He was responsible for visiting internees and prisoners of war held in camps in Australia and to ensure that the conditions of the Geneva Convention regarding prisoners of war were upheld.
With an understanding of ten languages, Dr Morel was free to enter any camp at will, reside in a camp if so desired and leave without permission. Internees and prisoners of war were at liberty to speak freely with Dr Morel and communicate any complaints.
His comprehensive reports were shared with the Australian Government via the Minister of State for External Affairs. All reports were written in French, the language of the ICRC.
Copies of Dr Morel’s reports are archived in the National Archives of Australia and three files covering the period 1942-1944 are available for viewing: search terms to use – Red Cross Dr Morel.
In May 1944 on a visit to Western Australia, he was reported as saying, “My main task is to visit the camps whether the POWs are Germans or Italians…in addition I must keep in permanent touch with Australian Government departments, the Army and various branches of the Red Cross. However the first task is to see that the convention is being strictly applied and from my observations elsewhere [in Australia]I can say quite frankly that the conditions in Australian camps are very good. The treatment, food and clothing are in fact, excellent. Australian officers and guards have tried to help in many minor matters as well as in more important subjects, and I have received 100 per cent co-operation at Army Headquarters, Melbourne and from the Government.
Naturally there are complaints at every camp and these are quite minor matters. The complains have been rectified. Australia actually applies the International convention very generously in regard to POWs and internees, and in all my reports to the International Red Cross Committee I have stressed that conditions in Australia are good.” [1944 ‘VISIT TO P.O.W. CAMPS’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 19 May, p. 6. , viewed 07 Feb 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44809894%5D
Hand in hand with the written reports are the photographic records of Dr Morel’s visits. These photos can be found at : Archives of the ICRC . You will need to register as a user but this process is easy.
Cowra Camp A September 1942 Dr Morel seated centre with officials of the camp including Padre Lenti (ICRC V-P-HIST-01881-02)
Dr Morel died in October 1945 and his wife Eugenia continued his work temporarily until the arrival of Dr Pierre Descoeudres in May 1946.
It is with thanks to the Red Cross and the work of their delegates like Dr Morel that there is a comprehensive and neutral record of the internee and prisoner of war camps in Australia.
Today it is 4 years since I launched this website/blog. It is an important milestone.
With 207 posts and 12 pages, Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Australia is the most comprehensive documentation of this chapter in Australia’s history.
We are an international research project with Australians and Italians in 14 countries contributing a diverse range of items, insights and memories. We have built a community where information is share freely. We are unique because of the diversity of perspectives portrayed.
There are moments of sadness; moments of elation and moments of quiet reflection.
It is important that we try to place ourselves in the boots of the soldier and prisoner of war and walk through this history.
Four years ago, I had no knowledge of website building and blogging. Four years ago, I did not think that “Google Translate” would become my best friend. Four years ago I did not know the history of Bardia or Matapan nor did I know the geographic location of many of the regional Australian farming communities in this history.
Nino Amante from Catania accidentally found a photo of his father on the internet and wrote to me about the “Miracolo di Internet”.
I also believe that your individual passionate searches for your father or grandfather’s ‘lost years’ is part of this ‘magic‘.
Families cannot always find specific personal information about and connections to Australia families for their father or grandfathers. But in the sharing of information, there is the possibility to reconstruct the journey for your loved ones.
My family wonder when I will stop!
My answer is ‘I don’t know’.
Regardless of when I run out of energy, this website serves as a ‘virtual’ museum: a museum which can add items to its collection at any time.
I patiently await the next donation to this museum.
NB New donations coming soon: Geneifa Eggito and Yol India
Giovanni Marzullo from San Giorgio del Sannio (Benevento) arrived in Australia on the Queen Mary, 27.5.41. He was one of the first group of 2000 Italian prisoners of war transported directly from Egypt to Australia.
The group photo below lists the names of the men. The names do not correspond with their position in the photo. Giovanni was quickly identified by his grandson Daniele; he is in the back row, first on the right. Giovanni is 34 years old.
Daniele Marzullo from Rovereto says, “When I was a child, I always played with the tank made by my nonno during his imprisonment.”
Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 46181 Giuseppe Musto; 45685 Bartolomeo Fiorentino; 46799 Angelo Scoppettuolo; 46188 Giovanni Marzullo; 47941 Donato Cendonze; 45519 Giuseppe Dello Buono; 45174 Andrea Cavalieri; 45290 Carmine Cogliano; 45363 Pasquale Cappello and 47996 Mario Cioccolini. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030143/10, Photographer Lewecki)
Giovanni was assigned to Camp 8 Hay. In March 1943, Camp 8 has listed under a heading: other barracks: a chapel, a barracks used for canteen in one half and administration in the other half, and a barracks used for recreation and manual work.
