Category Archives: Italian Internees

Stranger in a Strange Land

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

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

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

The Ossario List of Italians

Italians Buried at Murchison

(photo courtesy of Alex Miles)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deaths 95 updated

 

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

 

 

 

 

Red Uniforms

Magenta Dyed Army Issue

Italian POW uniform Red

Dark red shoulder strap with a button hole at the end. The button hole and the edges of the strap have been reinforced with khaki cotton.

(Australian War Memorial: ID number REL32594)

A predominant memory, if little else is remembered, is that the Italian prisoners of war were dressed in red.  A number of hues are recalled: red, burgundy, maroon, claret, pink and orange but the official term was ‘magenta’.

The colour was conspicuous, to make POWs stand out in a crowd.  POWs and internees were dealt the same humiliation: army issue clothing which had been dyed magenta.

The Italian prisoners of war objected against the dyeing of their clothes ‘burgundy’ but authorities responded with a practical answer… it was the only colour that could dye khaki.

The above shoulder strap is a remnant of one such POW magenta-dyed army issue, held in the heraldry collection of the Australia War Memorial. Its description is as follows:

“This shoulder strap was part of a scrap book put together by Eastern Command Salvage and Recovery Section in the early 1940s. The strap is taken from a uniform jacket issued to enemy prisoners of war and civilian internees held in Australian camps during the Second World War. The Salvage and Recovery Section were responsible for collecting and repairing unserviceable Australian army khaki uniforms, repairing them, and dying them the distinctive maroon that was required uniform for enemy prisoners of war. It was found that the section could carry out the work for far less cost than a civilian contractor.

Until 1942 there were not enough surplus uniforms available for dying and issue to prisoners of war or internees. Internees were required to bring their own clothing into camp and prisoners wore the uniforms in which they had been captured supplemented by civilian issue clothing.

From 1942 both groups were required to wear the distinctive red issue clothing, which was produced in both uniform and civilian styles. Generally speaking, prisoners of war were allowed to retain their own national headdress until it wore out. The compulsory wearing of red clothing by civilian internees varied from camp to camp and seems to have been at the camp commandants’ discretion. Many commandants found that civilian internees worked better when allowed to wear their own clothes, but others insisted they wear red as the prisoners of war were required to do”.

Another reference and more personal reference to the clothing is from internee, Peter Dalseno who wrote the following in Sugar, Tears and Eyeties:

“The officer signalled him on to the next table where he was allotted one overcoat, two shirts and two pairs of trousers – dyed a rich burgundy hue not dissimilar to wine aging in casks.  The name tags affixed to the garments – the property of previous soldiers – had not been obliterated…. Then came the pair of singlets, longjohns and socks and army boots that carried no name tags but showed signs of considerable wear”.

From the Australia War Memorial also comes the photos below.  Italian internees at Loveday dyed their uniforms and Army staff working at 3rd Salvage Depot are photographed dyeing salvage uniforms which were possibly used for the Italian POWs.

Loveday Uniforms 4087605

Loveday, Australia. 11 March 1943. An Italian internee at No. 9 Camp, Loveday Internment Group, at work dyeing clothing for issue to internees. This clothing is discarded Australian uniforms, cleaned, repaired and now dyed a burgundy colour.

(AWM Image 030198/09 Halmarick, Colin Thomas)

Uniforms 3887249

FISHERMENS BEND, VIC. 1944-02-02. V290231 PRIVATE T. A. MCDERMOTT (1) AND V325800 CORPORAL T.B. CUMMINS (2) OF THE CLOTHING AND DYING SECTION, 3RD SALVAGE DEPOT REMOVING HATS FROM A TROUGH OF DYE.

(AWM Image 063720 Rogers, MB)

Italian Internees

The words: prisoners, internees, internment, imprisonment  are often interchangeable.

Queensland resident Italians were interned.  Italian soldiers were interned.  The Italians were prisoners in camps.  Internees were sent to Cowra.  Italian POWs were sent to Corwa. These camps were guarded and the Italians could not leave without guards.

Queensland resident Italians interned

Loveday 4119399

Barmera, South Australia. 1943-12-31. As many Italian internees were released during 1943 it was decided to close No 9 Compound and transfer the remaining Italians to No 14D Compound in the Loveday Internment Camp Group. This photograph shows the last internees at their final roll call in No 9 Compound. At the extreme right with their backs to the camera are Australian Captains E.L. Roesler and C.B. Farrow.

Photographer: Cullen, Hedley Keith

There were two situations in the Burdekin during WW2.

  1.  Queensland resident Italians were interned.  They were arrested under the securities act and sent to internment camps down south.
  2. Italian soldiers were captured or surrendered in North Africa, sent to Australia for the duration of the war and a hostel on the banks of the Burdekin River was built to house 255 Italian POWs who grew vegetables for the allied forces in North Qld.

