Category Archives: Italian Prisoners of War East Africa

Young men full of hope and dreams..

By the time Filippo Granatelli arrived in Australia in February 1945, he had already served 6 years in the Italian army, had been captured in Asmara  Eritrea on 6th May 1941 and spent close to 4 years in POW camps in India.

Granatelli Asmara 28 December 1939 lower left - Copy

Filippo (standing front row left and friends) December 28 1939

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

On  20.2.45, an Australian War Diary communicates, “350 Italians to SA for onward movement to WA.”  The date is significant: it was Filippo’s 30th birthday.  He had arrived in Melbourne on 13.2.45. This was his first birthday in Australia.

The die is cast,  Filippo Granatelli is to travel from Melbourne Victoria to Western Australia via South Australia. He was one of 155 Italian prisoners of war who arrived in Western Australia on 24.2.45.

In Western Australia he is sent to the Karrakatta Hostel, the Bunbury Hostel (State Forestry  firewood cutting and Department of Agriculture, hay harvesting, potato digging) before working on a farm in the Moora district (W25).

Movement Orders for PWIX GWM 20.2.45

from AWM52 1/1/14 Headquarters Units January to April 1945

 

But what of the young men like Filippo who fought Mussolini’s war in Eritrea?

Filippo kept a small number of photos from this time which gives us an insight into these young men and a very special thank you to his son Veniero for sharing these photos.

Granatelli right in helmet - Copy

Filippo Granatelli seated right 

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

Granatelli Dicembre 1939 first on right - Copy

Asmara December 1939 Filippo Granatelli seated right 

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

 

Young men enjoying their adventure

1st photo: Filippo right and 2nd photo Filippo standing Cappadocia July 1937

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

Cappadocia was one of the training camps for Filippo during his compulsory military service.  The above photo and the certificate below, reminders of  22 year old Filippo’s youth.

War and imprisonment were to shape many young men’s futures.

Cappadocia 1937

Diploma for Filippo Granatelli 4.8.37 Cappadocia

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

 

Watch this film on Eritrea : Eritrea’s Last Stand

 

In the beginning…

When and where did the life of a soldier begin for Jormen Salami?

Roma 28.3.40

Jormen Salami and friends Roma 28.3.40

(photo courtesy of the family of Jormen Salami)

A baker from Sustinente Mantua, Jormen sent the about photo home to his parents with the words: “Your son remembers you, together with his friends, in the first days of military service”

Craig Douglas from Regio Esercito History Group adds a little more detail for this photo:
The soldier centre in uniform is from one of the elite grenatieri-grenadier regiments.” 
The photo is remarkable.  This is the beginning of Jormen’s journey which will take him from the safety of his village to Rome for training, then dispatch to Addis Ababa Ethiopia before facing fierce fighting at Uolchefit Ethiopia.

Addis Abeba 1940

Addis Abeba Abyssinia 1940

(photo courtesy of the family of Jormen Salami)

Italian troops at Uolchefit (Wolchefit) protected the route to Gondar garrison, the last remaining outpost flying the Italian flag. Troop numbers at Uolchefit had totalled 4000 soldiers of which 1000 were colonial soldiers. At the time of surrender there were 1,631 Italian and 1,300 colonial soldiers.

Besieged since April 1941 and with more than a month completely cut off, Uolchefit ceased resistance at the end of September 1941: “The Rome communique stated, “The heroic garrison at Wolchefit, which has been closely besieged since April 15 and has received no food supplies for some days, was ordered to cease hostilities on Friday [26.9.41]’.” 1941 ‘WOLCHEFIT CEASES RESISTANCE’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 29 September, p. 8. , viewed 20 Jun 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17749704

Jormen Salami was captured 28.9.41.

The Barley Pit of Wolchefit describes the situation of the siege as told by Raffaele Talarico another of the Italian soldiers at Wolchefit.

Gondar_sector,_East_African_Campaign

By I.S.O. Playfair – Chapter 16, Playfair, I.S.O. (1956). The Mediterranean and Middle East: “The Germans come to the Help of their Ally” (1941). HISTORY OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR. II. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54678658

Wolchefit

1941 ‘Surrender of Wolchefit’, Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1954), 8 October, p. 3. , viewed 20 Jun 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article95138148

 

When did it start?

10th June 1940 was the official Italian declaration of war.