Engaging the prisoners of war in activities within the camps was a way of keeping them busy. Schools were set up; classes were taught; men had an opportunity to complete the Italian schooling curriculum; learn English; undertake tuition in a trades course.
The men worked with wood or metal, worked on a lathe to make chess pieces, turned silver Australian coins into rings; made belts from the cellophane from cigarette packets.
Giovanni worked in wood and crafted a tank. The level of skill in the carving of words on the bottom of the tank and the details of the tank reflects his occupation: carpenter.
Carro Armato di Hai, Marzullo-Giovanni(photo courtesy of Daniele Marzullo)
In contrast is a tank made by Rosario Morello. Rosario was a baker and his tank reflects that his passion was not working with wood.
Carro Armato made by Rosario Morello(photo courtesy of Esme Colley (nee Townsend))
Icons of war were common themes used by Italian prisoners of war. A statue at Camp 8 Hay features another much larger tank.
Camp 8 Hay March 1943: Italian Prisoner of War Doctor standing beside a tank made by Italian prisoners of war . (ICRC: V-P-HIST-01881-05)
What wood or metal items did your father bring home from Australia?
The inspiration for this article began with a photo of the Cowra Chapel. After some research, I realised that this topic was much more complex. Prayers, Priests and Chapels begins with the patron saints of villages and is a journey of the Italian soldier and prisoners of war through their faith.
There might have been exceptions but it was reported that all Italian prisoners of war were Catholic. Evidence of their religious faith starts with the prayer cards they were given of the patron saint of their village. These prayer cards were taken with them to the battlefields, to the prisoner of war camps, to Australia and then finally returned with the men to Italy.
Domenico Feruilli’s Prayer Card (photo courtesy of Rossana Ferulli)
In Libya Roman Catholic Churches were built by the Italians before the outbreak of war. Did the Italian soldiers get an opportunity to visit these churches and pray? Did they light a candle for their safety in battle? Or maybe they made the sign of the cross as they passed by these churches on the way to battle?
Biagio di Ferdinando wrote, “During my travels from Tobruck to Bengasi, after Derna and Barce there were many beautiful villas, towns, schools, churches, all new.” (Odyssey by Biagio di Ferdinando)
1st March 1941 BENGHAZI. EXTERIOR OF THE CATHEDRAL OF THE SACRED NAME OF JESUS. SMALL BOMBS HAVE FALLEN IN THE COURTYARD BEFORE THE CATHEDRAL AND THE BLAST FROM HEAVY GERMAN BOMBS HAS SHATTERED MOST OF THE WINDOWS. (AWM Image 006539, Photographer Hurley, James Francis (Frank)
In 1941, the Apostolic Delegate for Egypt and Palestine had ‘Libro di Preghiere’ published in Palestine, with the permission of G.H.Q. Middle East. It was a prayer book distributed to Italian prisoners of war.
It included Preghiera Del Prigioniero as well as part of a prayer for the prisoners by Pope Pius XII. For many, this would have been their only book but it was a book to give the men spiritual guidance and comfort.
Libro di Preghiere(photo courtesy of Daniel Reginato)
In India, the men were given materials to paint and sew with. The men drew inspiration from their faith. Filippo Granatelli’s ‘Last Supper’ is one example.
Filippo Granatelli 16.11.42 (photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)
Many of the embroideries are religious in nature: the patron saint of a village, Jesus, The Sacred Heart, Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Giuseppe Polito: Rappresenta la Madonna degli Angeli, protettrice di Sacco (SA) il suo paese. (photo courtesy of Silvio Masullo)
Carved Wooden Statue of Madonna made by Isidoro Del Piccolo in Yol Camp India (photo courtesy of Ermanno Scrazzolo)
The Italians brought a little of Italy to the chapels in the British camps in India with elaborate decorations: paintings, statues, frescos and altars.
Camp No 23 Bangalore Altar (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-16A)
Worthy of note are the details of Our Lady of the Prisoner. The hat, the shirt with a black diamond patch, the shorts with the black strip; items which identified the men as prisoners of war have been meticuoulsy represented.