Many Burdekin residents have contacted me regarding their fathers and grandfathers who were arrested and interned.  These men were classified as INTERNEES.

I have put together the following document to assist families to find information about the internment of their family members:

Queensland Resident Italian Internees

Many, but not all, Burdekin internees were sent to Loveday Interment Camp in South Australia and the document below provides details of this camp:

LovedayInternmentCamp

Another two resources follow. They provide the details about the policy, its implementation, the arrests etc:

Glaros, M Sometimes a little injustice…

Behind the Barbed Wire

Nationalities of Other Internees

Italian was not the only nationality to be interned in Queensland during WW2.  Other nationalities included: Greek, Lithuanian, Spanish, Hungarian, Polish, Austrian, Russian, Albanian, Portuguese, Indonesian, German, Japanese, French and Finnish.  Internees were arrested under the National Securities Act.  Being Australian born (British Subject) or being naturalised did not exempt individuals from being interned.  People of foreign descent or nationality fell into three categories: NBS (Naturalised British Subject), Alien or British Subject (born in Australia).  NB The concept of Australian Citizenship did not come into existence until 1948. Queensland residents who were interned came from all three categories.

Photos of Loveday Internment Camp

(from Australian War Memorial)

The Other Italians…

There is nothing simple about wartime.

Alex Miles from Mooloo via Gympie threw up an interesting question recently, “Did you know about the Italians who were at a hall besides the Presbyterian Church during the war?  They didn’t wear red clothes? And they appeared to mix freely with locals”

Over time, memories can blur facts and circumstances with Italians from different backgrounds being put into one category “the Ityes”.  So over time, Italian POWs, Italian internees and these other Italians become one and the same group.  After all, seven decades have passed and my generation were not around, so we rely upon snippets of information  heard about war time.

Background

The Department of External Affairs was responsible for prisoners of war and internees in Australia.

The Department of the Interior was responsible for placement and employment of residents in Australia.

During World War 2, war time provisions enabled government departments to allocate resources where needed.  This included able bodied men. While the Department of Army drafted Australians into the armed forces, these provisions also enabled government departments to draft any Australian regardless of citizenship status into labour corps to undertake public works jobs.

In Australia during WW2, foreigners or those of foreign descent could be part of one of the following groups:

  1. PRISONERS OF WAR – Italian soldiers who were captured in battles in North Africa and were sent to Australia.
  2. INTERNEES – Italians who were resident in Australia, (naturalised British subjects (NBS) or aliens) deemed security risks were arrested and INTERNED. Many of the Queensland Italian internees were sent to Loveday, South Australia.
  3. ARMED FORCES – Italians who were naturalised British subjects (NBS) living in Australia were drafted into the armed forces.  Interpreters for Q4 PWCC Gayndah, Claude Colley and Joe Devietti were of Italian origin, NBS and drafted into the army.
  4. ALIENS – Italians who were resident in Australia and were not naturalised, had to register as an ENEMY ALIEN at the beginning of hostilities.  Some of these Italians were drafted into the Civil Alien Corps, employed to undertaken public works programs. An example of ‘Direction to Serve in the Civil Aliens Corps’ is below.

Civil Aliens Corp Notice

NAA: MP14/1 NN

 So who were these other Italians camped at a hall in Gympie?

Quite possibly and more than likely, these Italians worked on a public works projects under the directorship of Manpower and Allied Works Council.   By 3rd May 1943 the Civil Aliens Corps was established and in May 1945 it was disbanded:  ‘Members of the Civil Aliens Corps were required to work on projects of a non-combatant nature managed by the Allied Works Councils.  These included projects such as road construction or the forestry industries’.  NAA: B884

4th May 1943 The Age
Civil Aliens Corps
CANBERRA, Monday. — The
formation of a civil aliens corps,
in which refugee and enemy
aliens between the ages of 18 and
60 may be directed to serve, is
provided for by amending
regulations.
Alien refugees from their own
country will be allowed 28 days
after reaching the age of 18 years
to volunteer for military service.
If they do not volunteer they will
be called up for the corps.
Provision is made for exemption of
some aliens on occupational
grounds.
It was stated to-day that the
experience of the Allied Works
Council in controlling and
employing hundreds of refugee and
enemy aliens in all States had
shown the need for forming such
groups into a composite corps.
The corps would be entirely
distinct from the civil constructional
corps. Its members would
be employed on important works.

 

Daniela Cosmini-Rose wrote about these forgotten enemy aliens in Italian Civil Alien Corps in South Australia  Her article gives an insight into this group of men for which there is little information available.

It is important though to add  that ordinary Australians of British heritage were also drafted to work on public works projects. These men were in the Civil Constructional Corps. Conditions of employment  and living conditions for CCC were however far superior to those in the CAC.

