Category Archives: Cowra PW & I Camp

Distilling Alcohol

Three years after the Italian prisoners of war departed Cowra Prisoner of War Camp a hidden alcohol distilling unit was found. Its discovery was reported in the newspaper.

There are many memories about prisoners of war making alcohol. Ernie Polis researcher of Italian and German prisoners of war in Western Australia interviewed ex- staff and ex- prisoners of Marrinup POW Camp in WA. The camp had a permanent population of German prisoners of war and the “Marrinup Schnapps” they made was legendary.

A Kingaroy farmer’s wife Joyce Dickenson recounted that her citrus trees in the home garden thrived under the attention of their Italian prisoners of war and the alcohol they made was quite potent: “They also weren’t allowed alcohol.  But they used the oranges to make liquor, making a still out of a 4 gallon kerosene tin.  I don’t think they had much success with the alcohol, so I don’t count the still as a breach in the rules, it was more giving the men something to do and I don’t think it tasted that good.”

Percy Miles from Mooloo via Gympie recalled the still making equipment his POW workers.

“…Francesco [ Francesco Ciaramita from Xitta Trapani] was a tin-smith, he spent weeks cutting a kerosene tin into strips and rolling them into half inch pipes and soldering them, then joining them together.  It turned out to be a still to make alcohol which was something they were not allowed have.

I turned a blind eye at first but in the end I had to tell them to destroy it, but not before they gave me a sample of the alcohol it made. They had old rotten pineapples and potatoes and any other fruit they could find in a 4 gallon drum with a top on it with the pipe coming out of the top. A clear vodka-like fluid was dripping out of the pipe.  They gave me a ¼ cup to try, Alice put some on a teaspoon and put a match to it, it had a nice blue flame. I thought this may be the way to fuel my ute, but it had to be destroyed much to the POW’s disappointment. “   

Alan Fitzgerald in his book, The Italian Farming Soldiers wrote, ” a search at Gaythorne Camp [Brisbane] uncovered a home-made still capable of brewing alcohol beneath a hut in the Italian compound. The still, although a crude structure, was full of sliced apples and other fruits in the process of fermentation. A medical officer, Second Lieutenant Cariglia, state that the brew from the still was intended for use in flavouring the morning coffee. He added that in India there was no objection to the POWs using a still for the making of cognac.”

… necessity is the mother of invention …

Italians in Greece and Albania

Italian soldiers captured in Greece and Albania arrived in Australia on 13th October 1941 on the Queen Mary into Sydney. A number of Italian officers from the Greek Campaign arrived in Sydney on the Queen Mary’s previous voyage: 16th August 1940.

Unfortunately, these Italian prisoners of war, due to clerical processing oversights, are not clearly identified. It is difficult to know how many Italians from the Greek Campaign arrived in Australia. It appears that they were processed as prisoners of war in Egypt and the clerical staff recorded their place of capture as LIBYA.  Some Italian soldiers must have requested the addition of Greece or Albania, so we have this confusion: Place of Capture- Libya (Greece) or Libya (Albania).

A special thank you to Giulia Sigon. Her nonno Vinicio Sigon was the impetus for me to delve into this theatre of war. 

2nd Lieut Raimondo Uda serving with the airforce was captured on 30th July 1940: Antichitera Greece.

Italians Invade Greece

At 3 p.m. on Monday 28th October 1940, Italian troops crossed the border into Greece. In the first18 hours the Italians captured one small border town, but the Greeks counter attacked and advanced eight miles into Albania.  

On 30th October 1940, the newspaper reported Italy’s invasion of Greece: with the headlines: Italy Invades Greece, Duce’s Ultimatum Rejected.

On 30th October 1940 2nd Lieut Francesco Tieri an accountant serving with the 18th Regiment is captured

On 1st November 1940, Gino Volpi 2nd Lieut, a student from Firenze is captured.

On the 3rd November 1940, Gabriele Masulli a mechanic from Portenza is captured in Greece.

On 7th November 1940, Captain Alfredo Moricone from Ascoli Piceno is captured.

Reported 7.11.40

ITALIANS’ SLOW PROGRESS IN GREECE SHATTERS AXIS PRESTIGE

LONDON, Wednesday

Greek artillery is shelling Korca from the heights, six miles to the south of the city…  The newly captured heights mentioned in today’s Greek communique- are believed to be south-west of Korca.