But for some Italians, the battles started in Eritrea and Ethiopia (1935), Spain (1936), Albania (1939).

For other recruits, it started with training before 1940.

From 10th June 1940, the Mediterranean Sea was a battlefield for the navy and the airforce; on 3rd August 1940 British Somaliland was taken, by 13th September 1940 the Italian forces had arrived at Sidi Barrani on the Libyan-Egyptian border and on 28th October 1940 the invasion of Greece began.

Benghazi… Tripoli… Bardia… Tobruk…Derna…Martuba…Acroma…Barca… Jarabub… desert forts…oases strongholds…

A special thank you to the families of these men for sharing the following photos: Antioco Pinna, Annibale Arangeli, Fioravante Blasioli, Tullio Brutti, Marino Casadio, Emidio Di Benedictis, Filippo Granatelli and Sebastiano di Campli

When and where did the war begin for your father?

For Biagio di Ferdinando life as a soldier started March 1938 when he was called up for military service. The following extract is from his book Odyssey

I was called up for military service during the month of February 1938. The postcard came from the military district of Teramo asking to present myself for military service. I left home the morning of 5 March 1938.  I farewelled my family and left together with a friend of the same age.  We arrived at the military barracks in good time. After a little while and a medical check up I was assigned to the 116th infantry regiment based in Chieti, a town inland from Pescara and south of my hometown. 

All the recruits from the district of Chieti of my class were assigned to the 116th infantry regiment in Libya.  The following days they gave us the green-gray uniforms.  Before that time the Italian soldiers in Africa wore the khaki colonial uniforms. 

… I wrote a letter to my family to let them know that I was assigned to the infantry in Tobruck, Libya.

We left Chieti on 13 March 1938.  We took the train to Naples and when we arrived we went to the harbour where we embarked on a ship that would carry us to Libya.

When the ship departed and we heard the siren it was a blow to the heart.. Nearly all us recruits had tears to our eyes, for the first time away from home and going so far away.  During the trip the sea was very rough and nearly all suffered sea sickness. 

When the ship arrived at Derna on 17 March 1938 it anchored far away from the land because there was no port.  Several boats came to take us to shore.  That morning the sea was very rough and the waves were breaking over the ship and as a result they could not use the ladders in order to board the boats. To disembark they put us in the nets used to unload goods, lifted us with the crane and lowered us into the boats, when over the boat we had to wait for the waves and the boat to be level in order to jump from the net into the boat. In the boats, to help us exit from the bag, were some Arabs. We approached them with fear, in the way they were dressed with those turbans on their head.   

In every net that came down were ten soldiers. When the net was lowered we had to wait in order to jump into the boat, had to be quick to get out of the bag to avoid falling into the sea.  In fact while the net was being withdrawn one soldier was nearly thrown overboard because one leg was caught in it….

Before leaving for Tobruck we stayed for the evening in the barracks of the 115th infantry in Derna.  We slept in bunk beds…

On 18 March 1938 we left Derna for Tobruck, one column of approximately 170 trucks. There were 170km from Derna to Tobruck and we arrived on 19 March 1938. The barracks in which we were billetted were brand new.  We, the new regiment of the 116 Marmarica infantry, were the first to wear the grey green uniform in Tobruck. I was allocated to the second company.  My serial number was:  8404… 

In Tobruck, and in all of Libya, blows a wind called ‘ghibli’, very hot and the sand is driven like a fog…and the flies were as thick as bees, like large swarms. 

 Drinking water was carried by tanker from Taranto in the south of Italy. The water that we had in Tobruck was not suitable to drink because it was salty.  With that water we only washed the clothes. 

In the first few months we were training every day.  We were the soldiers of the King and because we were the first gray-green uniforms in the Italian colonies, after a few months the King, Victor Emmanuel III, came to inaugurate all the new barracks in which we lived.  Our Colonel of the 116th Regiment Marmarica infantry presented all of us soldiers in the great square, with one beautiful new road around the barracks. 

The King arrived in an open carriage with General Balbo, the commander of all the Italian troops in Libya.  Behind the General was the King, he was small with a large helmet as protection from the sun, he remained seated and we could hardly see him. We filed past [marching] with the Roman step.  The King drove around the barracks and left.

Biagio returned home on leave four times. On the 1st June 1940 Biago returned to Libya.

