta con sé.

Occorre peraltro affermare con forza che, insieme agli intellettuali illuminati e a quelli fra i politici che hanno garantito la pace e un sostanziale benessere, tantissimi  cittadini, come ha affermato il presidente Mattarella, si sono dimostrati, nel tempo, consapevoli di appartenere a una comunità capace di risollevarsi dalle avversità e di rinnovarsi nello spirito della democrazia: donne e uomini, contadini e operai, casalinghe, infermiere, medici,  insegnanti, giudici, operatori del commercio, impiegati… e tutti ne abbiamo conosciuti.

Se per fortuna la guerra è lontana, non possiamo dimenticarla. Non possiamo dimenticare i soldati che hanno lasciato le loro vite in battaglia, tra le trincee, nei campi di concentramento e nelle gelide steppe di un’Europa in fiamme, per ordini assurdi di politici aggressivi e di comandanti inetti, oppure sulle montagne a difesa della libertà.

I loro nomi sono scritti sul marmo, in ogni località, sulle vie e sulle piazze, perché non siano dimenticati. Li hanno letti, per tanti anni, a voce alta quelli del nostro paese, e li ho letti anch’io, da solo, dopo la messa dell’aurora, qualche mattina fa, il 25 aprile, l’anniversario della liberazione che vogliamo continuare a ricordare, inizio e simbolo della riconquistata libertà.

WW2 Memorial Rivolta d’Adda (photo courtesy of Cesare Sottocorno)

Tra questi un nome mi è familiare perché è stato dato anche a me. Soldato di leva, della classe 1920. Data di nascita, come è nel mio caso, incerta: il 31 maggio o il 1° giugno.  Arruolato in anticipo e chiamato alle armi il 5 febbraio 1940 a Livorno. Sul foglio distrettuale è annotato: contadino, di religione cattolica, abitante a Rivolta d’Adda in via Paladino n. 44, occhi castani e così anche i capelli dalla forma ondulata, mento diritto, colorito roseo, dentatura sana e una doppia cicatrice, una al labbro superiore e una alla fronte. Sapeva leggere e scrivere, aveva frequentato le scuole fino alla quarta elementare e non era ammogliato.

Allo scoppio delle ostilità, il 10 giugno 1940, è partito, con il 7° Reggimento Artiglieria, per la Libia, territorio allora italiano dichiarato in stato di guerra.  Sei mesi più tardi, il 5 gennaio 1941, secondo le fonti italiane, è stato considerato disperso durante le operazioni militari in Cirenaica. Lo stesso giorno, dicono i documenti inglesi, è stato catturato a Bardia e dichiarato prigioniero di guerra.

In una valigia di cartone ho trovato le sue lettere. Il giovane soldato racconta ai genitori il suo viaggio di otto giorni con il mare in burrasca. Dice a suo padre d’essere in compagnia con altri cinque di Rivolta e che la terra che lui ha conquistato è poco di bello, è tutta sabbia, la gente è mezza nuda, ci sono bestie che non conosce, non si capisce niente, dorme sulla paglia, di giorno fa molto caldo e di notte molto freddo. Come tutti i militari viene vaccinato e la febbre a quaranta lo costringe a letto. Mangia pane e cipolle perché il ghibli, il vento del deserto, solleva la sabbia che finisce nella minestra. Scrive alla mamma che essere malato sotto le armi è una vita da martire perché lei è lontana: per la cura e per tutto il resto bisogna fare da solo. La informa d’essere guarito, di aver dovuto tagliare i capelli perché nella sua tenda c’erano i pidocchi, ma anche di fare l’allenamento e di andare ogni festa a giocare a calcio in città. Aspetta con ansia le loro lettere e quando non arrivano si rattrista e piange.