Yugoslav reports state that the Greeks captured a  bridge on the Bechlista-Korca road above the Devoli River. The Greek advance in this sector was resumed after consolidating the positions beyond Bechlista, and attacks were continued throughout the night. Monastir, a point on Lake Presba, where the Yugoslav and Greek frontiers meet, was again bombed to-day, but there were, no casualties.

1940 ‘ITALIANS’ SLOW PROGRESS IN GREECE’, Glen Innes Examiner (NSW : 1908 – 1954), 7 November, p. 1. , viewed 19 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article178545565

Antonio Damiani serving with an Alpine division is captured on 10.11.40 as is Luigi Mattei a Doctor, Corrado Celbrin, Ventruino Bacchschi Infantry.

Corporal Giovanni Bassignani with the 42 Fanteria is captured at Tepeleni on 13th November 1940.

Reported 21.11.40

The War in Greece Italians on Defensive

Threatened Supply Line Threatened

LONDON, November 12.

Latest reports of the fighting between the Greek and the Italians disclose that the Greeks have consolidated their positions on the centre front. It is also reported that Italian attacks on the Macedonian front have been repulsed.

The weather is clear on the Greek-Albanian frontier and the battle is still raging on the heights of Coritza. A Greek official statement claims farther successes in the air, Greek bombers being reported to have blown up ammunition dumps. The report also claims the further capture of Italians.

A message from Athens states that the smashing of the Italian Alpine divisions in the Pindus sector is considered an important victory. Italian generals pinned their hopes in the Alpine divisions being able to penetrate the Pindus mountains… The main Italian offensive against the Greek centre has been liquidated one week after the date set by Mussolini for the triumphal entry of Italian troop into Athens. The Italian drive against Salonika from Korca has also been flung back.

Only 8000 Alpine troops out of 12,000 escaped the Greek trap. A relieving infantry column was also routed.

1940 ‘THE WAR IN GREECE’, The Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 21 November, p. 15. , viewed 19 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75441236

Giovanni Brondo was captured in Albania on 26th November 1940.  On the 29th November 1940, Raffaele Carrozzo and Giovanni Formasieri were captured. On 30th November 1940, Pietro Lazzarin, Alfredo Bianchi, Pietro Bruscagin, Giuseppe Bellon were captured in Greece while Angelo Fattorello was captured in Albania.

Reported 7.12.40

3 ALBANIAN TOWNS FALL TO GREEKS

ARGYROKASTRON, last of the main bases from which the Italians launched troops for the invasion of Greece, fell to Greek troops yesterday, completing a black week for the Italians. Premeti on the Voyusa River, north of Argyrokastron, fell on Wednesday, night  and Santi Quaranta, the seaport base in the south-west was occupied just before Argyrokastron.  This straightens the Greek line’ in the southern sector. 

In the northern sector the westerly wing of the Greek Army, operating

from Koritza and Pogradetz, has pushed into Albania’s main oil

territory, the valley between the Skumbi and Delvino rivers.

1940 ‘Black Week For Italians’, Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 7 December, p. 1. , viewed 19 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48366880

Between 9th December 1940 and 23rd February 1941 the following soldiers are captured:

Vinicio Sigon (Nevizze). Luigi Cremaschi, Angelo Crippa (Pogredes), Riccardo Minari, Rodolfo Morelli (Pogradecci), Rocco Dolci, Francesco Lima, Primo Facchielli (Progradecci), Bettino Betti, Vitale Bartalucci (Pogradec), Adriano Bergamini (Goriza), Lodovico, Mario Barollo, Nello Avanzini (Nevizze), Luigi Di-Filippo (Clisuro), Gino Grandi (Chiusure), Gaetano De Mario, Antonio Pignatelli (SPI-Camarate) Donato Di Gregorio (Clisuro), Armando Continenza (Tepelene), Giuseppe Curti, Francesco Bernardini, Ezio Giorni, Alfredo Bellini, Pietro Franco, Gaetano Pavone, Giovan Battista De Gandenzi

Reported 3.3.41

SNOW ON THE BATTLEFIELDS

With mountain battlefields covered by fresh snow and hidden in storm clouds, and with visibility nil, operations in the Telelene area have been seriously hampered.

Ousted-from strongpoint after strongpoint and reeling back under the hammering of Greek artillery and the relentless pressure of tireless Greek infantry, the Italians once again found the weather an ally when they needed it most.

On battlefields a mile above sea-level snow once again lies deep, shrouding unburied dead and covering shell-scarred slopes and ridges with a mantle of dazzling white. Biting winds like blasts from the Arctic howl down ravines, and it is cold-bitterly, terribly cold.

