Category Archives: Italian Prisoners of War North Africa

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)

Il calzolaio di Grottaferrata

Somewhere in the vicinity of Sidi el Barrani, Agostino Marazzi abandoned his machine gun at the suggestion of a lieutenant. He was captured by the British on 11th December 1940. He had served with an infantry unit for 17 months.

On 24th March 1940, Agostino was photographed with a friend at Martuba Libya. Martuba was an important Italian airbase but also had numerous staging camps for newly arrived Italian soldiers.

Agostino Marazzi and friend Martuba Libya 24.3.1940 (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Agostino’s next stop was Tobruk which is 150 km south west of Martuba.His son Amedeo recalls that the two photos of his father with a machine gun were taken at Tobruk.

Agostino Marazzi at Tobruk (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Commander-in-Chief of the Italian army, Rodolfo Graziani had advanced Italian troops from the Libyan-Egyptian border to Sidi el Barrani from 13-16th September.  Field Marshal Wavell’s offensive to reclaim Egyptian territory began on 9th December 1940.

Along the fifty-miles-wide battlefield and astride the road leading west lay a fantastic litter of abandoned trucks, guns and tanks, piles of abandoned arms and ammunition, of food stores and clothing, and of the paper which a modern army spends so profusely. It was some days before all the enemy dead had been found and buried. Long columns of dejected prisoners in drab olive-green and khaki streamed eastwards. In the whole battle 38,300 prisoners, 237 guns and 73 tanks were captured . Four generals were taken: Gallina of the Group of Libyan Divisions, Chario of the 1st Libyan Division, Piscatori of the 2nd Libyan, Merzari of the 4th Blackshirt.

12 December 1940 SOME OF LATEST BATCH OF 4000 PRISONERS FROM AREA BETWEEN BARRANI AND Buq Buq. ALL ITALIAN TROOPS WERE WELL-CLOTHED & ARMED & IN GOOD PHYSICAL CONDITION BUT SEEMED IN NO MOOD FOR FIGHTING AFTER THE FIRST FEW HOURS OF THE ENCOUNTER. (PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

The Italian prisoners’ journey begins: Sidi Barrani to Mersa Matruh to Alexandria. Some were taken to Palestine while others were taken to camps along the Bitter Lakes/Suez area.

Agostino Marazzi boards the Queen Mary bound for Sydney Australia. The ship leaves Suez on 7th May and arrives at Trinomalee (Ceylon) 14th May. She departs Trinomalee on 15th May and arrives in Fremantle Australia 21st May.  Queen Mary departs Fremantle on 21st May and arrives in Sydney on 25th May 1941

The Queen Mary had been in service as a troopship since May 1940 after she had been fitted out to accommodate 5000 troops. Towards the end of the war, Queen Mary was carrying 15,000 American troops in a voyage.

Amedeo Marazzi remembers his father’s story about the Queen Mary: “The Queen Mary was the largest ship in the world at the time and had 3 swimming pools, a theatre and a cinema. My father said that when they passed the equator at night, it was so hot some men jumped into the water of the pools for relief but the temperature in the pool was worse in than out.”

The Australian army identity photo was taken on 4th November 19411. Amedeo reflects, “To see the young face of my father was a unique wonderful emotion.”

Marazzi, Agostino NAA: A367, C85443

Agostino’s brother sent him a picture postcard of his mother, Celeste Vinciguerra, on 16th December 1942.  Mention is made of Sergio Galazzi, a radio mechanic from Rome. 

Sergio had arrived at Hay Camp 26th March 1942.  News must have reached the Marazzi and Galazzi families that Agostino and Sergio were now in the same camp.

Ecco la foto di mamma che tanto desideri. L’abbiamo fatta in questi giorni. Ti saluta e ti bacia. Tanti saluti dalla mamma di Galazzi Sergio. Tanti saluti da noi.

Elide Arturo

Celeste Vinciguerra (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Amedeo reminisces, “My father and his friends once they arrived in Australia  realized that this was a wonderful place. He settled immediately and became a labourer on a farm. He would talk about breakfast where he could have coffee or milk, honey, fruit, bread, butter and jam.  He has never felt like a prisoner of war.”

