Category Archives: Italian Prisoners of War India

Diario di un Prigioniero di Guerra Italiano 4

15-7-41 . . .Questa mattina ci siamo imbarcati per destinazione ignota. Naturalmente le voci che corrono sono molte. Alcuni dicono ci portano in Sud Africa, altri in India ed altri ancora in Australia. Dovunque si vada sarà sempre meglio che rimanere nel deserto. Tutti noi siamo pieni di diversi sentimenti, sappiamo che questo viaggio significa allontanarsi ancora di più dalle nostre famiglie e nessuno sa per quanto tempo, però siamo  anche pieni di quello spirito di avventura che si ha quando si parte per terre nuove e sconosciute e comunque la cosa più importante è che questo viaggio rompe la monotonia della prigionia ed aiuterà certamente il tempo a passare più in fretta. La vita a bordo, benché soggetti a stretta disciplina è abbastanza buona abbiamo da mangiare a volontà e siamo trattati bene, possiamo passeggiare sul ponte e l’aria di mare ed il riposo sta facendo bene a tutti e specialmente da un punto di vista nervoso è un gran calmante. Di notte nell’oscurità più completa, alcune volte si pensa che disastro sarebbe, se dovessimo essere silurati, ma d’altro canto ò meglio cercare di non pensarci e sperare sempre per il meglio. La vita è naturalmente sempre la stessa e siamo privi di qualsiasi notizia, chi sa quando riceverò ancora posta da casa, forse mesi e mesi passeranno prima che i miei sappiano se sono morto o vivo e prima che ricevano posta da me ed io da loro. Questa è la parte più brutta, il pensare alle sofferenze di mia moglie e di tutti i miei che chissà per quanto tempo saranno nell’incertezza. Bisogna proprio cercare di essere filosofi, tutto è destinato a finire e bisogna cercare di avere fiducia anche nelle ore più nere. Sto pensando di cominciare a studiare l’inglese, mi aiuterà certamente a passare il tempo e può darsi che mi possa essere utile in futuro, c’è un proverbio che dice, non tutti i mali vengono per nuocere, ed allora certe volte comincio a sognare ad occhi aperti e dopo la prigionia mi vedo stabilito con la mia famiglia in una di queste terre lontane di cui qualche volta avevo sentito parlare da paesani che erano tornati al paese a fare un viaggio e per far vedere che avevano fatto fortuna. E’ bello sognare perchè si dimentica il presente e si ha una speranza per l’avvenire, che alcune volte se si vuole veramente guardare in faccia sembra così nero che mette paura. Fra di noi vi è un soldato che è stato qualche anno in America e che parla l’inglese, domani gli voglio domandare che cominci a darmi alcune lezioni. Sarebbe interessante poter parlare con le sentinelle inglesi e vedere che cosa pensano e quale è loro attitudine, sono degli uomini e dei lavoratori come me, sono sicuro che se potessi parlare sarebbe molto interessante ed anche un grande aiuto.

15-8-’41 … E’ passato giusto un mese da quando ho scritto l’ultima volta su questo diario, il fatto è che non ho avuto niente di eccezionale che mi spingesse a rompere l’apatia e la pigrizia per prendere la penna in mano. Siamo passati da Capetown, ma naturalmente dato che proseguivamo non ci hanno fatto sbarcare e quindi a parte del porto non abbiamo visto niente altro. Appena arrivati credevamo che finalmente eravamo giunti a destinazione, ma invece dagli ordini che ricevemmo era evidente che si andava ancora avanti. Dove? Adesso il Sud Africa era escluso e rimaneva soltanto o l’India o l’Australia. Vedremo se ci fermeremo in India o se proseguiremo ancora. Fra pochi giorni lo sapre mo perchè la voce córre che saremo presto in Bombay.

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Groupe I. Camp no 1 de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Détenus devant leur tente. Word War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp 1. Detainees in front of their tent. Au fond, un autel construit par les prisonniers.