Trova conforto nell’amicizia e smentisce chi ha detto che sono in pericolo dal momento che sono al sicuro. Non nasconde la sua felicità  a suo fratello che un giorno si è trovato con undici militari di Rivolta e che si sono messi tutti a piangere come bambini. Il suo paese è sempre nei suoi pensieri. Ride dopo aver saputo da suo fratello di una recita all’oratorio in cui il protagonista rimane in mutande e la sera di Sant’Alberto, guardando il cielo, gli è sembrato di vedere, anche nel deserto, i fuochi artificiali. Per far passare la malinconia si rivolge al nonno e gli dice che è un ortolano da poco perché raccoglie solo le zucche e le cornette e gli domanda se la sua bicicletta è ancora appesa al soffitto.

I libri di Storia narrano che dal dicembre 1940 al gennaio 1941 le truppe del generale Geroge J. O’Connor sferrarono un’offensiva di sorpresa e il giorno 5 conquistarono la guarnigione di Bardia, costituita da 45.000 soldati. Le truppe italiane si arresero e il generale Annibale Bergonzoli che aveva affermato: a Bardia siamo e ci resteremo, fuggì e raggiunse a piedi Tobruk che distava 120 chilometri.

Il  nostro soldato fa sapere alla mamma che ora si trova prigioniero e che sta bene e le chiede di dire qualche Ave Maria alla Madonna di farlo stare sano.

Il 13 ottobre 1941 viene trasferito a Sydney in Australia e internato a Cowra. Ricoverato all’ospedale militare del campo di concentramento, muore il 22 gennaio 1942, alle undici di sera, per un ascesso al polmone destro.

In una lettera della Segreteria di Stato del Vaticano indirizzata alla Pregiatissima Signora  ***

si precisava che il *** morì di dissenteria ed è stato sepolto nel cimitero cattolico di Sidney e la lapide porta l’iscrizione alla memoria di *** il primo prigioniero italiano morto in Australia all’età di 21 anni.

Grave of Cesare Sottocorno in Rockwood Cemetery New South Wales Australia

(photo courtesy of Cesare Sottocorno)

Il fratello, al quale spesso raccontava le difficoltà della vita militare e che, come alpino del reparto sanità, stava per partire per la Russia, ottiene, grazie anche al parroco, un anno di licenza per stare vicino ai genitori.

A guerra finita, il 27 novembre 1947, il professor Lambert Yonna, medico dell’Ospedale Militare racconta che il caro e simpatico giovane venne operato il 13 gennaio, dopo aver sentito il parere di Sir Charles Blackburn, un rinomato specialista per tali malattie. Il soldato, invece di reagire per il meglio cominciò a declinare e, ricevuti gli onori militari e i Sacramenti, rese la sua giovane anima a Dio, mentre mi serrava la mano e cercava di parlarmi.

                                                                                    Cesare Sottocorno

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 a wharf in Sydney, most likely Pyrmont Wharves. 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)

Made in India

Libya…India…Australia

Settimio Ceppitelli was with the 201 Reggimento Artiglierei Division 23 MARZO when he was captured 11th December 1940 near Bardia.

Crociani and Batistelli record in The Italian Blackshirt 1935-1945, “Blackshirt divisions at Sidi Barrani in December 1940; 3 Gennairo (disbanded on 10 December) was destroyed, while remnants of the ‘28 Ottobre’ withdrew to Sollum and those of the ‘23 Marzo’ to Bardia, where both were mauled and disbanded on 5 January 1941.”

A glimpse into Italian artillery soldiers can be gleaned by photos held in the Australian War Memorial.  Italian troops were equipped with modern guns yet at the same time they used old German guns made in 1916 together with 149 mm calibre guns introduced into the Italian army in 1910.

1st March 1941 NEAR BARDIA. THESE ARE THE MOST MODERN GUNS USED BY THE ITALIANS AND PROBABLY AS GOOD OR BETTER THAN ANY OTHER SIMILAR GUN IN USE IN THE CAMPAIGN. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

5th January 1941 NEAR BARDIA – AN ITALIAN GUN USED IN THE DEFENCE OF BARDIA. CAPTAIN HOWARD (HISTORICAL RECORDS) INSPECTS THE WEAPON WITH R. MASLYN WILLIAMS. THE ITALIANS HAD A CURIOUS ASSORTMENT OF ANCIENT & MODERN WEAPONS – THIS BEING AN OLD GERMAN GUN MADE IN 1916. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

13th December 1940 SIDI BARRANI – AMONG THE THOUSANDS OF TONS OF STORES & ARMAMENTS ABANDONED BY THE ITALIANS WAS THIS GREAT NAVAL GUN IN THE COURTYARD OF THE BARRACKS AT BARRANI. (AWM Image 004439, PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

Transferred to India, Settimio embroidered Santa Lucia. Noticeable are his initials C. and S. stitched into the work and the colours of the Italian flag at the top and bottom of the pillars.