He served at Sidi Barrani and Sollum, withdrew to Bardia on foot, was deployed inland to Jarabub and was captured 3rd January 1941 at Bardia.

On Christmas day 1940 for lunch they gave us about eight bucatini, strands of spaghetti, cooked with water.  In those last days of 1940 we were very badly situated.  We were full of fleas, unwashed and had almost nothing to eat.

Giovanni Palermo’s journey can be found in Noi Prigionieri Africa 1941-1947

Benghazi, Derna and Giarabub in Libya

Captured at Uolchefit

by Joanne Ciaglia

Giuseppe Guerrera was born on 15/3/1909 in San Lupo to Nicola Guerrera and Antonia Guerrera.  He became a farmer in San Lupo.  The Guerrera clan had land high in the hills overlooking San Lupo.  He had an arranged marriage and married Antonia Guerrera from Pontelandolfo.  Antonia died at the age of 24 without having had any children.  Giuseppe met and married Carmela Marra on 19/11/1935 in San Lupo.  Carmela was from Cervinara, Avellino.  Her father used to make charcoal and the family moved around quite a lot.  There was total objection to the marriage between Giuseppe and Carmela.  Carmela was not from San Lupo, moved around with her father’s work and the family were considered peasants!  They had their first daughter Angelina in 1936. 

Giuseppe Guerrera (photo courtesy of Joanne Ciaglia)

Giuseppe went into WW2 fighting for Italy and was sent to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.  Giuseppe was then sent to Uolchefit (Wolchefit) in Ethiopia where there were 4,000 Italian soldiers.  The soldiers were there to protect the route to Gondar garrison, the last remaining outpost flying the Italian flag.  Giuseppe was captured on 28/9/1941 and sent to India as a POW. He stayed in India until 9/5/1944 where he was sent to Australia and interned in the POW camp Cowra in NSW.  When he arrived in Australia he had 2,500 Lire.  On 9/6/1944 he was awarded 21 days detention for offence against good order and discipline and on 11/1/1945 he was awarded 168 hrs detention for refusing to work.  The war ended in September 1945.  On 13/11/1945 Giuseppe was marched from Cowra to Liverpool and on 23/12/1946 he was repatriated back to Italy.  There is a Cowra Italy Friendship Monument in Cowra which serves to celebrate the involvement of the Italians in the evolution of Cowra’s rich cultural environment.  It also commemorates the Italians who, during WW2, served on the side of the Allies, the Italian POW’s lodged at the Cowra POW Camp and Italian and Australian service personnel who lost their lives for their country. 

When Giuseppe returned back to San Lupo, he did not know that his wife gave birth to a second daughter, Nicolina who was born in 1939.  He had left to go to war without knowing that Carmela was pregnant.  When he came back to San Lupo, Nicolina was 7 years old.

Even though he was a prisoner here, he was so impressed with how he was treated in Australia, that he wanted to return.  Giuseppe’s brother, Donato Guerrera was already in Sydney and in April 1951 he sponsored his brother Giuseppe to come to Sydney to live.  Giuseppe arrived in Fremantle in November 1952 on the ship Ravello and then went on to Sydney.  Donato also got Giuseppe a job at Sugar Cartage Ltd in Saunders Lane, Pyrmont as a labourer.  His eldest daughter, Angelina came out by herself in 1954.  Carmela became friendly with a family at the port of Napoli who were also leaving for Australia.  She asked if they could look after her 18 year old daughter during the trip.  They did until they embarked in Melbourne and Angelina went on to Sydney.  A year later both his wife Carmela and his youngest daughter Nicolina followed.  To save pennies for the long trip to bring his wife and youngest daughter, he survived on milk and Sao biscuits.  I think this was common among men saving to bring their wife and children out.

Giuseppe also worked at a wool factory where he got his hand caught in a machine.  His hand was never the same again.  Still somehow, with an injury, he was also a kitchen hand at the Chevron-Hilton Hotel in Kings Cross.  This was Sydney’s first major hotel in the international style.  After working there, due to his hand injury, he could only help out at hospitals delivering food to the wards.  The family would joke that Nonno was claustrophobic and that he would put the food trolley in the elevator and send it to the above ward.  He then ran up the stairs, sometimes beating the elevator.