Word War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp 1. Detainees in front of their tent. (ICRC Image V-P-HIST-03469-04)

NB No transports of Italian prisoners of war arrived in Australia in September 1941. ‘Nonno’ would have disembarked at Bombay.

Storia di un contadino italiano in Australia – parte 1: la cattura e l’inizio del viaggio

by Elena Fortini

Nella maggior parte dei libri di storia le migliaia di uomini catturati e fatti prigionieri durante i due conflitti mondiali che hanno segnato il Secolo breve figurano solo come numeri, una perdita inevitabile nell’economia di guerra. Eppure, si tratta di una parte non trascurabile del nostro passato: ogni uomo partito al fronte vi ha portato parte di sé, una storia nella Storia che non possiamo permetterci di dimenticare. Per questa ragione voglio raccontare la prigionia di mio zio Vincenzo, un modesto contadino cremonese che si è trovato a coltivare le immense distese australiane.

Vincenzo Ambrogio: Uncle of Elena Fortini (photo courtesy of Elena Fortini)

Vincenzo Ambrogi nasce il 5 settembre 1917 a Soncino, un piccolo borgo medievale in provincia di Cremona. Primo di 7 figli tra cui mia nonna Rosa, detta Carla, il 2 settembre 1938 viene chiamato alle armi in qualità di caporale nel 45° Reggimento Artiglieria Divisionale “Cirene”. Dopo un breve passaggio a Bari, l’11 settembre a Napoli si imbarca per la Libia; due giorni dopo sarà a Bengasi.

Map of Western Desert Campaign 1941/42 (https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Operation_Compass)

A seguito dell’ingresso dell’Italia nel secondo conflitto mondiale, il 10 giugno 1940 il territorio libico è dichiarato in Stato di guerra. A settembre la Divisione partecipa alla prima offensiva italiana in Egitto, ma la controffensiva britannica non si fa attendere: dopo una serie di attacchi che provocano importanti perdite, a dicembre la Divisione è costretta a ripiegare entro la cinta fortificata di Bardia, vera roccaforte italiana in Libia. L’esercito italiano non resisterà a lungo: il 5 gennaio 1941 Vincenzo è catturato, insieme a migliaia di altri soldati, dall’esercito inglese, in quella che è passata alla storia come la catastrofica sconfitta di Bardia.

6th January 1941 BARDIA. A GROUP OF ITALIAN PRISONERS BEING BROUGHT IN BY THE A.I.F. DURING THE MOPPING UP OPERATIONS IN THE SURROUNDING HOLES. (AWM Image 004904 NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

Da qui, dopo chilometri e chilometri percorsi a piedi nel deserto nordafricano, raggiunge il campo di concentramento 309, in Egitto, e successivamente il campo 308, entrambi nell’area di Alessandria. Da alcune relazioni stilate da inviati della Croce Rossa Internazionale si evince che la situazione dei prigionieri non era delle più terribili: tolto che la maggior parte dormiva per terra, direttamente sulla sabbia, a causa della scarsità di tende a fronte dell’arrivo massiccio di uomini (successivamente verranno costruite delle baracche dai prigionieri stessi), a ciascuno venivano date in dotazione due coperte per proteggersi dal freddo; i prigionieri indossavano la propria divisa e venivano consegnate scarpe nuove a chiunque ne avesse bisogno. Il cibo, preparato dagli italiani stessi, era razionato in quantità sufficienti, e durante le lunghe giornate d’attesa sono documentate persino partite di calcio. Sul campo era presente un cappellano militare per l’assistenza religiosa, mancavano però libri da leggere e i prigionieri lamentavano di non ricevere notizie per posta dai propri famigliari.

La prossima tappa del viaggio di Vincenzo sarà Suez, il vero polo di smistamento: qui i prigionieri saranno divisi e inviati nelle più svariate colonie inglesi; è il vero inizio della traversata che porterà mio zio all’altro capo del mondo. Ogni prigioniero segue sorti diverse: c’è chi viene inviato nel Regno Unito, chi nel Medio Oriente, chi ancora in Sudafrica. Il 30 novembre 1941 Vincenzo si imbarca per l’India. Arriverà a Bombay il 16 dicembre e sarà internato nei campi 9 e 12, entrambi nell’area di Bhopal, nell’India nord-occidentale. In una cartolina compilata per la Croce Rossa Internazionale scrive di essere stato catturato illeso e di stare bene.