Santa Lucia is the patron saint of the blind. Santa Lucia appears to have been a popular saint as she was embroidered or painted by several Italian prisoners of war in Bangalore India as is shown in the photo below.

Immagine Santa Lucia (photo courtesy of Bruno Ceppitelli)

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. exposition d’objets d’arts fabriqués par les prisonniers. Word War II. Bangalore. Italian prisoners of war camp. Exhibition of works of art and musical instruments made by prisoners.

Objects of Art crafted by Italian prisoners of war at Bangalore India

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03480-10A)

Settimio’s other embroidery is of the Madonna del Prigioniero. It bears a striking resemblence to the statue of the Madonna del Prigioniero in Bangalore Camp Group 1. 

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Groupe I. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Monument “Notre-Dame du prisonnier”. Word War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp. “Notre-Dame du prisonnier” monument.

Madonna del Prigioniero Bangalore Camp Group 1, India

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-05A)

The Madonna is standing on the world with a snake at her feet, her head is adorned with a crown, an Italian prisoner kneels at her side praying and wearing beige clothing with a black stripe, two vases of flowers sit upon the pedestal.

Madonna del Prigioniero India 1942 (photo courtesy of Bruno Ceppitelli)

Settimio arrived in Australia on 26th April 1944 onboard the Mariposa. Tranferred from Melbourne to Cowra Camp New South Wales by train, Settimio was to spend the next 2 years and 8 months at Cowra Camp.

Settimio’s nephew Bruno provides the following details: As an assistant to an officer, Settimio remained in Cowra Camp.  He returned home to Italy with a handmade banjo; he had learnt to play music by ear.

Possibly Lieut. Mario Conti from the 233 Legion CCNN Division 23 MARZO, who was also on the Mariposa, was the officer Settimio was assigned to.

No doubt Settimio prayed in the Cowra Chapel with the beautifully painted altar panels and sat in the audience of the June 1946 performance of L’Antenato [The Ancestor] a Commedia in 3 Atti by Carlo Veneziani.

Settimio returned to Italy on the Alcantara and to farming in his hometown of Soccorso Magione Perugia. His embroideries from India are now framed, a memory of those tumultuous and ‘lost’ years when young men spent their youth as prisoners of war.

Settimio Ceppitelli with his wife, Soccorso Magione Perugia

(photo courtesy of Bruno Ceppitelli)

I remember Tony, Mike and Matt…

Ninety-year-old Ron Treloar was 14 years old when Tony, Mike and Matt came to work and live on his family’s farm at Hansen Road Dagun via Gympie.

In the red volcanic soil of the district, the Treloar family grew French beans and pineapples for the Melbourne and Sydney markets.  The three Italian prisoners of war were also responsible for clearing some of the scrub which was littered with volcanic basalt rock.  They used the rocks to build dry stone walls/barriers which were about four feet high. They were very skilled in keeping the wall aligned.

Ron remembers that the men were good at pruning the grape vines, grown for house grapes.  They lived in a three-roomed part of the shed which had been fitted out for them with beds, a kitchen and stove.  Mike returned to Australia after the war and wrote dad a letter.  He asked if he could visit as he really wanted to collect the old stove. Mike must have mastered the wood stove and saw it as important to his memories of those years.  Unfortunately, his wife told him it was too dangerous to travel to Dagun.