Pack-mules slip on mountain paths treacherous with ice. Soldiers find snowdrifts five feet deep in front of their posts, making movement well-nigh impossible. Artillery observers trying to watch the enemy’s lines from positions carefully selected, can see nothing but a blanket of impenetrable fog.

It has been raining heavily for days. The Drinos and Aoous rivers are running bankers…

ITALIAN MORALE LOW

The Italians badly needed the respite the weather afforded them. Despite a stiffening of reinforcements of Bersaglieri and Blackshirts fresh from Italy they had lost position after position, and there had been convincing evidence that their morale was very low.

I saw a paper which was taken from a dead Italian officer. It was a long general order, exhorting Italian soldiers not to abandon their arms on the battlefield. The order stated: “Guard the arms which have been entrusted to you by the Fatherland. Cherish your cannons, machine-guns, and rifles. Those who abandon them are cowards and traitors. The enemy will use weapons you leave on their field of battle against you and your brothers.”

Considering the quantity of material of all kinds the Italians invariably jettison when defeated, the order was not without point.

The Greeks are using not only hundreds of Italian lorries, but Italian cannons, mortars, machine-guns, hand grenades, and even rifles captured since the war began.

I also saw papers found on a lieutenant colonel who was captured in this sector some days ago, when the Alpine battalion he commanded was smashed in a Greek attack. They included an order to captains of companies stating that it had come to his attention that men were surrendering and abandoning their lines. The colonel ordered the captains to post men with automatic rifles, with orders to fire on any soldier attempting to surrender

or retreat.

 Prisoners frequently tell me they have been machine-gunned by their own troops when attempting to surrender. They say that this task is usually given to Blackshirts, who are posted to the rear of the front line.

1941 ‘SNOW ON BATTLEFIELDS.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 3 March, p. 10. , viewed 19 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17728649

The shaded section of the map indicates the territory now in Greek hands. Progress of the fighting since the Italians invaded Greece in October is also shown.

1941 ‘HISTORY OF ALBANIAN CAMPAIGN’, Examiner (Launceston, Tas.: 1900 – 1954), 17 March, p. 1. (LATE NEWS EDITION), viewed 19 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article52408671

From the 1st March to the 17th March 1941, the following men have been taken prisoners: Albertin Almerino (Monaster), Calligari Angelo, surgeon Boldrini Walter (Albania Pesdani), Graneri Lazzaro, Gaiassi Eugenio, Fraschini Bruno,  Cacciamali Giovanni and Gabrieli Stefano (Telepeni) Tancredi Domenico (Albania Anivinocasit) Benzoni Bartolo, Giuseppe Gentile, Michele Locantore (Greece/Albania)

For a more comprehensive account:

Il Fronte Greco was published in February 1942.

Camp 379 Qassassin

Prisoner of War Camp Quassassin was situated 35 kms by rail west of Ismalia on the Suez Canal; 230 kms SE of Alexandria and 74 kms from Geneifa.

On the map below, El Qassasin, Ismalia and Geneifa are identified.

(http://www.sunsandcanal.co.uk/canal-zone-map.html)

One Italian prisoner of war, Leonido Tassinari and his documentation assists us in understanding the journey of Italians serving with the navy at Tobruk.

Leonido Tassinari

Leonido was a gunner on the San Giorgio which was stationed in Tobruk Harbour when he was ‘captured’ on 22nd January 1941.

TOBRUK HARBOUR, 1941. ITALIAN GUNNERY TRAINING SHIP SAN GIORGIO WHICH WAS REDUCED TO A WRECK BY ATTACKS OF NAVAL AIRCRAFT AND RAF BOMBERS AT TOBRUK BETWEEN 1940-06 AND JANUARY 1941. (AWM Image P00090.026)

Leonido was processed at Quassassin on 5th March 1941.  His form is stamped in Geneifa Camp 15th September 1941. 

On 24th September Leonida and 988 other Italian prisoners of war boarded the Queen Mary. Around this same time, 948 Italian prisoners of war boarded the Queen Elizabeth.

Elio Spandonari

Elio Spandonari also served in the Italian navy at Tobruk. He wrote that from the Tobruk airfield which was used as a temporary prisoner of war compound, a group was taken to the port of Tobruk and boarded on a rusty boat.  The boat landed the men in Alexandria and they were taken to a concentration camp near the sea which was guarded by Polish soldiers*.  After a short stay, a group of marines were taken to a camp near Ismailia: El Quassassin (El Kassassin). Elio recalls that after many months, he was transferred to a camp close to Suez then the men in total about 2000 were transferred to the Port of Suez to be boarded on a ship: destination unknown.