Carmela Marra and Giuseppe Guerrera (photo courtesy of Joanne Ciaglia)

Giuseppe lived through tough times.  His first wife died and later he went to war in Ethiopia and then became a prisoner of war for 5 years, the first 3 years in India and the last 2 in Australia.  He left his home town in San Lupo and came to Sydney to live.  He injured his hand in a workplace accident.  This would have made life very hard for him, but he still managed to find work.  Giuseppe died in Sydney on 12/8/1992.

The Barley Pit of Wolchefit:  the siege as told by Raffaele Talarico another of the Italian soldiers at Wolchefit/Uolchefit.

No. 1 Indian Prisoners of War Cage

Where was the No. 1 Indian Prisoners of War Cage?

Alessandro Rizzi was captured at Asmara, Eritrea on the 1st April 1941.

He is processed at No. 1 Indian Prisoner of War Cage. The questions arises: where was this camp?

Just as those Italians captured in Libya were sent to POW camps in British territories of Egypt and Palestine, it seems that those Italians captured in Ethiopia and Eritrea were sent to camps in the closest British territory: Sudan.

SUDAN

The answer may lie in this extract from Moore and  Fedorowich:

In the Sudan a similar system of twelve semi-permanent camps was built to accommodate a population which had grown to 79,000 POWs by July 1941. The camps were divided into three administrative regions located along the Nile valley between Khartoum and Atbara, in the Red Sea hills near Port Sudan and in Eritrea outside the port of Massawa. Once at the Sudanese and Eritrean coasts, the POWs were transported to India, Kenya and South Africa when shipping could be found.2 [Moore B., Fedorowich K. (2002) Italian POWs in Africa, 1940–3. In: The British Empire and its Italian Prisoners of War, 1940–1947. Studies in Military and Strategic History. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230512146_4%5D

Can you add information about the No. 1 Indian Prisoners of War Cage or the Italian prisoner of war camps in the Sudan?

KENYA

The first few months of 1941 saw the British authorities establish the pattern for accommodating their Italian prisoners across the Empire. The immense numbers captured in Italian East Africa were eventually despatched by rail and by sea to camps in Kenya. As had been the case in Libya and Egypt, it was deemed urgent for strategic reasons to evacuate the prisoners from Abyssinia as soon as possible. However, the transfer of prisoners to Kenya was far from easy. Logistical problems combined with the now familiar delays due to a shortage of shipping prevented British military authorities from sending large numbers to Kenya after the completion in April 1941 of the first stage of operations in Italian East Africa. Nevertheless, the delay proved to be a small blessing for it allowed time for the Kenyan authorities to build twelve permanent camps that would house 50,000 European captives. [{Moore B., Fedorowich K. (2002) Italian POWs in Africa, 1940–3. In: The British Empire and its Italian Prisoners of War, 1940–1947. Studies in Military and Strategic History. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230512146_4%5D

Map of Prisoner of War Camp in Kenya

[https://www.warhistoryonline.com/instant-articles/three-italian-prisoners-of-war.html]

The Hand of Friendship

Monto.DowlingWarren.Pace.Dunn Syd (5)

Adolfo D’Addario

(from the collection of Assunta Austin)

Adolfo D’Addario was a resourceful man.  Life decisions were always made in the interest of his family and his work ethic ensured his children and family learnt the importance of respect and seizing opportunities. Upon his death, Roy Theodore from Saturday News Mail wrote that Adolfo D’Addario was “a distinguished, courteous and industrious man.”

Born in Salle Pescara, Adolfo worked as a barber and married Assunta Lattanzio. With a family of three children in an economically unstable pre-war Italy, Adolfo took the opportunity to go to Abyssinia.  Italy needed a presence there after Abyssinia’s occupation by fascist Italy in 1935 and employment  in this colonial outpost offered a good wage and a promise of adventure.

Escalation of war saw Adolfo fighting in Eritrea and being captured in Asmara, its capital, on 29 April 1941.  Adolfo’s memory of that time is that the Italian soldiers were afraid of the unrelenting fighting and they thought it was a wise move to surrender to the ‘obliging’ British.

As a prisoner of war, Adolfo spent time in Sudan, contracted malaria and was imprisoned in India for almost four years.  He was one of 2076 Italian prisoners of war who made their way to Melbourne on the General William Mitchell. Arriving in February 1945 this was to be the last transport of POWs to Australia. From Melbourne, Adolfo was transferred to Cowra for processing and onward movement. Within a month of his arrival in Australia, Adolfo was sent to Gaythorne in Queensland, spent time in hospital and volunteered for farm work. He had to wait five months before he was sent to Q9 Monto in August 1945 for allocation to Tecoma, the property of Geoffrey Pownall.