Our Lady of the Prisoner Bangalore Group I 12.12.1941(ICRC V-P-HIST=03474-05A)
Bangalore Camp 2 View of the Altar in the Chapel (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-20A)
Australia: In the Camps
The first group of Italian prisoners of war arrived at Hay Camp New South Wales in May 1941. A 1943 report and a 1944 photo records information about how the spiritual needs of the Italians were catered for at Hay Camps 7 and 8:
The prisoners of war of these two camps are all Catholics. Camp 8 has a chapel adorned with a beautiful altar carved in wood and having a harmonium. The chapel of Camp 7 is located in one of the refectories; it also has a beautiful sculpted altar and a harmonium. Each camp has a prisoner of war priest who provides regular worship.
Camp priest, Virgilio Iacobelli featured below arrived in Australia on 27th May 1941 with the first group of Italian prisoners of war. He served at both Hay and Cowra camps.
HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. 45005 LIEUTENANT PADRE I. VIRGILIO IACOBELLI AN ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, AT THE ALTAR IN THE CHAPEL OF NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. ALL THE CRAFT WORK IN THE CHAPEL WAS DONE BY THE PRISONERS. PLAYING THE ORGAN IS 45192 SERGEANT MAJOR VINCENZO COMMARATA. (AWM Image 063360, Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)
To make way for new arrivals of Italian prisoners of war to Australia, Italians were transferred from the established camps at Hay to the tented camps of Cowra. Cowra Prisoner of War Camps for the Italians were under construction. In November 1941, photos and reports record the temporary chapel and arrangements for church services:
Each section has a large tent serving as a chapel, containing a pretty altar built for prisoners. The sacred candles, bread and wine are provided once a week by the local priest of Cowra. Religious duties are carried out by three prisoner of war priests. Recently, Cowra had a visit from the Archbishop of Sydney, representing the Apostolic Delegate in Australia.
Cowra Camp No 12 Section D Altar under Construction 12.11.41(ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00216)
Giuseppe Raimondi from Amaroni (Catanzaro) served as priest at Cowra Special Camp 12 D before being sent to Victoria: V28 Attwoods, Myrtleford Camp, Puckapunyal and V22 Rowville. Raimondi was called as a witness to an inquiry into Captain JM Waterson and the fatal shooting of Rodolfo Bartoli at V22 Rowville.
Cowra Camp No 12 Section D The Chapel 12.11.41(ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00215)
Cowra Camp A Altar in the Dining room 3.9.42 (ICRC V_P-HIST-E-00218)
Faustino Lenti from Milano had been a Missionary Father in India and served at Cowra Camps. Lenti was a charismatic and colourful character and by April 1944, it was reported: It is alleged that he controls a ‘basher gang’ composed of PoW… and that he employs a personal bodyguard for his protection. The latest information about him is that he fears an attempt will be made on his life. (NAA: SP196/2 443/1/5280)
Reports were conflicting.
Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Information Board(photo courtesy of David Ackers)
The Apostolic Delegate for Australia, Monseigneur Giovanni Panicio published ‘L’Amico del Prigioniero’ in1943. It is a prayer book written in Latin and Italian containing the service of the mass, important prayers, Catholic Calendar of Holy Days from 1943 to 1951 and hymns.
Having the book written in Italian and Latin is significant. Mass was said in Latin until the Second Vatican 1965. This book ensured that the Italian prisoners of war had a prayer book in Italian. This gesture was a significant show of concern for the spiritual welfare of the Italian prisoners of war in Australia.
Ermanno Nicoletti carved a piece of wood and turned it into a profile of his mother, while praying. Granddaughter Alessandra contemplates, “News of prisoners of war were scarce and at some point my grandmother almost lost faith that her son was still alive.” On the other side of the world in Australia, Ermanno ‘knew’ that his mother was praying for him and carved his thoughts in wood.
Wood Carving by Ermanno Nicoletti (photo courtesy of Alessandra Nicoletti)
Australia: Life on the farm
By the middle of 1943, the first Italian prisoners of war were sent to farm placements in the Hamilton district of Victoria and Coonabarabran district of New South Wales. This trial was successful and was implemented throughout Australia: Prisoner of War Control Centres: Without Guards [PWCC]. In the Notice to Employers of Prisoners-of-War given to the farmers as part of the employment contract there is this statement:
5. You will be required to see that the following rules are obeyed:-
(a) P.W. must not leave your property except-
(i) to attend religious services, for which special arrangements will be made by the Military Authorities; (NAA: D2380)
There are many memories of the Italians attending local churches. All manner of transport was used to get the men to church; bikes, horse and sulky, truck, car, on foot. It was remembered the Italians would go to church with the Catholic family on the neighbouring farm, as the host family were not Catholic. Children of the time remember the Italians walking to church in their ‘red pyjamas’ a reference to the burgundy coloured uniform the men wore. Some Australians remember with shame that the Italian POWs had to stand at the back or sides of the church and had to leave the mass before its conclusion. Others recall the beautiful singing voices of the Italians during mass.