Click: Arrival of Italian prisoners in Bombay

Il 20 aprile 1942 scrive la seguente lettera indirizzata alla famiglia e mai giunta a destinazione:

“Carissimi genitori, dopo lunga assenza di vostre notizie, non sapendo il perché di tutto questo mentre invece ho ricevuto notizie da Alberto, il cugino della cascina Fornace, alla cui cara lettera tuttavia non posso rispondere, la quale mi ha molto rallegrato sentendo le sue parole di giovane militare, e il rientro di Giulio, mio fratello, in patria dalla sua prigionia. Miei cari voi, sapete che non posso rispondere a tutti coloro che mi scrivono, perciò lascio a voi i miei più graditi saluti con una stretta di mano di vero cugino affettuoso. Ma appena potrò […] a tutti darò un mio saluto e un invito di arrivederci presto. Miei cari, da che mi trovo nelle Indie ho ricevuto 4 lettere, una del cugino e tre di Gina [la maggiore delle sorelle]. Desidero notizie dai dintorni e dai cugini. Non pensate male che tutto passa e ringraziamo sempre Iddio che tenga sempre la salute e un dì ci rivedremo.
Termino rilasciandovi i miei più sinceri saluti a tutta l’intera famiglia, e un bacio all’ultimo piccolino e Babbo e Mamma. Saluti parenti e riconoscenti da sempre, Vincenzo”

Camp 9 India: General View of Camp, Italians packed up ready to move to another camp, models of planes made by the Italians (ICRC VP-HIST-03470-07, VP-HIST- 03470-12, VP-HIST- 03470-30A)

Sappiamo però che il periodo in India è stato probabilmente il più difficile dell’intera prigionia: il clima duro, la scarsità di cibo e le disastrose condizioni igieniche dei campi indiani, unitamente al pericolo causato dagli insetti portatori di malaria, facevano sì che molti prigionieri si ammalassero, anche gravemente. In particolare, i campi dell’area lagunare di Bhopal, dove si trovava mio zio, erano noti per l’aria estremamente malsana. Lo stesso Vincenzo trascorse più di due mesi nell’ospedale del campo, e subì un’operazione. La situazione precaria e la persistente incertezza sul futuro spingevano molti a tentare il gesto estremo.

Ma la storia di Vincenzo è diversa. Nel gennaio 1944 lascia infatti il subcontinente indiano e viene imbarcato sulla nave Mariposa: direzione Melbourne, Australia.

Continua…

1944-03-28. AERIAL PORT BOW VIEW OF THE AMERICAN TRANSPORT SS MARIPOSA WHICH MADE FIVE TROOP CARRYING VOYAGES TO AUSTRALIA BETWEEN 1942 AND 1944. (NAVAL HISTORICAL COLLECTION) (AWM Image 303592)

Andrea in India

Andrea Favatella had c. 3 years in India.  As many families have found, information on these ‘India’ years is difficult to locate.

For some Italians sent to Australia, depending upon the version of A.A. Form A111, that is used, the From whom received section will provide the details of the previous camp the Italian prisoner of war was at: Andrea’s last India Camp is No. 5 (Bangalore).

Favatella Andrea (NAA: MP1103/2)

The ICRC audio-visual resources offers a glimpse of Bangalore Camp 5 as seen below:

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp no 5 de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Vue entre les baraques d’une aile du camp. Word War II. Bangalore. Italian prisoners of war camp 5. General view between barracks in one of the wing of the camp.

1943 View between the barracks of a wing in Camp 5 Bangalore (ICRC V-P-HIST-03469-36)

Amongst Andrea’s collection of books he returned to Italy with, is a copy of Breve Raccolta di Preghiere per I Prigionieri di guerra italiani in India.  A special thank you to Nino Favatella for sharing a photograph of his father’s prayer book. 