Ring barking on the cattle property was hard but friendships were formed with farm workers, Les and Pat. Together they worked at an outpost camp.  As well, a special connection was made with Peter Pownall the only child in this isolated part of Queensland. Most likely, Peter reminded Adolfo of his own children back home in Italy. Peter Pownall’s memories of that time are clear, “I was called ‘Pietro’ and received birthday cards and Christmas cards once they (the POWs) left the district.  Letters from Adolfo D’Addario to my parents were always signed off with “a great kiss to my little friend Peter” or “a big hug to Peter”.  From Hay, 12.8.1946 Adolfo wrote, “Dear Peter, I express you my best wishes for your birthday. Sincerely Yours Adolfo.” I was looked after and carried around by the Italians.  Adolfo cut my hair. They made trinkets and little toys for me and I have a memory of sweets they gave me, like a boiled lolly in the shape of fruit. The Italians became my ‘playmates’ especially as they were such great family men and had had to leave their children when war started.” 

Adolfo had learnt English in India, so communication with the Pownalls was easier than other farmers would have experienced. A story about language is remembered well by Peter Pownall,”There  was the time that we left the property to go on holidays for a week.  The Italians and our Aussie workers were left to care take.  There were pigs to attend to, cows to be milked and they would ride the horses to check on the windmills.  Dad and Mum returned to a note from Adolfo, “Pig is death. Possible eat snake.”

The Pownalls treated him as one of the family and included him at the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Repatriation to Italy on board Alcantara, returned Adolfo to an Italy devastated by the war.  There were no jobs, little food and little hope for the future for him or his family.

Hard work earned Adolfo not only the respect of the Pownall family, but also an offer of sponsorship to return to Australia in 1951. Jan Joyce (nee Pownall) remembers when Adolfo returned to Uncle Geoffrey’s property:  “My sister Barbara remembers that Adolfo had a spaghetti maker. Adolfo would teach us how to pick up spaghetti to eat it the Italian way.  The spaghetti and sauce was in a dessert or porridge plate and using a fork and a soup spoon he would roll the spaghetti on the fork, using the soup spoon to hold it safely and then we could get it to our mouths without losing everything! I clearly remember my younger cousin Suzanne, Peter Pownall’s sister, helping Adolfo with English pronunciation.  She would say, “spoon Dolfo, similar moon” obviously copying the way her parents helped him. She would have been 4 or 5.”

Within two years, Adolfo had saved enough money to pay for his sons, Mario and Attilio, to join him in the Monto district.  Work opportunities at the Fairymead Sugar Cane Mill took the D’Addarios to Bundaberg.

By 1956, his wife Assunta and daughter Aminta had arrived in Australia and the family was finally reunited. Home became a well known property at Targo Street Bundaberg, with a street front adorned by a breath-taking Poinciana.

Adolfo’s road to success was rocky and unpredictable due to economic hardship, war, imprisonment, separation from his family and malaria. He had negotiated many obstacles on the road to own his home and a 130 ha cane farm at Hollands Road Meadowvale, opportunities and a future he could only have dreamed of.  But dreams do come true. Adolfo believed in his dream that  Australia would provide wonderful opportunities.

Assunta Austin, granddaughter of Adolfo, explains that her nonno spoke of Geoffrey Pownall as a very respected person in their lives and remembers with great fondness the family trips to Monto to visit the Pownalls. Reflecting on her family’s story, Assunta relates, “It is thanks to the hand of friendship that he (Geoffrey Pownall) extended to my grandfather, Adolfo, that changed the course of my father’s life and gave his future family the opportunities he could never have dreamed possible back in post-war Italy.”

Monto.DowlingWarren.Pace.Dunn Syd (7)

Adolfo D’Addario

(from the collection of Assunta Austin)

Where is my adored son?

From Tunisia, Salvatore Magaddino at 28 years old was an experienced world traveller: born Castellamore del Golfo Sicily, home address Tindja Tunisia, capture Amba Alagi Ethiopia, internment in India POW camps 1941-1945, travel to Melbourne Australia 1945, transfer to Western Australia and farm work in the Moora district 1945-1946, escape from Northam POW Camp Western Australia 17th  June 1946.