My father had good memories of Australia. He always told us that if he won the lottery, he would take us all on a holiday to Australia,” reflects Amedeo.

Carnivale 1950s Adele, Rossella, Amedeo, Agostino (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Recently Amedeo obtained a copy of his father’s extra Australian file. 

Little details emerge from this file: Agostino was captured at Buq Buq, west of Sidi Barrani; while in Hay Camp he worked as a bootmaker; in Hay Camp he was awarded 24 hours detention for possession of a prohibited article but this was not officially recorded.

Other documents record that he worked on the farm of Mr LE Peacock at Oakbank together with Sebastiano Aiello.

Upon return to Italy, life returned quickly to a familiar routine surrounded by family.

Adele and Agostino Marazzi (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

What does 50 piastres buy?

Leonard Fortuna arrived in Australia with 50 piatres; money from Egypt. It was recorded on his Property Statement and transferred to his Australian account.  Prisoners of war were prohibited from having money in their possession.

A question arises about the value of fifty piastres.  One hundred piastres equalled an Egyptian pound in the 1940s.  But what could a man buy with fifty piastres?

The answer can be found in a Canteen Price List from Camp 306 in Egypt March 1944.

For fifty piatres one could buy a five pound tin of honey.  Fifty piastres could also buy a kilo of olives, a kilo of macaroni, and a hair brush OR a medium chocolate, a tin of pilchards, a bottle of syrup and cigarettes OR five packets of biscuits, eau de cologne and a kilo of macaroni.

Archives du CICR Campo 306

In the photo below, the canteen supervisor shows the International Delegate for the Red Cross dates and eggs on sale at the canteen.

Geneiffa, camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens N° 306 “Middle East”. Le prisonnier de guerre en charge de la cantine vendant des oeufs et des dattes à un délégué du CICR.

Prisoner of War in Charge of Canteen 4.10.41

 ICRC V-P-HIST-03408-14A

The following is from an October 1943 report on Camp 306: The canteen is run by an Egyptian. It is very well supplied with products and articles of all kinds. there are fresh fruits and vegetables, canned food, syrup, toiletries (soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razor blades, shaving soap, etc.) clothing items (underwear, shirts, shorts, socks, stockings, handkerchiefs) stationery (paper, feathers, ink, pencils) tobacco, cigarettes, sweets and sold at local trade prices. The prices are established in Egyptian piastres (there are 100 piastres in an Egyptian pound).  (October 1943)

This history is complex and often a small item such as fifty piastres from Egypt when paired with a Canteen Price List can offer new insight.

four photos… four countries

Italy…Libya…India…Australia

Giovanni Cavoli’s journey can be traced through his small collection of black and white photos.

[Photo courtesy of Diana Cavoli]

From Venagrande [Ascoli Piceno] his military service was undertaken in Bologna with Giovanni serving with the 6th Reggimento Bersaglieri.

The photo taken in Libya shows his desert accommodation. Giovanni is in the back row centre. If you look closely, you will see a wine flagon and the words ‘Il Duce’ written with stones.

[Photo courtesy of Diana Cavoli]

This identity photo taken in India, found its way to Australia and into his Australia file.

He departed India for Australia in February 1944.

Giovanni Cavoli in India

[NAA:K1174]

Dressed in his magenta dyed Australian uniform, Giovanni is photographed at Mr H Crawford’s Tambellup farm in Western Australia. At the time of his return to Italy, he had not seen his family for almost 8 years.

[Photo courtesy of Diana Cavoli]

In May 1949, Giovanni, his wife Rosa and their two children arrived in Fremantle Western Australia on the Ugolino Vivaldi. Sponsored by his war time employer Mr H Crawford, he returned to Tambellup. In time the family settled in Katanning.

Miracoli di Internet!

 

My research into Italian prisoners of war in Queensland has a number of public faces: the book Walking in their Boots, the website: italianprisonersofwar.com and the facebook page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia

It was through the facebook page that I received notification from Nino Amante in Italy. On 23rd March 2018, Nino wrote, “Sono il figlio di Angelo Amante, il più alto nella foto.”  Nino had not only found a photo of his father on the facebook page but he then found the website’s article, A Day in the life of …  and comments about his father’s time working on a farm ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian via Gympie 72 years ago.