Religion was important to the Italian prisoners as is highlighted by the art work produced with religious images, the prayer cards the Italians kept, and the prayer and mass books prepared specifically for Italian prisoners of war in Egypt and Palestine, India and Australia.

Andrea Favatella’s Prayer Book from India

(photo courtesy of Nino Favatella)

Religious devotion is also illustrated with the chapels constructed within the prisoner of war camps.  The chapel below was built at Camp 5 Bangalore.

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore, camp de prisonniers de guerre N° 5. Extérieur d’une chapelle.

Exterior of the Chapel at Bangalore Camp 5 1943 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-0420-7)

Connecting Italian families to this history is difficult after the passing of 75 years. 

William Shakespeare wrote: “There is a history in all men’s lives.”

Equally important: there is a history in every item your grandfathers and fathers brought home to Italy.

Made in India

Libya…India…Australia

Settimio Ceppitelli was with the 201 Reggimento Artiglierei Division 23 MARZO when he was captured 11th December 1940 near Bardia.

Crociani and Batistelli record in The Italian Blackshirt 1935-1945, “Blackshirt divisions at Sidi Barrani in December 1940; 3 Gennairo (disbanded on 10 December) was destroyed, while remnants of the ‘28 Ottobre’ withdrew to Sollum and those of the ‘23 Marzo’ to Bardia, where both were mauled and disbanded on 5 January 1941.”

A glimpse into Italian artillery soldiers can be gleaned by photos held in the Australian War Memorial.  Italian troops were equipped with modern guns yet at the same time they used old German guns made in 1916 together with 149 mm calibre guns introduced into the Italian army in 1910.

1st March 1941 NEAR BARDIA. THESE ARE THE MOST MODERN GUNS USED BY THE ITALIANS AND PROBABLY AS GOOD OR BETTER THAN ANY OTHER SIMILAR GUN IN USE IN THE CAMPAIGN. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

5th January 1941 NEAR BARDIA – AN ITALIAN GUN USED IN THE DEFENCE OF BARDIA. CAPTAIN HOWARD (HISTORICAL RECORDS) INSPECTS THE WEAPON WITH R. MASLYN WILLIAMS. THE ITALIANS HAD A CURIOUS ASSORTMENT OF ANCIENT & MODERN WEAPONS – THIS BEING AN OLD GERMAN GUN MADE IN 1916. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

13th December 1940 SIDI BARRANI – AMONG THE THOUSANDS OF TONS OF STORES & ARMAMENTS ABANDONED BY THE ITALIANS WAS THIS GREAT NAVAL GUN IN THE COURTYARD OF THE BARRACKS AT BARRANI. (AWM Image 004439, PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

Transferred to India, Settimio embroidered Santa Lucia. Noticeable are his initials C. and S. stitched into the work and the colours of the Italian flag at the top and bottom of the pillars.

Santa Lucia is the patron saint of the blind. Santa Lucia appears to have been a popular saint as she was embroidered or painted by several Italian prisoners of war in Bangalore India as is shown in the photo below.

Immagine Santa Lucia (photo courtesy of Bruno Ceppitelli)

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. exposition d’objets d’arts fabriqués par les prisonniers. Word War II. Bangalore. Italian prisoners of war camp. Exhibition of works of art and musical instruments made by prisoners.

Objects of Art crafted by Italian prisoners of war at Bangalore India

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03480-10A)

Settimio’s other embroidery is of the Madonna del Prigioniero. It bears a striking resemblence to the statue of the Madonna del Prigioniero in Bangalore Camp Group 1. 

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Groupe I. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Monument “Notre-Dame du prisonnier”. Word War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp. “Notre-Dame du prisonnier” monument.

Madonna del Prigioniero Bangalore Camp Group 1, India

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-05A)

The Madonna is standing on the world with a snake at her feet, her head is adorned with a crown, an Italian prisoner kneels at her side praying and wearing beige clothing with a black stripe, two vases of flowers sit upon the pedestal.