Magaddino 5

His feisty mother wrote to the commanding Officer of Marrinup POW Camp expressing grave concerns for her son:

Tindja Tunis

November 28 1946

“Gentlemen, – Once more I return to beg of you a favour.  It is six months since I have had news of my son Salvatore Magaddino.  I would like to know if he is still in Australia or if he has returned to Italy. Please give me some news about him because I am in a state of mortal anxiety.  Dear sirs, for the love of heaven let me know what has happened to my adored son as soon as possible.  Here is the latest address for my son: Magaddino, Salvatore: No 67655 Camp 16 P.O.W. Camp Marrinup, W.A.

I beg you to excuse me for for disturbing you and I thank you in anticipation of your kindness.  In hopes of an answer from you, receive by deepest regret. Mrs Margharita Magaddino c/o Pietro Magaddino, Maison Moltisanti, Tindja, Tunis. 

1947 ‘MISSING SON.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 21 February, p. 7. (SECOND EDITION.), viewed 12 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article46264224

AND SALVATORE LISTENED TO HIS MOTHER

“THIS IS ME”

Identifying himself with a photograph published in “The West Australian” last Friday, Salvatore Magaddino, one of 13 Italian prisoners of war at large from internment camps in Western Australia, walked into Western Command headquarters yesterday and surrendered himself.  he said he had read the published letter written by his mother in Tunis, Italy, to the army authorities and he had decided to return to her although he was anxious to remain in Australia.  Magaddino reported to Lieut. David Compton shortly after 11 o’clock.  He carried a copy of the newspaper in which his description was given and in halting English said: “This is me.” …

1947 ‘NEWS AND NOTES.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 25 February, p. 7. (SECOND EDITION.), viewed 12 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article46265423

 

 

The Burgundy Parade

LG Hoey, a journalist wrote a series of informative articles about the Italian prisoners of war in Western Australia. On 12 January 1947, he wrote: Anthony in Adversity and included the photo below of one Italian eating dinner with two little girls.

WA POWs

1947 ‘The Burgundy Parade’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 12 January, p. 10. (SUPPLEMENT TO THE SUNDAY TIMES), viewed 05 Jun 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59470264

Anthony in Adversity captures the essence of this history providing stories of Italians and their farm experiences. Click on the link to read about some of these men:

  • the artist who was grief stricken as his hands became coarse and rough with farm work;
  • the hairdresser whose farm work was disrupted because the women of the district become his customers;
  • the tailor who made a suit for his farmer and yet the farmer still complained;
  • the farmer who was going to return his POWs until he found out one was a chef and one a dressmaker;
  • the Italian who was left in charge of the farm when the farmer went on holidays and disasters struck.

And then there is the story about Anthony: Antonio [Tony] was obsessed with washing, or so his boss said, and on many occasions the farmer had threatened to give Tony the “sack” [terminate his employment].

When the journalist asked Tony about his capture, Tony replied, “It was in Abyssinia.  One day I felt very happy, so I went to the river and do some washing. I wash a little, then a voice say, ‘come’.  I look around and 2 very big Indiani there with a knife.  I say, ‘I come’, and I come.”

LG Hoey capably sums up this history: when Australian farmers and Italian prisoners of war were thrown together into new and strange situations and learnt to adapt.

NB The Burgundy Parade is in reference to the burgundy coloured uniforms that the Italian prisoners of war were given to wear in Australia.  The official colour was magenta but these red uniforms were loathed by the Italians for obvious reasons.

Finding Nonno

The history behind nonno’s stories

Robert Perna from Detroit Michigan writes, “Many years ago my grandfather told me about his time as a POW from Italy. He surrendered in North Africa and was first shipped to Iraq. Then he was shipped to Australia and worked on a cattle farm. He told me it would take weeks to walk the fence and repair it. He said the owner owned a territory. 

I’m looking for any way to find out who he lived with. He passed many years ago, but his memory of his time there was always very clear. He did end up going back to Italy because that’s where his family was.”

And so the journey begins for a grandson to meld a grandfather’s stories with historical fact.