“Il traghetto procedeva lentamente, però man mano la cittadina di Suez incominciava a rimpicciolirsi sino a diventare una striscia continua e incolore. Le navi ferme alle boe furono sorpassate e davanti a noi e, al di fuori di un enorme scafo poco distante non vi era più nulla, solo mare aperto.

Mai più pensavamo che quello fosse il mezzo destinato a trasportarci verso la destinazione che finalmente ci avevano comunicato: Australia, terra così lontana. Altre incognite, si andava verso posti sconosciuti…

Quel grande scafo con tre grossi fumaioli con una grande ‘C’ (Cunard Line) era la nave destinata al nostro trasporto. Era la Queen Mary, allora il più grande transatlantico del  mondo, stazza 80000 tonnellate, una montagna di acciaio.” (from Diario per Laura by Elio Spandonari)

Together, Tassinari’s documents and Spandonari’s testimony provide a timeline from capture at Tobruk Libya to arrival at Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Australia.

Port Tewfik was where the Italians boarded a ferry to be taken to the Queen Mary. The Queen Mary departed Suez on the 24th September 1941.  It arrived in Ceylon at Trincomalee, a deep-water harbour on 1st October 1941.  On the 7th October 1941, the Queen Mary sailed into Fremantle Harbour Western Australia. Coming in through Sydney Heads and sailing under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Queen Mary disembarked her passengers on the 13th October 1941.

On the 14th October 1941, the first residents of Cowra Prisoner of War Camp arrived.

The Italian prisoners of war on the Queen Elizabeth arrived in Sydney on the 15th October 1941 and ‘marched in’ to Cowra Camp 16th October 1941.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle-Galles du sud, camp de Cowra. N°12, Section D. Les tentes. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, n°12, section D. The tents.

1st November 1941 Cowra PW Camp 12 Section D (ICRC V-P-HIST-01879-25)

Elio Spandonari, Ippolito Moscatelli , Leonido Tassinari Giuseppe Loprieno.

All four men served in the Italian Navy and were captured 21-22nd January 1941 at Tobruk.

There were a total of 339 marines from Tobruk on board the Queen Mary’s voyage to Australia in October 1941. It was almost nine months from the time the marines were captured to their arrival in Australia.

*Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade – a group of Polish soldiers, trained by the British in Latrun Palestine; they assisted the Australians and British during the Siege of Tobruk April 1941- December 1941.

A Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Every document, relic and memory relating to this history is special. Each item is invaluable.

A special thank you to Giuseppe Lutro’s family for sharing another ‘missing piece to our historical puzzle’.

Giuseppe was from Albidoni Cosenza and is seated third left in the photo below.

Yanco, Australia. 23 January 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 15 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49640 Luigi La Favia; 47004 Luciano Zanon; 47915 Giovanni Bronzi; 49591 Pietro Perazzi; 49913 Quinto Spognetta; 49663 Carmine Ialongo; 48679 Angelo Tergorelli. Front row: 49858 Lorenzo Laurenti; 45570 Cesare De Angelis; 48160 Giuseppe Lutro; 46813 Pietro Salerno; 46889 Mario Paolocci. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030171/11 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

His Service and Casualty Card record his repatriation date: 31st December 1946 “Ormonde” but with thanks to Giuseppe we also know his arrival date in Naples Italy: 27th January 1947.

Giuseppe kept his arrival card Nave “Ormonde” 27-1.47. This card also confirms that part of the process upon arrival in Naples was to report to the Accommodation Centre in Naples (San Martino).

Recognition of Landing 27-1-1947 (photo courtesy of Nicola Lutro)

Logistically, I have always wondered how the Italian prisoners of war were processed upon arrival in Naples.  How did the Australian guard unit convey to the Italians the next stage of the process?  The Ormonde landed 2231 Italians. 

Now I know. With thanks to Giuseppe Lutro, I now know that the Italian military officials had printed cards, to be distributed to each man as he disembarked.  The card provided information for the next stage of the journey: to report to the Accommodation Centre.

This was most likely the first official document written in Italian the men had read in seven years.  Finally, they were almost home.

Ricordo della mia prigionia Australia

Ian Szafranek has shared two beautiful embroideries sewn by his grandfather Giuseppe Spagnolo while he was in Australia.  Giuseppe arrived in Australia on the Queen Elizabeth 15th October 1941 and departed on the Oranje (a hospital ship) on the 29th March 1943.