This was an accident. Nino had been searching the internet for an article about his son, named for his grandfather, Angelo Amante, and instead found his father. Nino was overwhelmed.

I believe that things happen for a reason.  I do not know the chances of bringing together the son of an Italian prisoner of war and the son of a Goomboorian farmer. But a google search and a phone call* has brought together the two sides to this history.

Nino Amante’s words and contact has brought this story ‘full circle’. “E’ stata per me una grande emozione avere delle informazioni da aggiungere a quelle raccotle dall sua viva voce, quando mi parlava del period della sua prigionia,” Nino reflects.  Nino not only has knowledge about his father’s time on this farm, but he has a connection to Jim and John Buchanan who were young boys at the time and who have fond memories of Angelo.

More importantly, Angelo’s story before and after ‘Redslopes’ emerges.  At 19 years old, Angelo Amante began his military training, first in Turin and then in Bolzano.  He was a member of the 7th Reggimento Bersaglieri(marksmen).  He was then transferred to Taranto and in 1941, he left Italy by ship for Libya.  He was lucky to survive the journey to Libya, as many soldiers died after the fleet was bombed by the British.

Angelo Amante (1)

Angelo Amante: 19 years old

(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)

Angelo was captured at Gialo, a Libyan oasis town on 25th November 1941. Gialo was taken by British and Punjabi troops on 24th November 1941, but a small group of Italian soldiers continued fighting in the north east  El Libba sector.  After four hours of combat, two Italian had been killed and 27 Italian soldiers were taken prisoner.

Possibly the photo  below of a relaxed Angelo was taken at Benghasi, his first experience of Libya. Like many of his generation, Angelo spent ‘his youth’ in foreign and difficult circumstances. He returned home to Italy when he was 25 years old. Nino explains, “Sei dei suoi anni piubelli trascorsi fra guerra e prigionia.”

Angelo Amante (3)

Angelo Amante in Libya 1941

(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)

Angelo’s journey is like many of his peers.  Italy to the battle field to Egypt to India to Australia to Italy.  Angelo arrived in Melbourne Australia 29th December 1943. The next day he was in the Cowra PW & I Camp.  His time there is recorded in a group photo Cowra 6th February 1944. Ten days later, Angelo was sent to Gaythorne Queensland 16th February 1944.

A Amante standing first left

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57037 A. Amante; 57273 G. Guarnaccia; 57288 G. La Iacona; 57252 S. Giambusso; 57051 C. Avola; 46957 S. Vizzini; 57257 G. Giarratano. Front row: 57268 M. Gordini; 57070 L. Bloisi; 57046 R. Armentano; 57038 S. Amoroso; 57226 D. Foringo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial Image 030173/15)

Before Nino’s internet search, he had one photo and the stories about his father’s time in Australia, but he did not know dates or places.  Nino says, “Sapevo che mio padre era stato in Australia, ma in quale parte di Australia? Che era vissuto in una fattoria, ma quale fattoria?”  But his time in Australia was always remembered with fondness, a place to which Angelo wanted to return.  In 1956, Angelo made preparations to emigrate to Australia with his wife and family. During a medical visit, it was discovered he had a small heart problem and his dreams of going to Australia ended. But his family kept safe a small photo of three men and two boys, knowing that it was an important part of Angelo’s memories of Australia.

Angelo Amante (2)

Angelo Amante , Salvatore Scicchitani (Schichitano), Vincenzo Cannavo with John and Jim Buchanan at Redslopes Goomboorian via Gympie

(courtesy of Nino Amante)

For over seven decades, this photo  did not have a context.  Nino knew that the photo was from his father’s time on a farm, but he did not know where in Australia this farm was located. Angelo told his family a story about chilli plants he had grown on this farm and now he knows it was Jim, a little boy who tasted the chilli with severe repercussions.  Angelo told his family about a trip to the city, to undergo a medical visit at the hospital and the wonder of seeing so many kangaroos on the way.