Italians in the Boonah district of Queensland attended a Mission Church because they learned that the pastor, Dr Dwyer spoke Italian. The Italians would enjoy conversations with Dr Dwyer after service. Members of the congregation knew this was against the ‘rules’ and wondered if they would get arrested for their compassion. Father Steele from Beaudesert Queensland, assisted and nominated Paul Raffa with his application process to return to Australia. It was Father Steele who welcomed Raffa when he disembarked from the ‘Napoli’ at Brisbane in May 1949.
In June 1944, a special event was reported in the Gympie news: His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate, Most Rev. John Panico, has recently been visiting prisoners of war employed in various centres on the North Coast of Queensland. At Gympie he met a large number of them at St. Patrick’s Church, where he celebrated Mass. At 10 o’clock his Excellency addressed the people, speaking in Italian to the prisoners of war and tendering them excellent advice. The services of these men are greatly valued by their employers because of their good habits and their knowledge of rural industries. (1944 ‘Of General Interest’, Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 7 June, p. 4. , viewed 12 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172213489)
However this event drew the ire of Smith’s Weekly whose headline was: Fascist “Guard of Honor” and made mention of ‘dago prisoners of war’.
Also criticized was a decision by Commonwealth Authorities to give a petrol allowance [petrol was rationed in Australia during WW 2] to farmers to take Italian prisoners to church. The question was asked as to ‘why such benevolent treatment was accorded “these dagoes”.’
A kindly gentleman, Cyril Blacket of Pinery South Australia met an Italian prisoner of war at his local church. With good intentions, Cyril tried to communicate with the Italian farm worker, via the Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of Warbooklet the Italian had, but with little success. Blacket applied to the Department of Army for a copy of the booklet, only to be warned: PW are not allowed to fraternise with members of the public, PW Camp Order No. 13 Sec 68 (c). (NAA: D2380)
1946 Cowra Camp
In 1946, the Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farm placements and brought into the camps to await repatriation. It was during this time that two altar panels for the chapel were painted by Cowra Italian POWs.
Cowra Chapel 1946(courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)
Back to Italy
Ippolito Moscatelli from Ospitaletto di Cormano (Milano) returned to Italy with photos of the Cowra Chapel. It is with special thanks to his granddaughter Francesca Maffietti that there is a record of the Cowra Chapel in 1946.
The altar panels survived. However they deserve a more detailed article.
How many other copies of this photo returned to Italy?
Have you seen this photo in your nonno’s collection?
Maybe you thought this photo was of a church in Italy?
Life as a soldier and as a prisoner of war was difficult. Some Italians were absent from their families for ten years. Those years saw the men always on the move. Life was a continual cycle of change.
One aspect of the men’s lives that did no change was their religious faith.
Welcome to Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War a comprehensive archive of documents, artefacts, testaments, photographs and research relating to this compelling chapter in Australian history. This is a community history involving Australian and Italian families from fourteen countries who have shared their stories so that this history is not forgotten.
Over 18000 Italian Prisoners of War came to Australia from 1941 – 1945. Captured in theatres of war in North Africa, East Africa and Europe, they were transported to Australia via staging camps in Egypt, Palestine and India.
There is much written about internment in Cowra, Murchison and Hay the main Prisoner of War and Internment Camps in New South Wales and Victoria, but only snippets of information are recorded about Italian prisoners of war in other states.
This research features Italian prisoners of war and their farming families in Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales. Articles cut across a range of topics: the battles in Libya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Greece; the movement of prisoners from the place of capture to prisoner of war camps in Egypt and Palestine; interment in the camps of India; transport to Australia; repatriation from Australia and arrival in Naples.
The stories and memories of Italian and Australian farming families gives this history a voice. The diversity of photos and relics shared personalises what would otherwise be a very black and white official report.
The articles featured on the project’s website brings colour and personality to this almost forgotten chapter in Australia’s history.