Madonna del Prigioniero India 1942 (photo courtesy of Bruno Ceppitelli)

Settimio arrived in Australia on 26th April 1944 onboard the Mariposa. Tranferred from Melbourne to Cowra Camp New South Wales by train, Settimio was to spend the next 2 years and 8 months at Cowra Camp.

Settimio’s nephew Bruno provides the following details: As an assistant to an officer, Settimio remained in Cowra Camp.  He returned home to Italy with a handmade banjo; he had learnt to play music by ear.

Possibly Lieut. Mario Conti from the 233 Legion CCNN Division 23 MARZO, who was also on the Mariposa, was the officer Settimio was assigned to.

No doubt Settimio prayed in the Cowra Chapel with the beautifully painted altar panels and sat in the audience of the June 1946 performance of L’Antenato [The Ancestor] a Commedia in 3 Atti by Carlo Veneziani.

Settimio returned to Italy on the Alcantara and to farming in his hometown of Soccorso Magione Perugia. His embroideries from India are now framed, a memory of those tumultuous and ‘lost’ years when young men spent their youth as prisoners of war.

Settimio Ceppitelli with his wife, Soccorso Magione Perugia

(photo courtesy of Bruno Ceppitelli)

A Portrait by Gulminelli

Brothers Marino and Mario Casadei arrived from India into Melbourne Australia on the General William Mitchell 13th February 1945.

Marino and Mario Casadei in a prisoner of war camp India (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)

The group of 2076 Italian prisoners of war on the General William Mitchell were the last group to be transported from India to Australia. The men were sent in all directions for farm work; as far away as Queensland and Western Australia.

From the group, 875 were sent to Cowra Camp. An unknown number did not go to farms but remained at Cowra Camp. Among the Cowra group were Marino and Mario Casadei, agriculturalists from Ravenna and Carlo Gulminelli, a clerk from Mezzano [ Ravenna].

About ten years ago Graham Apthorpe from Cowra sent the photo below of Carlo in his artist’s workspace at Cowra Camp to Matteo Casadio.

Carlo Gulminelli painted a portrait of Matteo’s grandfather Marino Casadei in September 1946. Marino’s portrait is sitting on the table, second from the left.  Marino took home his portrait: an original by Gulminelli.

Carlo Gulminelli Cowra 1946 (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)

Matteo explains that the family name is Casadio but the surname was registered as CASADEI for Mario and Marino in the Australian records.

Portrait of Marino Casadei painted by Gulminelli (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)

Marino’s grandson Matteo has recently made contact with Carlo’s son. Carlo Gulminelli continued to paint in Italy all his life. Carlo Gulminelli has become an important painter, his paintings are well rated and appreciated in artistic circles. Please clink on the following line for more information about Carlo Gulminelli : Patrimimonio Culturale dell’Emilia Romagna

BUT questions remain:

Who are the other men that Carlo painted?

Does your family have a portrait painted by Gulminelli?

A prisoner of war uniform

One type of prisoner of war uniform is the light-coloured shirt with the black diamond patch on the back and the light-coloured trousers with black stripes down the outside leg. This uniform can be found in the photographic records:

Geneifa Egypt:

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Une section du camps.

Camp 306 Geneifa Egypt ICRC V-P-HIST-00849-01

 Zonderwater South Africa:

Camp de Zonderwater. Inauguration du bureau de poste.

Inauguration of Post Office Zonderwater ICRC V-P-HIST-03363-19A

 Bangalore Camp 2 India:

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp 2. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Communion donnée par un délégué apostolique. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 2. Holy communion given by an apolostic delegate.

Bangalore Camp 2 ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-19A

Cowra Australia:

Cowra, NSW. 1944-02-03. Italian prisoners-of-war from No. 12 Prisoner-of-War Camp using a heavy duty pulley block and tackle to pull down a large tree in a paddock near the camp. (AWM Image 064137, photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

BUT…

one uniform has survived the passing of time.  The uniform was saved from a bonfire of disposal prisoner of war uniforms by a camp guard. It is now in the hands of Anthony who has graciously shared photos.