The open spaces of farm life was appreciated by the Italians.  Ron reminisces, “The country is hilly and they would sing O Sole Mio and Ave Maria and their voices would reverberate through the hills. I remember a visit from my cousin Trevor with his family. Trevor was about 3 or 4 years old at the time.  They talked amongst themselves when they saw Trevor.  He had red curly hair and reminded them of cherubs. They were allowed to go to church at Kandanga but they always returned home subdued. Dad found out eventually that one of the prisoners in the district was a fascist and he would goad our fellows and stir them up.  They were different when they returned from church.”

Ron continues, “The canteen truck would come around home once a month and they could buy items.  The spaghetti came in a wooden box about 3 feet long, 1 foot wide and 4 inches deep.  One month, there was no spaghetti.  They were different without spaghetti and very annoyed.  They asked mum for some flour and eggs and they made their own spaghetti out under the awning of the shed.  Then they hung up the strands like you would hand up washing.  Once dad had shot a hare.  They were keen to ask if they could have the hare to eat.  They cooked it up with tomatoes and onions and served it up with spaghetti.”

“When it was time for them to leave, the Italians cried.  It was a sad day for the whole family. We never had any trouble with them, they were like family. I still remember their names all these years later: Tony Palladino, Matt Macchia and Mike Laricchia,” Ron reflects.

There full names are Angelo Antonio PALLADINO, Matteo MACCHIA and Michele LARICCHIA. From the same region of Bari, the three men are in a photo taken at Cowra Camp 6th February 1944.  They were then transferred to Gaythorne Camp in Queensland on the 6th April 1944. 

The Treloar farm at Dagun was their home from 2nd June 1944 to 4th January 1946.

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 47904 M. Bello; 45091 C. Bono; 47434 F. De Venuto; 57496 G. Sinisi; 49432 S. Cristiano; 46264 N. Monteleone; 57291 M. Laricchia. Front row: 45349 L. Caputo; 57302 F. Liberto; 57414 A. A. Palladino; 57324 M. Macchia; 57210 A. Fato. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030173/06 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Michele Laricchia [Michael Laricchia] was interviewed by John Meredith and Rob Willis from the National Library of Australia. Click on the link to hear the interview: NLA Interview with Michael Laricchia.

A special thank you to Ron Treloar for sharing his memories via a telephone conversation. Ron’s memories are vibrant and fresh in his mind. Thank you also to Alex Miles for tracking down contact details for Ron.

A Portrait by Gulminelli

Brothers Marino and Mario Casadei arrived from India into Melbourne Australia on the General William Mitchell 13th February 1945.

Marino and Mario Casadei in a prisoner of war camp India (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)

The group of 2076 Italian prisoners of war on the General William Mitchell were the last group to be transported from India to Australia. The men were sent in all directions for farm work; as far away as Queensland and Western Australia.

From the group, 875 were sent to Cowra Camp. An unknown number did not go to farms but remained at Cowra Camp. Among the Cowra group were Marino and Mario Casadei, agriculturalists from Ravenna and Carlo Gulminelli, a clerk from Mezzano [ Ravenna].

About ten years ago Graham Apthorpe from Cowra sent the photo below of Carlo in his artist’s workspace at Cowra Camp to Matteo Casadio.

Carlo Gulminelli painted a portrait of Matteo’s grandfather Marino Casadei in September 1946. Marino’s portrait is sitting on the table, second from the left.  Marino took home his portrait: an original by Gulminelli.

Carlo Gulminelli Cowra 1946 (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)

Matteo explains that the family name is Casadio but the surname was registered as CASADEI for Mario and Marino in the Australian records.

Portrait of Marino Casadei painted by Gulminelli (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)

Marino’s grandson Matteo has recently made contact with Carlo’s son. Carlo Gulminelli continued to paint in Italy all his life. Carlo Gulminelli has become an important painter, his paintings are well rated and appreciated in artistic circles. Please clink on the following line for more information about Carlo Gulminelli : Patrimimonio Culturale dell’Emilia Romagna

BUT questions remain:

Who are the other men that Carlo painted?

Does your family have a portrait painted by Gulminelli?

Repatriation to Italy 1943

Salvatore Targiani’s journey as a prisoner of war is unusual.

He arrived in Sydney Australia on the Queen Elizabeth 15th October 1941 and departed from Sydney 29th March 1943.