Under the umbrella of the Allied Works Council were two groups:

Civil Constructional Corps  (CCC) and Civil Aliens Corps(CAC).   CCC drafted Australians to work on public works some at military installations and CAC drafted aliens to work on public works programs mostly in isolated locations and in makeshift camps.

Civil Constructional Corps Letterhead

NAA: J1738 2190

Allied Works Council took control of wartime work such as construction, forestry, maintenance of camps, roads, aerodrome, railways, docks.  The Italians (and Albanians) who worked in forestry and road building, lived in temporary camps.  A term used for these camps is “Internment Camps“, which confuses this history.  They were not ‘internment camps’ as internment camps were for those of foreign descent who were considered a security risk and were arrested under the Securities Act.   Better and more appropriate terms to use should be “Public Works Camps” or “Civil Aliens Camps” or Forestry Camps” or “Allied Works Camps”, men of foreign origin who were ‘drafted’ to work on public works programs.

Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Forestry undertook an extensive archaeological survey of ‘Forestry Camps’ which had been worked by Italians and  Albanians:Qld Forestry Camps   including Italians at Millmerrin. For want of a better word, ‘internment’ has been used in this document, but they were not INTERNMENT CAMPS as is explained above.  In the Monto district there was a Civil Aliens Forestry Camp and a Prisoner of War Control Centre which allocated Italian POWs to farms. This is explained in:  Wartime Monto .

Another major project undertaken during the war was the “Inland Defence Road” which was completed in 1943, linking Ipswich to Charters Towers – 1412 km.  The ‘alien’ workforce was used for its construction: “120 non-refugee aliens were employed on the heavy rock section at Camboon.” (History of MRD)  As well the ‘Civil Aliens Corps’ was responsible for the Mt Isa – Tennant Creek Road, and projects at Mt Etna and Black River Townsville.  Reports indicated that “540 members of CAC replaced 400 CCC in May/June/July 1943 some of whom were Albanian.  There were also road construction camps set up utilising ‘alien’ labour with a labour corps at Whetstone Inglewood and  Yuleba SF. 

Other labour corps mentioned are : Jackson Labour Corps and road cosntruction between Stanthorpe-Goondiwindi, both included Albanians; 120 aliens worked on the construction of the Calvert Ammunitions Depot; Labour Corps at Glasshouse Mts and Landborough using Albanians; CAC at Bracalba (Italians) and Peachester (Italians).

Inland Defence Road

1943 ‘INLAND ROAD NEARING END’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 4 January, p. 6. (CITY FINAL LAST MINUTE NEWS), viewed 07 Apr 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article186629495

defence rd cracow (1)

Defence Road Cracow: Historic Stone Bridge*

(Vintage Queensland Facebook Page)

Another twist to this history is the journey of the Italian internees.

Adding to the confusion and misnaming, is the process of releasing Italians from internment camps and directing them to work in public works projects.  They were technically, ex-internees.  If you have a family member who was ‘interned’ and you look at their Service and Casualty Record, (available on-line from National Archives) you will see a final notation. Released…  and then a series of letters or a comment. Queensland Italian internees once released from internment went three ways: 1. return to Queensland OR 2. draft into the Civil Aliens Corps or Allied Works Council and sent to work on projects in Alice Springs, Tasmania or South Australia  OR 3. draft into Manpower South Australia.

One Italian from Halifax was arrested 21.4.42 and interned at Cowra PW & I Camp.  He was released on 22.2.43 to A.W.C. Victoria.  One of the projects he worked on was the production of salt at the Cheetham Salt Works.  This extra information is not however recorded on his Service and Casualty Form, because he was no longer an internee.  He was employed by the Allied Works Council which kept a completely different set of records.  An example of a Civil Aliens Corps Employment Record Card is below.

Civil Aliens Corp Employment Card

NAA: K1199, Gangemi, Michele

CCC Alice Springs

ALICE SPRINGS, AUSTRALIA. 1942-09-28. CIVIL CONSTRUCTION CORPS GANG LOADING GRAVEL FOR THE NORTH ROAD AT MCGRATH FLATS, 30 MILES NORTH OF ALICE SPRINGS. (AWM Image 026958)

There is nothing simple about wartime.

The following pages are from Allied Works Council Report of Activities Report July 1, 1943 to February 15, 1945 NAA: A659 1945/1/3162 .  They provide statistics and information on the operations of the Civil Aliens Corps.

AWC CAC 1

 

AWC CAC

 

*I had been told that the four historic stone bridges built on the Defence Road, Cracow were built by hand by POWs working from mobile camps.  This was something that I could not disprove at the time of writing ‘Walking in their Boots‘.  In the context of  further research I did for ‘The Other Italians’, these brick abutments were not built by POWs but build by the ‘Alien workforce which included Italians’ who were employed to build the Defence Road. Furthermore, the Inland Defence Road was completed in early 1943, and Italian POWs began working on farms in Queensland in October 1943.