Prisoner of War Uniform: Trousers (photo courtesy of AC)

Prisoner of War Uniform: Jacket (photo courtesy of AC)

Anthony has also shared photographs of Prisoner of War Capture Tags. Printed by the US Government February 1942, they raise the question:
Was a similar tag used for those Italian prisoners of war captured 1940 and 1941? Looking through archived photos of Italians captured at Sidi el Barrani, Bardia, Tobruk and on the move in Palestine, no capture tags are seen. Did the British forces in Libya, Eritrea and Ethiopia use capture tags?

It would be interesting to know if any Italians wrote about the capture tags in their journals or memoirs.

Prisoner of War Capture Tags US Government Issue

(photos courtesy of AC)

Prisoner of War Uniforms

Sometimes it is the little items which catch my eye.

Prisoner of war uniforms has left me quite perplexed.

For a few years now, I had noticed the black stripe down the side of trousers.  This however only seemed to be for Italian POWs who had time in India.

This was confirmed by Domenico Ferulli’s recollections:

Ad Ismailia, località al centro del canale di Suez, sono cinque giorni chiusi un un recinto nel deserto.  Sono spossati fisicamente e con il morale a terra.  La notte è talmente freddo che molti sono costretti a bruciare la giacca o le scarpe per riscaldarsi. Per cucinare si usa la paglia.  Fatti spogliare e fare una doccia tutto il vestiario è ritirato e bruciato in alcuni forni.  Periscono incenerite anche le migliaia di pidocchi, che da mesi hanno tenuto fastidiosa compagnia! Assegnano a ciascun prigioniero: una giacca leggera color cenere con una toppa di stoffa nero quadrata cucito dietro le spalle, pantaloni lunghi con banda nero, scarpe nuove, sapone per la pulizia e persino dentifricio con spazzolino da denti.

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp 2. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Communion donnée par un délégué apostolique. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 2. Holy communion given by an apolostic delegate.

Italians Taking Communion in a British Camp in India 1943

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-19A)

Suddenly, everywhere I looked, I saw the black diamond sitting squarely between the shoulders of a light colour jacket and shirt, as well as the black stripe down the leg of shorts and trousers.

Many of the clothing items the Italian soldiers brought into the camps in Egypt were infested with lice or fleas.  It makes sense that these uniforms were burnt and new ones issued.

In May 1943 it was reported that Italian casualties (deaths, missing and prisoners of war) were 400,000. 

Logistically, how did the Allied Forces procure 400,000 replacement clothing and find staff to sew on patches.

And what did these patches represent!  Was there a code relating to intended destinations for the prisoners? Or was the allocation of uniforms random?

Prisoners of war in England wore a dark coloured uniform with either a pale coloured circle shaped patch sewn on the right leg or a diamond patch on the right leg.

Emilio Clemente is standing on the right of the photo

Prisoner of War Uniforms with patch on right trouser leg

English Prisoner of War Camp courtesy of Mimosa Clemente

Then I noticed an Italian prisoner of war in November 1941 at Cowra camp wearing a black diamond shaped patch on the backside of light coloured trousers.

The Italians who arrived in Australia during 1941, was transferred directly from Egypt to Australia. Did they receive these pants in Australia or Egypt?
Answer: Egypt, because once in Australia, the Italians were issued with their Australia POW uniform.

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.  (AMW Relic 32594)

The official Australian prisoner of war uniform was disposal Australian Army khaki uniforms which had been dyed burgundy as is illustrated in the above photograph. The men were allowed to keep other clothing to be worn only inside camp or for farm work, this included their national uniforms.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle-Galles du sud, camp de Cowra. N°12, Section D. La cantine. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, n°12, section D. The canteen.