Jim’s memories and Angelo’s stories to his family are being slotted together. Nino writes that his father arrived in Australia from POW camps in India with very poor health. Angelo had contracted malaria and Nino remembers the story of  an old lady on the farm who realised the seriousness of his condition and encouraged him to eat and the need for him to regain his strength.    Jim knows exactly who this lady was, his Aunty Mag [Margaret], who was the matron (supervisor) for the Land Army girls on the farm.  Angelo’s visit to the Gympie Hospital is recorded in the farm diary: August 21 1944 – Angelo going to hospital.   And the stories travel back and forth between Italy and Australia and across the decades.

Upon Angelo’s return to Italy, he made his way home to Fiumefreddo di Sicilia and his widowed mother.  Angelo married in 1953 and moved to Mascali, his wife’s home town.  He continued to work the land and raised his family: Nino and Giuseppina.  In 1984, Angelo passed away at the age of 63.

Angelo Amante (4)

Angelo Amante

(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)

The sharing of stories and memories, the answering of questions and the ‘Miracoli di Internet!’ is like finding those missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle and finally being able to put them in place.

*In September 2017, I telephoned Jim Buchanan in Gympie.  I had been told that he was the person to speak to about some of the Italian prisoners of war in the Gympie district.  Jim’s words to me were, “I think you will be surprised with what I have to tell you.  I don’t think you will have found another one like this.” And surprised I was!

Jim’s father Neil Buchanan had kept a farm diary for ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian. Peppered through the entries from 7th March 1944 to 1st January 1946 are references not only about farm life, but also to the Italian prisoners of war at ‘Redslopes’. This diary offers a very unique and firsthand account about the employment of Italian prisoners of war.

On 24th March 2018, I telephoned Jim again.  I told Jim that I had some extraordinary news for him. Angelo’s son had sent me an email.  It took a few minutes for the news to sink in. Jim is rarely lost for words. I said to Jim, I wonder if Angelo took any photos home to Italy with him.  Nonplussed, Jim felt that this is not probable as very few photos were taken in those days.   Like Nino Amante, this journey for the Buchanan family is emotional and remarkable.

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)

Campo 306 Geneifa Egitto

A very special thank you to Antonella Benvenuti from Venezia.  Antonella has shared with me documents relating to Camp 306 Geneifa Egypt. Collaboration is integral to documenting this history.

Representatives from the International Committee for the Red Cross visited prisoner of war camps and wrote reports regarding the conditions of the camps, services and welfare of prisoners of war.  

These reports are vital primary source documents providing valuable insights, as are the photographs taken on their visits.

I have combined information from these reports together with photos to present a ‘photo story’ of Geneifa Prisoner of War Camp 306.

The reports used: February and July 1942; February and October 1943; March 1944.

The photos used: October 1941 and undated photos.

GENEIFA, EGYPT, 1941. PRISON CAMP AT GINEIFA, NOT FAR FROM SUEZ. TAKEN FROM PASSING TRAIN. (AWM Image P00237.056)

THE CAMP

Camp 306 is an immense camp consisting of 24 sections each with several dozen tents and able to house 500 to 800 prisoners. In February 1942, 23 sections were occupied by Italian prisoners of war; 3 of these sections were reserved for the officers.

In total there were 301 officers: three lieutenant-colonels, seven majors, three priests, 34 doctors and 34 assistants to the officers.

There were 700 Italian soldiers in each of the other 19 sections. In each section there are 60 tents.  The men sleep on the sand and have two or three covers/blankets at their disposal.  They have no complaints about the cold.

The camp is situated in a desert region but has picturesque views of a lake and some mountains.  The climate is healthy. (February 1942)

WORK and PAY

Two hundred prisoners per section work in the camp constructing paths around the tents etc.  They work approximately 8 hours a day but do not work on Fridays or Sundays.  They are paid 2 piastres per day, on top of their allowance of 10 piastres: 10 one week and 5 the alternate week.  The pay is paid regularly. (February 1942)

No complaints about payments. Italians, with the exception of officers, the men receive their pay and wages in cash. Italian officers receive 1 Egyptian pound in cash and the remainder is credited to their individual accounts.(February 1943)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Confection de briques crues avec du sable.

