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.
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:
- PRISONERS OF WAR – Italian soldiers who were captured in battles in North Africa and were sent to Australia.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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
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.
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 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. As well the ‘Civil Aliens Corps’ was responsible for the Mt Isa – Tennant Creek Road, and projects at Mt Etna and Black River Townsville. There was also road construction camp set up utilising ‘alien’ labour in Yuleba SF.
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 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.
NAA: K1199, Gangemi, Michele
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.
*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.