The initials within the red heart V G in the Arcangelo work represents Giuseppe’s love for his wife Vita. It was sewn in Cowra 1942.

Arcangelo 1942 (photo courtesy of Ian Szafranek)

Giuseppe  completed Santa Lucia in 1943. Santa Lucia is the patron saint of the blind and her name means light.

These embroideries are poignant and personal reminders of a Giuseppe Spagnolo and treasured keepsakes for his family.

Santa Lucia 1943 (photo courtesy of Ian Szafranek)

Read more about Giuseppe Spagnolo as told by his grandson Ian:

The Incredible Life of Giuseppe Spagnolo

An Alpine Ice Pick

Giuseppe Noal and Pietro Marcon crafted a special gift for Colonel Montague Ambrose Brown, Commandant of Cowra Prisoner of War and Internment Camp: an alpine ice pick.

An ‘interesting’ gift but a gift with significance.

Background and Connections

Pietro Marcon served with the Alpini. The Alpini is Italy’s specialist mountain infantry and served in battle in the Greek – Albanian conflict of WW2. Pietro was captured 13.2.41 while Giuseppe Noal was captured three days before on the 10.2.41. Giuseppe’s card records his place of capture as Greece while Pietro’s card records Libya. [While an Alpini Corps served in East Africa, I do no know if the Alpini served in Libya]

The complex issues of record keeping implies that not all information for each Italian is correct.  Some men are captured as ‘Libya Greece’ or ‘Albania Libya’. Others have ‘Progradecci Greece’ as place of capture but Progradecci is in Albania.

I have no doubt that Pietro and Giuseppe both served with the Alpini and were captured in Greece.  Their journey is identical from arrival in Australia on the Queen Mary 13.1.041 to their departure on the Alcantara on 23.12.46, including placement at Q6 Home Hill Hostel vegetable project. These are men who forged a friendship before capture.

Looking further for a glimpse of Pietro and Giuseppe, a group photo taken in Cowra Camp highlights further common threads or connections.

The photo below is intriguing: seven out of the ten men were captured in Greece or Albania. All men arrived in Sydney Australia on the Queen Mary 13.10.41

Almerino Albertin from Abano Terme Padova : 1.3.41 Greece

Carlo Dell Antonio from Predazzo Trento: 3.12.40 Greece

Pietro Marcon from Rossano Veneto Vicenza: 13.2.41 (Alpini) [Greece?]

Giuseppe Noal from Via Felice Cavalotti Milano: 10.2.41 Greece

Giuseppe Oldani from Abbiategrasso: 3.12.40 Albania

Carlo Fossati from Lissone Milano: 3.12.40 Premeti [Pëmet Albania]

Riccardo Del Bo from Castrovillari Cosenza; 24.1.41 Greece

Mario Mancini and Giovanni Tadini could well have been captured in Greece or Albania as their dates of capture suggest this: 3.12.40 and 8.12.40.

Interestingly, Riccardo Del-Bo also made a gift for Colonel Brown: a caricature.

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 47841 Almerino Albertin; 48023 Carlo Dell Antonio; 48340 Giovanni Tadini; 48210 Pietro Marcon; 48234 Giuseppe Noal; 48199 Mario Mancini. Front row: 48251 Giuseppe Oldani; 48055 Carlo Fossati; 48106 Riccardo Del Bo; Unidentified (name cut off list). Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030149/22 Photographer Michael Lewecki)

The Ice Pick

The ice pick signifies the Alpini Corps and its connection to Pietro and Giuseppe. They decorated it with a hat badge and star.  The alpine hat and feather are the most recognised features of the Alpini uniform.  

They engraved their names, Colonel Brown’s name and a quote in Italian: ‘ABBIAMO ISSATO I PEZZI, LA, DOVE ALL’ UOMO, PESAVA PERFINO IL PANE NELLE TASCHE’.

The words are from a patriotic speech by poet Gabriele d’Annunzio: “Hanno portato I loro cannoni e issato I loro pezzi la’ dove all’uomo commune pesava perfino il pane in tasca”

A special thank you to Ermanno Scrazzolo for doing some background research for me and correction of place names.

Ermanno explains the quote in English: “we pulled up the pieces (cannons), up there where for the men even the bread in their pockets was a burden.”

Ermanno adds, “Normally the Alpine troops had mules for carrying cannon barrels, but where the mules could not go, the men had to pull up the barrels using ropes and their manpower.”