Manufacturing of bricks made from sand VP- HIST-00848-24A

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Travail en détention. Geneiffa, camp n°306. Work in detention.

Camp Duties: VP-HIST-E-05028

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Corvée de lessive.

Camp Duties: Washing VP-HISTO-02858-11

In October 1943, there were 407 Italian prisoners of war in Camp 306 (and 9,810 German prisoners of war)

All Italian prisoners of war work either in the Italian section of the central POW post office or in the bakery, or are employed at the camp commandant’s office. A few are also assigned to the maintenance service of their section.

The POWs who take care of the maintenance of the camp do not receive any salary. Those who have other jobs (post office, bakery, office workers) receive a salary of 3 or 6 milliemes per hour. There are 1000 milliemes in an Egyptian pound. The supervisors receive 8 milliemes per hour. (October 1943)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Boulangerie.

The Bakery VP-HIST-00851-13

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Boulangerie.

The Bakery VP-HIST-00851-14

POW CENTRAL POST

The POW Central Post forms a special section within Camp 306, completely isolated from the rest of the camp.

In the post itself, the German and Italian departments are separate. About forty German prisoners and a hundred Italians work there in long and vast tents specially fitted out for this purpose. Two files are used and constantly kept up to date, one alphabetical with the surnames and first names of prisoners of war, the other numbered with registration numbers.

The Italian section has a file for officers and another for all other ranks.

All correspondence from the Middle East is classified and distributed upon its arrival at the Postal Section among prisoners of war responsible for checking addresses. This operation is carried out using the two files. Then, the letters are reclassified by addresses and sent to their recipients. The figures below, which indicate the number of letters and parcels received for prisoners of war during the last three months, will give a more precise idea of ​​the amount of work provided by the central post of the camp 306.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/MIDDLE-EAST-FORCES-POW-Camp-306-in-Egypt-to-USA-1943-CENSOR-MEF-/114662407922

ITALIAN MAIL

July 1943: 9,424 private packages, 205,846 letters

August 1943: 3,448 private packages, 219,861 letters

September 1943: 2,025 private packages, 7,978 Red Cross packages, 340,138 letters

It is necessary to note that there is more than 20,000 letters per day to sort and they are re-sent within 24 hours.

The department of Censorship in Cairo censors 50,000 letters per day. (October 1943)

NB 100 piastres = 1 Egyptian pound; 1000 milliemes = 1 Egyptian pound; 10 milliemes = 1 piastre.

FOOD

The quality of food is according to the requirements expected by the Red Cross.  The prisoners of war are responsible for the preparation of their food and development of daily menu according to the provisions.

Geneiffa, camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens N° 306 “Middle East”. Délégué du CICR tenant le menu du jour.

ICRC Delegate with the Menu of the Day 8th October 1943 VP-HIST-03408-17A

Provisions are as follows: legumes, bread, eggs, fruit, flour, jam, meat, macaroni, fresh milk, cottonseed oil, onions, potatoes, pepper, rice, salt, sugar, fresh legumes, dried fruit. (February 1942)

After meals, the kitchens can be used by the POWs to prepare extra meals with food purchased in the canteen or received in Red Cross packages. (October 43)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Fourneaux.

The Kitchen VP-HIST-00851-25

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Cuisiniers.

The Cooks VP-HIST-03400-14

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Douches.

The Showers VP-HIST-00851-12

HYGIENE

It is very satisfactory. There is no vermin at the camp.* However, a single faucet in the kitchen should suffice for the needs of the entire section, and it often happens that the water is turned off for part of the day. Prisoners have one hot shower per month. The latrines are clean.

The general health condition is very satisfactory. (February 1942)

*Fleas had been a problem with Italian and Australian soldiers on the battlefields.

All the prisoners have a shower and they bathe in the sea once a week. (July 1942)No complaints about this. Each prisoner of war has a toilet bowl available. Prisoners of war can take a cold shower every 10 days at the shower facility located in a special section of the camp. Showers have been built in some sections by the POWs themselves and can be used without great restriction. A group of 400 POWs went to bathe in the sea every day. This favor had to be abolished since the repatriation of the seriously wounded and protected personnel was planned. The camp commander does not think he will be able to re-establish these sea baths after the departure of the returnees, because the season is now almost over. Each POW receives a bar of soap per month. There are toilets available at a ratio of 2 toilets per 100 prisoners of war and they are clean and without odour. (October 1943)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Vue générale d’une section du camp.

