Category Archives: Italian Prisoners of War East Africa

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.

Q: Where was this camp?

A: No. 1 Indian Prisoner of War Cage (Decamere)

It is with thanks to Fabrizio Chiaramonte and his facebook group [ documenti dei prigionieri di guerra italiani WWII] that we have an answer.

Decamere is in Eritrea, south south east of Asmara. It is now known as DEKEMAHARE. The card has the Italian soldier captured at Adi Quala 14.6.42 and arrived at No. 1 Indian POW Decamere C. on 16.6.42 via FS Adi Ugri. He was then sent to Fort Baldiserra (Asmara) before departing for South Africa from Massawa.

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 or onward to South Africa.

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]

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.

Amba Alagi

The landscape of the battles was diverse: the arid deserts of Libya, the snow capped mountains of Albania and Greece and the mountainous terrain of Abyssinia.

Amba Alagi was the last fortress of the Duke of Aosta Viceroy and Commander-in-Chief in Abyssinia. It was manned by approximately 7,000 Italian soldiers. Upon acceptance of the surrender of Amba Alagi, the British conceded full military honours on the Italian troops in recognition of the valour of the Italian soldiers.

A march past of Italian soldiers was captured on film: Surrender of Amba Alagi The film is a rare glimpse into this history.

Giosino Fino was one of the Amba Alagi soldiers. His daughter Ginetta Fino has honoured her father by documenting his testimony of his time as an Italian soldier and prisoner of war in India and Australia. Giosino’s journey and insights are invaluable in providing the personal experiences of Italian soldiers.

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57187 G. Di Francesca; 57391 D. Monaco; 57137 P. Cotturelli; 57083 M. Borea; 57220 G. Fino; 57441 A. Pettolino; 57081 V. Bono. Front row: 57350 G. Marinacci; 57160 G. De Felice; 57315 N. Lopez; 57313 S. Lombardozzi; 57343 P. Marasco. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030174/15 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

1941 ‘Pipes put Italians out’, The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 – 1954), 25 May, p. 2. , viewed 03 Feb 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248144901

Despite being on the other side of the world in Australia, the Italians built monuments to respect the memories of those soldiers who died in WW2. In Hay Prisoner of War Camp a group of Italians are photographed beside a Memorial to the Duke of Aosta and Fallen Italian Soldiers.

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. THE CRAFTSMANSHIP OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR IS ILLUSTRATED BY THIS MEMORIAL TO THE DUKE OF AOSTA AND FALLEN ITALIAN SOLDIERS WHICH THEY BUILT IN ONE OF THEIR GARDENS AT THE 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. PICTURED, LEFT TO RIGHT: 46241 MARIO MACCIANTI; 46217 DOMENICO MAROLDA; 46789 CARLO SPUMANTE; 46503 GIOVANNI POLVERINO; 45721 LUIGI FERRANTE; 45854 NELLO GIUSTINI; 46073 COSIMO MIGGIANI; 48505 LUDOVICO FERRANTE; 45918 FRANCESCO IERO; GIOVANNI FIMIANI. (AWM Image 063366 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Italian Sailors at Ross Creek

The Fall of Asmara and Massawa

A photo, a banana farm, two names and a story of Massaua [Massawa] Italian Sailor POWs at Ross Creek via Gympie.

Knowles.Irace.Franco

Tony Franco and Giovanni Irace at Ross Creek via Gympie

(from the collection of Kathy Worth (nee Knowles))

Kathy Worth (nee Knowles) is the keeper of a framed photo of two men standing beside a bunch of bananas.  Her mother, Ellen Knowles, carefully noted the names of the men on the reverse side of the photo and 72 years later this photo tells a story.

Clarrie and Ellen Knowles of Ross Creek Gympie grew bananas during World War 2.  At some stage, they also grew beans between the runs. On 14th May 1945, two Italian POWs were sent to the Knowles farm and took up residence in the workers’ shack on the farm.

Both from the Amalfi Coast of Italy, Antonio Franco was from Maiori Salerno and Giovanni Irace was from Praiano Salerno.  Kathy remembers Tony and Giovanni from the stories her parents told her and she says, “Dad loved fishing and would take them to Tin Can Bay fishing with him but apparently they were not to leave the farm.  The ‘Ities’ as Dad called them ran out of milk one day so he went and milked the draught horse and they commented how sweet it was and he told them it was mare’s milk which caused a laugh.  They were frightened of fire flies as well.  Dad said that when they saw fire flies for the first time they were scared.  They told Dad how they called into the night, ‘boss, boss, is that you boss’.  Mum remembers that they didn’t want to go back to Italy”.

Delving further, the back story to Giovanni Irace and Antonio Franco coming to Australia is noteworthy. The last transport of Italian POWs to Australia was the General William Mitchell arriving in Melbourne; the 2076 Italians on board disembarked on 13th February 1945.  Two hundred and fifty were sent to Gaythorne in Queensland arriving on 13th March 1945 for onward placement on farms.  Irace and Franco were placed on Clarrie Knowles’ Gympie farm within two months.  Other Italians were encamped at Gaythorne for five months before placements were arranged to work on farms.

Another interesting point of history is the place and date of capture for Irace and Franco.  Both sailors in the Italian Navy, they were captured at Massaua (Massawa) on 8th April 1941.