Join the journey and follow the footprints of the Italian prisoners of war
Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War Project is a community project supported by Australians in six states and Italian families in fourteen countries.****
What started out as a personal journey to read about the Italian POW Camp outside of Home Hill has resulted in a comprehensive, diverse and rich collection of stories, letters, photographs, testimonies, artefacts, music, newspaper articles spanning 79 years: the battles on the Libyan/Egyptian border December 1940 to the present.
Over the past four years, I have heard these words many times over, “but you have it wrong, there were no Italian prisoners of war in Queensland”.
And this became a focal point for the research: to record this chapter in Queensland’s history before it was completely forgotten.
But like ripples in a pond, Queensland’s history of Italian POWs expanded across and was part of a greater history and so the project extended and expanded: to other Australia states and to Italian families in fourteen countries across the world.
What makes this research unique and diverse?
Contributions have come from far and wide: farmers, farmers’ wives, farming children, the town kids, families of Australian Army interpreters, children of Italians who were prisoners of war, Italians who were prisoners of war, the local nurse, the mother of an ex-POW, government policy.
What does the research encompass?
Facebook Page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia
Music Book: Notations for songs and dance music by Ciccio Cipolla.
Farm Diary: daily notations regarding farm life during war time including information on Italian POWs and Land Army Girls.
Discussion about our Queensland research at conference in Catania Sicily May 2019 on prisoner of war experiences.
Memories in Concrete: Giuseppe Miraglia from Enna Sicily and Adriano Zagonara from Bagnara di Romagna Ravenna.
Donations to the Australian War Memorial of two artefacts made by Gympie Italian prisoners of war
Two publications: Walking in their Boots and Costanzo Melino: Son of Anzano (in collaboration with Rosa Melino)
Journey of three Italian families from Italy to visit Queensland and ‘walk in the footsteps of their fathers’: Q1 Stanthorpe and Q6 Home Hill
POW Kit Bags: Adriano Zagonara and Sebastiano Di Campli
The Colour Magenta
Handbooks: L’Amico del Prigioniero, Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War, Piccolo Guido per gli Italiani in Australia
Voices from the Past: five testimonials from Italian soldiers who worked on Queensland farms.
Letterswritten by Italian prisoners of war to family in Italy, to their Queensland farmers and to the children of farmers, written by mother of an Italian POW to a Queensland nurse, written by the Italians to their interpreter, Queensland farmer to Italian.
Photographs of Italian soldiers in full dress uniform, Italian soldiers in Libya during training, Italians as POWs with their Queensland families, Italians on their Wedding Day and with their families, Italians in POW camps in India.
Contributions by ten Italian families whose fathers and family returned to Australia as ‘new Australians’.
Identification of five buildings used as prisoner of war accommodation.
Publicationof three guides for Italian families to assist in their search for information about their fathers and grandfathers.
Collaboration with numerous Italian and Australian families; local museums and family history associations; journalists; translators; collectors of historic postal items; local libraries.
Did you know?
The website operates as a ‘virtual’ museum and library.
The website has a wide reaching readership to 118 countries!
Over 185 articles have been written for the website.
My Wish List
In the beginning:
I had one wish, to find one Queensland family who remembered the Italians working and living on their farm. Thank you Althea Kleidon, you were the beginning with your photos and memories of Tony and Jimmy.
My adjusted wish list, to find three photographs of Italian POWs on Queensland farms. Then came Rosemary Watt and Pam Phillips with their collection of photos, a signature in concrete and a gift worked in metal.
To have the three Finding Nonno guides translated into Italian.
If I win Gold Lotto, to have Walking in their Boots translated into Italian.
****What does the future hold… After five and a half years of research, over 185 website articles, two publications, thousands of emails, visits, interviews, cataloguing etc …
I plan to go at a slightly slower pace. I will continue to work offline and in the background answering questions, assisting families and adding to this historical collection.
I have published articles in a chronological order starting with the soldiers and their battles. And I will slot in new articles and add new information along the way. Hopefully this will convey ‘the journey’ of the Italian soldiers from capture through to repatriation and for some Italians, a return to Australia.
Join the journey and follow the footprints of the Italian prisoners of war.
Today’s article is with thanks to Rocco Martino in New York. Twelve weeks ago, he offered to pay for a copy of the Alcantara Nominal Rolls of Italian Prisoners of War.
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.
After I published the article about the Ormonde titled: Sailing Home, Rocco made his generous offer. Thank you most sincerely Rocco on behalf of the 3321 Italian families whose fathers and grandfathers were on this ship.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 Romolo, Italian 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.
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.
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 Veneriwas 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.
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.