Using the guide Finding Nonno, Robert found with ease his grandfather’s Australian records which confirmed a few details: his nonno Arcangelo was captured in North Africa: Amba Alagi on 5.5.1941; he was sent to India (not Iraq); he was shipped to Australia: onboard the SS Uruguay in 1943 which docked at Sydney; and he was assigned to farm work: in the N11 Prisoner of War Control Centre Glen Innes.

Robert recounts the details of Arcangelo’s conscription and war service, “My grandfather went to Rome to go pay the taxes on his property. While there, they recruited him off the streets* and sent him to Africa. He could not say goodbye to his family.

From there he was sent to Northern Africa where he was in charge of a platoon. They found out they were being attacked at dawn. So they hunkered into a hill waiting for the African army to attack. Once they ran out of bullets, everyone surrendered, so no one would get killed.” 

The piecing of history continues giving credence to Arcangelo’s memories of the day he was captured 5th May 1941:

1 May 1941 Viceroy of Italian East Africa Duke of Aosta and 7,000 troops were trapped at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia by Indian 5th Indivision to the north and South African 1st Brigade in the south.

3 May 1941 Allied and Italian troops engaged in heavy fighting at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia.

4 May 1941 29th Brigade of the Indian 5th Division launched another attack at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia, capturing 3 hills between 0415 and 0730 hours.

5 May 1941 3/2nd Punjab Battalion advanced toward the Italian stronghold at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia at 0415 hours. They were pinned down by 12 Italian machine guns for the most of the day. The attack was called off at dusk.

British Pathe footage captured the Italians after the surrender of Amba Alagi. Another detail from this battle comes from Craig Douglas at Regio Esercito History Group in Brisbane: “When the Italian troops surrendered at Amba Alagi, the British commander allowed them to surrender with the full honours of war. In tribute to their tenacious defence right to the end.”

The battle for Amba Alagi, the last Italian stronghold in Eritrea. Italians who surrendered Fort Toselli seen marching down the road from the fort. c. June 1941

(AWM Image 007945, Photographer: Unknown British Official Photographer)

From Amba Alagi, Arcangelo would have been sent to POW camps in Egypt to be processed and assigned a M/E number: 289564 [Middle East].  From Suez he would have been transported to India.

Critical Past footage gives a window into the past; the arrival of Italian prisoners of war in Bombay India.

The next stage of Arcangelo’s journey is his arrival in Australia which was reported in the newspapers.  Two ships from India arrived together in Sydney 4th October 1943 with 507 Italian POWs on each ship (one medical officer, 5 medical other ranks and 501 other ranks: MV Brazil and SS Uruguay.

ITALIANS FOR FARMS” Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954) 10 October 1943: 5. Web. 22 Jun 2019 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59187793

1000 Italian War Prisoners Arrive” Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950) 7 October 1943: 4. Web. 22 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article95630892&gt;

 

Arcangelo Perna’s arrival is documented on the Nominal Rolls Cowra 12 (c) POW Camp arrival from overseas 5th October 1943. He is assigned his Australian POW number : PWI 55833. Notice that his rank is Corporal though his other documents have his rank as Italian and Private; somethings are lost in translation.

Nominal Rolls of Italian Prisoners of War to Cowra

(NAA: SP196/1, 12 PART 2, 1943-1944 Sydney)

Within two months of his arrival in Australia, Arcangelo is assigned to farm work N11 C.C. Glen Innes.

Robert has a clear memory of his nonno’s recollections of Australia, “ He told me he worked on a cattle farm there. First thing he had to do was mend the fence with the owner. So they packed up the cart and took off. It took over 3 weeks to walk the fence. After that he worked there for a few years. Once it was time to go, the owner begged him to come back and live there. My grandfather said no, he had a farm in Italy. He never said anything bad about being there in Australia. He said they were a nice family who treated him wonderfully.”

Arcangelo’s Service and Casualty Form provides the details of his time between leaving the Glen Innes farm and his repatriation.  A documented four day stay in the Glen Innes hospital and his transfer from the farm to Murchison suggests ongoing medical concerns.  Those Italian who were medically unfit were sent to Murchison. And it is while Arcangelo was at Murchison, official group photos of the Italians were taken. 

A search of the Australian War Memorial collection did not turn up a match for Arcangelo. And Arcangelo’s photo could have been missed because, not all photographs taken of the POWs include the names of the men in the photos.

With this information and a chance at finding his nonno, Robert set to looking through all the group photos taken at Murchison March 1945. And there he was: seated second from the right.