General View of the Camp VP-HIST-03400-27

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Intérieur de tente.

Interior of Tent VP-HIST—03402-24

LODGINGS

It was possible to house up to 12 men in a tent. In time the Italian prisoners of war were issued with mattresses made of straw. The photos reveal accommodation consisted of a semi in-ground bunker with a tent roof. The bunkers were made of sand bricks which were then rendered, as were the outside seating and retaining walls. The retaining walls also acted as a barrier to shifting sands. The Italians constructed vegetable gardens between the tents.

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Préparation de l’emplacement d’une tente.

Preparation and Construction of Base for Tent VP-HIST-00848-23

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Vue générale d’une section.

General View of Camp VP-HIST-00849-02

Geneiffa, camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens N° 306 “Middle East”. Le prisonnier de guerre en charge de la cantine vendant des oeufs et des dattes à un délégué du CICR.

The Prisoner of War in Charge of the Canteen VP-HIST-03400-14 8.10.41

CANTEEN

Items sold at the canteen are useful and sold at a fair price. The price is controlled periodically by the Commandant  and is rectified if necessary. (July 1942)

The canteen is run by an Egyptian. It is very well supplied with products and articles of all kinds. there are fresh fruits and vegetables, canned food, syrup, toiletries (soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razor blades, shaving soap, etc.) clothing items (underwear, shirts, shorts, socks , stockings, handkerchiefs) stationery (paper, feathers, ink, pencils) tobacco, cigarettes, sweets and sold at local trade prices. The prices are established in Egyptian piastres (there are 100 piastres in an Egyptian pound).

The only essential item that is lacking is matches. This did not surprise us since it is very difficult to find matches in Egypt today. The share of profits on sales of the canteen which goes to the POWs is 2 1/2% of the sales figure. These benefits can be used by the prisoners according to their desire. In general, they are used for the purchase of desired foods which are distributed fairly among all sections. Currently, these profits will be used to pay for the Christmas dinner. (October 1943)

CLOTHING

Clothing is of good quality and all prisoners have shoes (Feb 42)

At the time of capture, if the prisoners did not have certain items (as below), they were given the items:

Summer: 1 pair trousers, 2 pairs shorts, 1 colonial helmet, 1 leather belt, 1 pair of shoes with studded soles, 1 pair of sandals with rubber soles, 2 pairs of socks, 2 towels, 1 tooth brush, 1 fork, 1 knife, 1 metal plate, 1 metal bowl, 3 bed covers/blankets. 

Winter: 1 military hood, 2 undergarments, 2 underpants (October 1943)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Salades dans un jardinet devant une tente.

Salad items growing in the gardens in front of a tent VP-HIST-03400-09

DAILY ROUTINE (October 1943)

Each morning rise at 5.30h except Sunday – 6h.

Roll Call is half hour later. Evening roll call is at 15.30h

Lights out 22h

MAIL

Prisoners write regularly twice a week and those who have been there for more than four months have all received news from their families. (February 1942)

Letters and packages reach their destination on average in 30 to 60 days. Many packages received from the Red Cross arrive in poor condition and in some cases, the food is not suitable for consumption. (July 1942)

Letters sent from Sicily since the occupation have arrived at the camp in seven days. (October 1943)

INTELLECTUAL NEEDS, SPORT AND MORALE

There are many books available for use by the prisoners and they have many games.  A sport’s field is located in the centre of each section. (February 1942)

Two hundred books is insufficient for the number of prisoners.  An orchestra of 50 men has been formed.  The orchestra plays a major role in boosting the morale of the men. (July 1942)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Hôpital, terrain de tennis pour les médecins.

Hospital and Tennis Court for Hospital Staff VP-HIST-00849-30

Le Caire. Visite du camp de la mer Rouge. Cairo. Visiting the camp of the Red Sea.