Canteen at Cowra Camp November 1941

(ICRC V-P-HIST-01879-32B 1941)

At Campo 306 Geneifa Egypt prisoners of war were photographed wearing the black diamond pants with dark shirts and there are groups of Italians wearing the black stripe pants and black diamond shirts. A pattern seems to emerge: prisoners once processed in Egypt were given clothing: 1. pale coloured pants with a black stripe and pale coloured shirt with a black diamond OR 2. dark coloured shirt and pale coloured pants with a black diamond on the backside of the pants.

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Fourneaux.

The Kitchen at Geneifa Camp 360 Egypt (ICRC VP-HIST-00851-25)

The photo below was taken in 1943, Italian prisoners of war in Melbourne after arriving from India….black stripe on pant!

(1943). Italian Prisoners of War – Italian prisoners of war on their way to a prisoner-of-war camp, following their arrival in Australia.

(National Archives of Australia)

Cowra, NSW. 1944-02-03. Italian prisoners-of-war from No. 12 Prisoner-of-War Camp using a heavy duty pulley block and tackle to pull down a large tree in a paddock near the camp. (AWM Image 064137, Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Was the allocation of clothing random?

Was the use of stripes and diamonds random?

Did your father or grandfather mention the POW uniforms?

Has anyone else noticed these uniforms with patches or stripes?

Have a look at photos taken of nonno or papa in the camps of India?

The USA appear to have adopted a completely different approach as is indicated by the P.W. stamped on both shorts and shirts of these German prisoners of war.

German Prisoner of War Uniforms

(from Military Law and Vigilante Justice

in Prisoner of War Camps during World War II

Mark M. Hull, PhD, JD, FRHistS January-February 2020 MILITARY REVIEW)

The patient and the anaesthetist

Capitano Luigi Socci’s watercolours offer a unique perspective of Yol Prisoner of War Camp.

The paintings were a gift from Luigi Socci to George Purves: the Italian prisoner of war to the British anaesthetist. While they met in the hospital at Yol, theirs was a friendship which continued decades after the war.

Mr and Mrs Purves with Luigi Sossi (photo courtesy of James Purves)

A special thank you to James Purves, son of George, for his contribution of these watercolours to this history.

Yol Prisoner of War Camp Kangra Valley 1943 (photos courtesy of James Purves)

Capitano Luigi Sossi was admitted to Yol Prisoner of War Camp hospital with a serious infection. It was however an order that penicillin was reserved for Allied soldiers only.

Penicillin was a new treatment for infection but it was a precious commodity; WW 2’s miracle drug. In the lead up to the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944, a total of 21 U.S. companies joined together, producing 2.3 million doses of penicillin.

Operating Theatre: Yol Prisoner of War Camp Hospital Kangra Valley 1943

(photos courtesy of James Purves)

James Purves recounts that his father realised the quick deterioration of Sossi’s condition and without treatment, Sossi would die. “Father took pity on Sossi and somehow acquired the drug for him, either by deed or theft, though I doubt theft. Either way, Sossi recovered and when he found out what had happened, he asked Father how he could repay him. Father replied, “Teach me Italian.” It was the beginning of a life long friendship.

My parents would drive over to Italy virtually every year on vacation and sometimes stay with Sossi. Letters were written, but have since disappeared or been thrown out. When I was about eight years old, my family went on vacation to Viareggio. My parents left us with our uncle in the hotel for a week, while my parents went to stay at the Socci villa, a few hours drive away.

After his return to Italy from India, Luigi Socci worked in the Fiat Factory in Torino [Turin].

Yol Prisoner of War Camp Kangra Valley 1943 (photos courtesy of James Purves)

Click here for: further information for Yol

Yol – Kangra Valley India

George Purves at Yol (photo courtesy of James Purves)

George Fraser PURVES served as an anaesthetist with the British Army at Yol Prisoner of War Camp in India. His son James from Georgia USA has contributed a number of photos taken by his father and three drawings painted by Capitano Luigi Socci.

The photos offer up a glimpse of the British Army Camp: its buildings and its staff; the landscape and geography of the Kangra Valley.

Yol Hospital Staff: George Purves top row centre (photo courtesy of James Purves)

It is invaluable to have this history viewed from different perspectives: the anaesthetist and the prisoner of war.