When Salvatore was captured at Bardia, he had been serving with the 17th Hygiene Unit for 18 months.

This information is key to Salvatore’s arrival and repatriation.

When the Queen Elizabeth arrived in Sydney, a newspaper reported:

“Some of the prisoners were ill and they were carried in stretchers to military ambulances and taken to hospital”.

Salvatore’s experience as an orderly/health worker in Libya no doubt continued to be utilised in the camp hospitals in Egypt, on the Queen Elizabeth to Australia and on the repatriation ship.

Although Salvatore did not talk about his war years and he did not work in the health industry after the war, his grandson Salvatore Di Noia agrees with these thoughts about his nonno. Medical orderlies were classed as ‘protected personnel’.****

Salvatore Targiani

(photo courtesy of Salvatore Di Noia)

The Oranje left Sydney on 29th March 1943. Salvatore was on this ship, which arrived in Suez Egypt 18th April 1943.

Oranje had first arrived in Sydney March 1941.  It was converted to a hospital ship and during the war made 41 voyages from Australia and New Zealand to the Middle East transporting Australian and New Zealand wounded. She was the largest hospital ship operating from Australia.

She was painted white with a green band around her hull. Three red crosses were painted on each side of the ship as well, red crosses were painted on her funnels.

21 August 1941 The Dutch hospital ship Oranje off the Western Australian coast in 1941, shortly after the completion of its conversion as a hospital ship. The red crosses and green stripes on the white hull were meant to be a conspicuous reminder to enemy vessels of its non-combatant role. The ship evacuated wounded Australian soldiers from the Middle East. (AWM 302809)

In 1943, the Italian prisoners on Oranje were part of a Mutual Repatriation Scheme.

This was a mutual exchange arrangement between Great Britain and Italy. At Suez, this group of wounded, sick and protected personnel was handed over to a British Escort. The group were then taken by train to Alexandria then ship to Smyrna Turkey.

Archived documents provide the following informing regarding the number of Italian prisoners of war on this transport:

Protected Personnel: 92 officers and 455 other ranks = 547

Medical Cases: 38 officers and 37 other ranks = 75

Total number repatriated: 622

The following items were noted regarding the voyage:

Concerned Italian prisoners of war were concentrated at Cowra before embarkation.

Funds are provided from Ship’s Imprest Account to enable Italians to make canteen purchases.

NSW Division of Australian Red Cross Society provided Red Cross stores for use on the journey.

Arrangements were made for free issue of cigarettes and/or tobacco to Italian prisoners of war other ranks at the same scale as camp issue.

One Chaplin (RC) was included with the escort to administer to the prisoners of war.

The Apostolic Delegate was permitted to inspect the prisoners of war after embarkation.

(NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1)

In June 1941, the Netherlands government officially handed over to the Australian and New Zealand governments, the ocean liner Oranje, for the duration of the war. It was fully equipped as a hospital ship and shown here is the interior of one of the wards showing rows of neatly made beds. (AWM 008035)

The following photos are from the 8th May 1943 exchange at Izmir [Smyrna].

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. La “Città di Tunisi”.

Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03230-14A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. Grands blessés italiens sur le ponton qui les transportera jusqu’au “Gradisca”.

Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03230-15A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. Des italiens sont déposés sur le ponton qui les amènera au bateau “Gradisca”.

Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03229-34A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. Personnel protégé britannique en direction du “Tierea”, bateau britannique à l’arrière plan.

Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03230-05A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. Personnel protégé.

Exchange of Prisoners of War Izmir 8.5.43 (ICRC VP-HIST-03230 10A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. Grands blessés italiens sur le ponton qui les transportera jusqu’au “Gradisca”.

Exchange of Prisoners of War Izmir 8.5.43 (ICRC VP-HIST-03230 13A)

****

(NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1)

There were three Mutual Repatriation exchanges from Smyrna in 1943: 14-19th April 1943; c. 5-8th May 1943 and 2-3 June 1943. The April exchange is part of a facebook post for the ICRC: https://www.facebook.com/ICRCArchives/ One Day in History 19th April 1943.