A special moment for Robert: he had found Nonno in Australia.

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D2 No. 13 POW Group.

(AWM Image 030229/13, Photographer: Stewart, Ronald Leslie)

Arcangelo was repatriated on Chitral  from Sydney on 24th September 1946. These early repatriations were for special consideration, medical or compassionate reasons. This was one of the early repatriation ships which boarded 300 POWs in Sydney and another 2900 in Fremantle Western Australia. The majority of Italian POWs held at Northam Camp WA were repatriated on Chitral.

 Robert continues, “When he came home, my grandmother wasn’t even home when he got there! One of my aunts were born while he was away. Plus, my dad was born about 9 months after he came home.”

These memories [of my nonno] have been a part of my life since he’s told me the story. It has been told hundreds of times. Now I have proof, pictures and info to back up my story,” Robert reflects.

No title” The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954) 24 September 1946: 3 (LATE FINAL EXTRA). Web. 22 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231583722&gt;

*This is not the first time I have heard about this method of recruitment. A group of young men from the Lecce region, told a similar story to their Queensland family in Gayndah.

The Story in a Photo

In April 2017, Luigi Pinna sent me some photos belonging to his father Antioco Pinna who was a prisoner of war in South Australia.  They were photos of children, families and friends and while there were names on the back of each photo: AE Warren, John, Milton, Ross, Terry and Mark the identities of these South Australians remained a mystery. Antioco Pinna’s story can be read at : Exceptionally Good and A Portable Gramophone 

To help solve this mystery, Luigi and I needed the assistance of someone on the ground in South Australia, and in the vicinity of Millicent and Mt Burr. Colleen Hammat: Researcher for South East Family History Group was up to the challenge. Many phone calls, visits and follow ups by Colleen and slowly a little of the history of the Mt Burr Italian prisoners of war emerges.

Pinna 6

Greetings for Jimmie (Antioco Pinna)  from AE Warren (Ted)

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

A bit more digging and Colleen located a biography of Ted and Hilda (nee Bowering) Warren in the Meyer History Book:

“After being married Ted and Hilda living in Millicent where sons John and Ben and daughter Ina were born.  Ted went to work on the Mt Burr Forest.  He worked in the nursery growing pines for the plantation.  A piece of uncleared land was bought between Rocky Camp and Mt Muirhead.  The family built a house on this block and the children attended the Mt Muirhead School.  Reta, Ronald and Keith were all born while the Warrens living at Mt Murihead.  Most of the land was sold to the Forests Department for the plantation and Ted bought another uncleared block the other side of Mt Muirhead.  He retained the house.

Ted and Hilda lived at this home until all the family married.  During the time of the Second World War they cared for daughter Ina and her daughter, also John’s wife Audrey and their son.  John served overseas in the army. Ted and Hilda retired to Millicent selling the house block to the Forest Department.”

The mystery of the photo from AE Warren is solved.  The two ladies in the photo are Ted’s daughter Ina (Jim Simpson’s mother) and Ted’s wife Hilda as confirmed by grandson Jim.  The connection with Jimmie (aka Antioco Pinna) and Ted Warren is also confirmed, as both worked on the Mt Burr Forest, Jimmie as a POW labourer and Ted as a nursery man.

Pinna 5

Ina Simpson and Hilda Warren 1946

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

But there is more to this history…

Following many leads, Colleen has also found a gentleman who worked for the Mt Burr butcher when he was a young fellow. He remembers delivering to the camp and he told Colleen that the mess hut from the camp was later moved from the site into Mount Burr and used for a rec. hall.   Colleen’s 84 year old friend, “Remembers the POWs walking into Millicent from Mt Muirhead where the camp was for the Catholic Church meetings – they were called the Red Coats because they wore Red Jackets and berets. She said they sang in the choir and all had beautiful voices.”

Photos taken back to Sardinia from a Prisoner of War hostel at Mt Burr forestry in South Australia, not only survived the passage of time, but have helped an Australian community reconnect to its history and Luigi Pinna to write his father’s story.

In December 2018, Luigi Pinna wrote and published Arrastus in Sa Storia relating the journey of his father Antioco from Italy to Ethiopia… India… Australia… Italy.

Pinna Antico

Arrastus in Sa Storia by Luigi Pinna

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)