Thank you James for allowing these memories and items to be shared in our ‘virtual’ museum.

George Fraser PURVES studied medicine at Trinity Hall Cambridge. His photos date him at Yol in 1943. He left Yol in July 1944 and served on a hospital ship HMHS Karapara, then Kuala Lumpur Malaya, Bandoeng Java and IBGH Bareilly India.

George was married before he left England and was initially posted to Scotland to await his journey to India. While in his accommodation awaiting his orders, American war ships which had escorted a convoy across the Atlantic arrived into harbour. The American officers were billeted at the same accommodation as George. James recounts this war time story: “they [Americans] went inside and asked why there was no heat, as the place was so cold. On being told that all coal went toward the war effort, they said that they would fix the problem and left. They returned with a large truck half filled with coal from their ship as well as two boiler stokers. The front room windows were opened, the truck was backed up and the coal was shovelled onto the living room floor. Both alcohol and ‘real’ food was produced. Father said they all slept on the floor of that warm room, the flames from the open fireplace lighting and dancing around the ceiling and walls.”

Soon enough George was on a ship and on his way to India. James recounts, “Sometimes during the voyage the Captain called him [George] to the bridge. There was a telegram for him. In short, a question was put to him, “Is Dr Purves able and willing to join a parachute division as a Doctor?” The Captain apparently told father that there was no rush to make a decision, but father told him he would answer immediately. The wireless officer took down the reply… “Dr Purves is able but not willing.” It was a brilliant answer as father was frightened of heights.”

And so it was that Dr Purves did not spend the war jumping out of aeroplanes, but instead resided at Yol as an anaesthetist operating on Italian prisoners of war and British staff.

Swimming and Fishing: George Purves and friends Yol (photo courtesy of James Purves)

As with all prisoner of war camps, the British Command Staff lived separately from the prisoner of war camp. George’s contact with Italian prisoners of war was from hospitalisation for operations and post operative care.

British Camp Staff, Yol (photo courtesy of James Purves)

While in India and south-east Asia, George suffered heat stroke and malaria. He returned to England fatigued and gaunt. George’s wife walked past him on the railway platform, she barely recognised her husband.

George Purves (standing left) at Yol (photo courtesy of James Purves)

An amateur photographer, George Purves took many walks into the countryside of the Kangra Valley, taking photos of the mountains, the rivers and the valley. A glimpse into the past is the photo below of George in his room.

My Room Yol 1943 (photo courtesy of James Purves)

Milestone, Miracles and Magic

Today it is 4 years since I launched this website/blog. It is an important milestone.

With 207 posts and 12 pages, Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Australia is the most comprehensive documentation of this chapter in Australia’s history.

We are an international research project with Australians and Italians in 14 countries contributing a diverse range of items, insights and memories. We have built a community where information is share freely. We are unique because of the diversity of perspectives portrayed.

There are moments of sadness; moments of elation and moments of quiet reflection.

It is important that we try to place ourselves in the boots of the soldier and prisoner of war and walk through this history.

Four years ago, I had no knowledge of website building and blogging. Four years ago, I did not think that “Google Translate” would become my best friend. Four years ago I did not know the history of Bardia or Matapan nor did I know the geographic location of many of the regional Australian farming communities in this history.

Nino Amante from Catania accidentally found a photo of his father on the internet and wrote to me about the “Miracolo di Internet”.

I also believe that your individual passionate searches for your father or grandfather’s ‘lost years’ is part of this ‘magic‘.

Families cannot always find specific personal information about and connections to Australia families for their father or grandfathers. But in the sharing of information, there is the possibility to reconstruct the journey for your loved ones.

My family wonder when I will stop!

My answer is ‘I don’t know’.

Regardless of when I run out of energy, this website serves as a ‘virtual’ museum: a museum which can add items to its collection at any time.

I patiently await the next donation to this museum.

Ciao

Joanne

NB New donations coming soon: Geneifa Eggito and Yol India