The Red Sea Flotilla was a unit of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina Italia) based in MassawaEritrea, when Massawa was part of Italian East Africa. In World War II, the Red Sea Flotilla was active against the British Royal Navy East Indies Station from Italy’s declaration of war on 10 June 1940 until the fall of Massawa on 8 April 1941.

The location of the squadron meant it was isolated from the main Italian bases in the Mediterranean by distance and British dispositions. The British capture of Massawa and other Italian ports in the region ended the Italian naval presence in the region in April 1941.”

(Wikipedia: Red Sea Flotilla)

Captured… Eritrea and Abyssinia

Was your nonno or papa captured in Eritrea or Abyssinia?

Do you have any place names for prisoner of war camps in East Africa?

By mid-April 1941 there were 41,000 Italian and colonial troop prisoners in the Sudan.

After capture, where did these men go?

Here are some of the temporary ‘cages’ and camps mentioned:

Asmara Autopark

Below is an extract from Adolfo Orofino. Memories of Africa. The imprisonment in India. Tribute to dad by Gian Carlo Orofino.

In Adolfo Orofino’s diary there is the sequence of camps prior to the transfer of prisoners to India after the defeat at Cheren that ended the AOI.

First days after Asmara’s autopark defeat 3 4 April 1941 where the disbanded soldiers voluntarily arrived after an English proclaim that threatened death to those who didn’t surrender.

Cheren April 5, 1941

Agordat April 6, 1941

Cassala Sudanese border by train until April 9

Adurman Karthoum suburb 40 days [Ondurman or South Khartoum]

North Karthoum 22 May 1941

Here the prisoners were photographed and assigned freshman number

May 23 by train in Port Sudan arriving May 24, 1941

Steamboat Egra heading to Bombay in 8 days of navigation

May 31th 1941 arrival at port of Bombay

June 2, 1941 disembarked from the ship and by train to Bhopal.

Arriving in Bhopal June 4, 1941 then 2 months after capture.

Maiceo

Giosino Fino mentions a temporary prisoner of war camp at Maiceo. He was captured at Amba Alagi: https://www.idiariraccontano.org/autore/fino-giosino/

No. 1 Indian Prisoner of War Cage

Otumlo Hanger Massawa

There are several references to a temporary camp for Italian prisoners of war inside the Otumlo Hanger at Massawa including the photo below.

https://www.magnumphotos.com/

Khartoum

There were two camps at Khatoum: Ondurman (Kartoum South) and Khartoum North. They housed Italians who had been captured in Eritrea and Abyssinia.

Ondurman (Khartoum South)

This camp was situated 300 metres from the River Nile. 

In April 1941, this camp housed 182 officers and 73 non-commissioned officers and soldiers.

There were three well-constructed brick barracks which housed officers.  Ten officers were housed per room (3.5m x 6.5m). The officers were awaiting transfer. The non-commissioned officers and soldiers were accommodated in well-established 15 tents.

Three meals are prepared each day consisting of meat, bread, rice, vegetables and pasta.  There is a daily ration of 18 ounces of bread and 4 ounces of meat.

The prisoners of war arrived at camp without adequate clothing and there was difficulty in provisioning clothing.

There were six showers but the flow of water was weak.

As this is a transit camp, there were only about 50 Italian books in the camp library.

The soldiers received an allowance of 50 piastres per week. This represents one third of the pay when food is provided and the other two-thirds is remitted to the family under the responsibility of the Italian government.

Khartoum North

In April 1941 this camp housed 165 officers and 42 soldiers.

Generals Tessitore and Bergonzi together with Admiral Bonetti and their aides were accommodated in three pretty villas which bordered the River Nile. The Generals are being treated with the honours deserved of their rank and despite the conditions of their long and arduous journey, they have few complaints.  

The other men are housed in eleven spacious, well-constructed and appealing buildings.

The general impression is that the conditions were good. It was predicted that about 40,000 prisoners would be settled in eight camps in the Sudan, with the majority of the camps accommodation local colonial troops who are accustomed to the climate.

Camp 337 The Sudan

Camp 337 was situated some kilometres from Camp 329, in the same dry arid desert region in a valley surrounded by stony mountains. The climate is excessively hot and the air is dry. The nights are fresh. There is no malaria or yellow fever in this part of the Sudan.

This camp can house several thousand prisoners.  In April 1942, it housed 2500 Italian prisoners of war and 605 civilian Eritreans.

There are three distinct sections (cages) exactly the same. There are 72 tents in each section. Each tent accommodates 10 men. The facilities consist of kitchens, ablutions, washing facilities.  These are clean. 

The food is monotonous but sufficient for good health. Each man receives 500 grams of bread a day.

There are 300 Italian books, equipment for ping pong and football games, musical instruments for an orchestra.

Water is generally scare in this area and each section has a water outlet which is opened twice a day for one hour. The water is drinkable but slightly saline. The latrines are kept clean.  There is a special latrine reserved for dysentery cases.

Wadi Medani

Captain Kenneth Hulbert from the Royal Army Medical Corps remembers from 1941, cages consisting of big, barbed wire enclosures with tented, huts, latrines and cookhouses.  This camp was for Eritreans and Abyssinians who served with the Italian army.

Fort Baldiserra Eritrea

Documenti dei prigionieri di guerra is a facebook group hosted by Fabrizio Chiaramonte. Fabrizio is sharing a number of record cards from Fort Baldissera.

On a post November 15 2021, Fabrizio lists a number of prisoner of war sites in 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

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