Angelo Capone’s gift to his employer and friend George Bury was an ornament he carved while in Cowra Prisoner of War & Internment Camp. It is a treasured Bury family memento from the time Italian prisoners of war lived on their Beerwah farm 1944-1945.
Rosemary Watt, daughter of George Bury has always wanted to know more about her dad’s eagle and the ringed insignia at the bottom. Angelo said that the ornament had been carved with a six inch nail as were the words: Cowra 21-4-42 Australia.
It wasn’t until Rosemary found a similar object in the Australian War Memorial that a more complete history of such objects was revealed. The AWM relic is more expertly crafted as the pictures below attest, but the description reveals, ” The eagle is made from thin sheet lead or alloy taken from used toothpaste tubes.”
The Italian prisoners of war were resourceful and were known to repurpose and recyle items in the most unusual ways. The cellophane belts made from the cellophane wraps from cigarette packets is another example of their resourceful abilities.
The Italian POWs left a number of reminders and/or political statements in the camps in Australia. Italians made many statues at Hay PW Camp which included the Colosseum, the she wolf with twins Romulus and Remus, an army tank and a fascist eagle sitting atop a plinth.
Statue of Fascist Eagle at Hay Prisoner of War Camp
With technology, people of the 21st century can keep contact with friends and family and find people with ease.
Rewind 1945: the only means of communication was with a letter but if you were a prisoner of war, letters were censored. The unseen communication network for Italian prisoners of war however must have been effective.
Word of mouth and ‘sleight of hand’ postal services keep friends and family in touch.
Luigi Tesoro had many friends, as his intercepted letter indicates. Tesoro was a baker from Naples. He had been captured in the Battle of Bardia 4th January 41 and arrived in Australia onboard Queen Mary 27 May 1941. He spent time in Hay, then Q6 PWCH Home Hill before being returned to Hay for 120 days detention.
While serving his 120 days sentence, Tesoro was awarded 3 days No. 1 Punishment (which according to other records is bread and water)*on 8th January 1945 for having written a letter to Tafuto Giuseppe#, Yanco and for having given the letter to Esposito Carmine# to deliver at Yanco. Letter was found when Esposito was searched.
Dearest brother Giuseppe.
I am writing you this letter to let you know I am in the best of health and at the same time I want to assure myself about you and all my friends. Dearest Giuseppe I am very surprised you have not replied to my letter and a note I sent you by our friend Cavaliero@ and so I want to know why. Now I want to tell you that when I finish the 9 months prison they will probably send me to Murchison, but I am not sure. I am sending you the address of our friend Giovanni Fruttaldo!, who is in No. 13 POW G. Australia where is perhaps is our friend Comare. I warn you when writing to me not to use my name. Let me know how the other friends are, their names and where they live. Enough I won’t write any more… Let me know where your friend Comariello Gennaro is and send me his address. Your friend Giovanni, the brother of ??? where he is. I met him at Lecce, Mario who worked in the hospital, Sbrighi Edgardo& has gone to Cowra. Biasi^ the brother-in-law of friend Tatosi Cicco is on the farms.
Quite amazing how the Italians from one camp knew where their friends were or knew information about the comings and goings of their friends. Love the comment: I warn you when writing to me not to use my name. There must have been a complicated unwritten system for letter writing and passing on information.
*7 days detention = 3 days bread and water, 4 days Australian army rations. I can imagine that 4 days of Australian army rations was quite an insult for the Italians.
#Carmine Esposito (Baker from Naples) was released from Hay Detention compound 7th January 1945 and was returning to Yanco where Giuseppe Tafuto (Baker from Naples) was.
&Edgardo Sbrighi a baker from Forli was working on a farm at N6 PWCC Dorrigo
@ Possibly Celestino Cavalieri who was in Hay Detention Barracks at the same time and returned to Yanco.
! Giovanni Fruttaldo was from Naples and came to Australia on the Queen Mary in May 1941.
^Biasi – Possibly Biasi Gazzilli who worked on farms at V2 PWCC Colac.
Comare, Comariello and Tatosi – names are spelt incorrectly or are in code, as records cannot be found for these names.
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49564 G. Di Gloria; 49888 F. Palma; 46127 F. Martucci; 45665 G. Fruttaldo; 49505 L. Rubano; 46838 L. Tesoro; 49549 V. Morfeo. Front row: 57093 C. Calia; 46110 A. Montanari; 57147 A. Cerrutti; 45954 G. Luciano; 49585 A. Pastore. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWN Image 030173/03 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)