This was Pietro and Giuseppe’s journey: into the mountains of Greece and Albania during one of the coldest winters on record; dragging the cannons through the snow and high-altitude conditions; exhausted.

The ice pick is poignant and important, not only to Colonel Brown but for all families whose fathers fought in Greece and Albania. We are blessed that Colonel Brown’s family donated this item to the Australia War Memorial, giving another insight into the life of a soldier and prisoner of war.

Uniform Regulations

Article 12 of the PW Convention, inter-alia, reads:-

“Clothing, underwear and footwear shall be supplied to prisoners of war by the detaining Power. The regular replacement and repair of such articles shall be assured.  Workers shall also receive working kit wherever the nature of the work requires it.”

What the records tell us

All prisoners of war were allowed to wear their badges of rank and insignia on their uniforms.

Clothing items, except for pyjamas, could not be purchased from the Canteen.

Clothing Issue

1 hat (a)1 hair brush
1 overcoat (a)1 shaving brush
2 coats, medical detachment (a)1 toothbrush
2 pairs of trousers, medical detachment (a)2 pairs of short cotton underwear (b)
1 pullover, labour detachment (a)1 comb
1 pair of trousers, labour detachment (a)2 pairs of woollen and cotton underwear (c)
1 pair of shorts (a) (b)1 jersey pullover (c)
1 pair of shoes1 safety razor with blade (d)
1 pair of laces2 flannel shirts
1 pair of braces2 cotton singlets (b)
2 pairs of woollen socks2 wool and cotton singlets (c)
2 towels3 cotton handkerchiefs
  • (a) Dyed burgundy
  • (b) Summer
  • (c) Winter
  • (d)One new blade a week in exchange for old blade

N.C.O.s and other prisoners of war

This group received a free issue of clothing and necessaries.

All articles were replaced free of charge when necessary.  Facilities were provided for repairs to shoes and clothing and prisoners of war employed as bootmakers, tailors, cobblers.

Prisoner of War Officers

Officers and men of equivalent rank must provide their own items and paid for at their expense. The clothing was manufactured in Australia and issued by authorities. Replacement officer uniforms were made after measurements were taken.  Completed uniforms were made in a venetian grey material, and cost approx. £5 each. The exception was for Japanese officers who were supplied with magenta dyed Australian Military Forces uniforms only but were allowed to wear any national uniforms they had in their possession.

Guerre 1939-1945. Myrtleford. Camp 5 B. Prisonniers de guerre italiens.

Camp 5B Myrtleford June 1943 ICRC V-P-HIST-03290-33A

Merchant Seamen Prisoners of War

Both officers and other ranks merchant seamen were provided with clothing and other items free of charge. Merchant Seamen officers and other ranks did not receive a payment as did other prisoner of war. When arrested, they had been in the employment of shipping companies. There was no agreement with the Italian government to provide a stipend (payment) for merchant seamen.

For this group, the seven first articles on the above list were replaced by a peaked cap, an overcoat, a vest and a pair of trousers suitable for merchant marines.  The material used was a dark green cloth.  The two flannel shirts were grey and had two collars each.  A blue tie was also issued.

What do the photos from Myrtleford Camp tell us

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. Groupe numéro 27. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp. Group number 27.

Non regulation overcoat possibly made from government issue blanket (centre)

Group Number 27 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-27

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. Groupe numéro 23. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp. Group number 23.

Non regulation fleecy winter vests Group Number 23 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-32

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp.

Handmade plaited belt?

February 1945 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-19A

Guerre 1939-1945. Myrtleford. Prisonniers de guerre italiens.

Regardless of being a prisoner of war, the officers wore their uniforms with pride

Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-03290-36A

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.

Panico Visits the POW Camps

A special thank you to Rocco Severino De Micheli who has shared these photos of Dr Panico. The photos are taken from “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

As with the International Red Cross Delegate, Dr Panico was allowed to visit the prisoner of war camps in Australia. He was entitled to interact and speak freely with the Italians. The Italians could use the ‘Apostolic Message Service’: monthly messages not exceeding 25 words were permitted to be despatched by the prisoners of war via Dr Panico.

Some of those messages sent by Dr Panico were:

Am well. Kisses, regards to all.

Good health. Expect your news. Kisses.

Greetings, kisses. Best health. Best treatment.

Cowra March 1942

Murchison Easter 1942

Yanco December 1942

Murchison

Liverpool December 1945

Repatriation 1946