Construction of Bocce Court VP-HIST-03408-10A 8th October 1941

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Prisonniers de guerre italiens jouant de la musique.

Musicians VP-HIST-03402-26

Prisoner of War Camp Geneifa January 1941

A slip of paper in the Australian archives.

The stamp for Prisoner of War Camp Geneifa.

A little more history is documented.

Antonio Greco had arrived at Campo Geneifa 13 days after his capture at Bardia Libya. He details are recorded; he is assigned a M.E. Number: 70596. In small print are these words: The date of receipt of prisoner should be recorded by office stamp on reverse.

18.1.41 Geneifa ; 12.6.43 No. 1 Wing 28 POW Camp [28 POW Camp Yol]; 15.6.43 Yol Kangra Valley

Alessandra Garizzo shares this information about her father: Giuseppe Garizzo was captured at Bardia 4th January 1941. He wrote in his libretto: 28.01.1941 transferred to Camp 15° in Geneifa [306]; 29.1.41 lucky to be assigned to the food supplies storage, we had food enough; 30.1.41 Met Venetian friend Santolini; 4.2.41 First antitetanic injection; 10.2.41 Received letters from family for the first time since I left home.

(Photo courtesy of Alessandra Garizzo)

Vaccinations: On Antonio Greco’s form there is a notation: 2.6.42 Cholera [cholera vaccination] On another Italian’s form there is the notation: Geneifa -TAB. VACC 6th July 1941. 

Other Italians received the TAB VACC in India. On some forms the reference for TAB vaccination is Enteric Vaccination. Cholera inoculations were also given in India.

TAB. VACC = combined vaccine used to produce immunity against the diseases typhoid, paratyphoid A, and paratyphoid B

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

Prayers, Priests and Chapels

The inspiration for this article began with a photo of the Cowra Chapel. After some research, I realised that this topic was much more complex.  Prayers, Priests and Chapels begins with the patron saints of villages and is a journey of the Italian soldier and prisoners of war through their faith.

Italy

There might have been exceptions but it was reported that all Italian prisoners of war were Catholic.  Evidence of their religious faith starts with the prayer cards they were given of the patron saint of their village. These prayer cards were taken with them to the battlefields, to the prisoner of war camps, to Australia and then finally returned with the men to Italy.

Domenico Feruilli’s Prayer Card (photo courtesy of Rossana Ferulli)

Libya

In Libya Roman Catholic Churches were built by the Italians before the outbreak of war. Did the Italian soldiers get an opportunity to visit these churches and pray? Did they light a candle for their safety in battle? Or maybe they made the sign of the cross as they passed by these churches on the way to battle?

Biagio di Ferdinando wrote, “During my travels from Tobruck to Bengasi, after Derna and Barce there were many beautiful villas, towns, schools, churches, all new.”  (Odyssey by Biagio di Ferdinando)

1st March 1941 BENGHAZI. EXTERIOR OF THE CATHEDRAL OF THE SACRED NAME OF JESUS. SMALL BOMBS HAVE FALLEN IN THE COURTYARD BEFORE THE CATHEDRAL AND THE BLAST FROM HEAVY GERMAN BOMBS HAS SHATTERED MOST OF THE WINDOWS. (AWM Image 006539, Photographer Hurley, James Francis (Frank)

Egypt

In 1941, the Apostolic Delegate for Egypt and Palestine had ‘Libro di Preghiere’ published in Palestine, with the permission of G.H.Q. Middle East. It was a prayer book distributed to Italian prisoners of war. 

It included Preghiera Del Prigioniero as well as part of a prayer for the prisoners by Pope Pius XII. For many, this would have been their only book but it was a book to give the men spiritual guidance and comfort.

Libro di Preghiere (photo courtesy of Daniel Reginato)

India

In India, the men were given materials to paint and sew with. The men drew inspiration from their faith. Filippo Granatelli’s ‘Last Supper’ is one example.

Filippo Granatelli 16.11.42 (photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

Many of the embroideries are religious in nature: the patron saint of a village, Jesus, The Sacred Heart, Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Giuseppe Polito: Rappresenta la Madonna degli Angeli, protettrice di Sacco (SA) il suo paese. (photo courtesy of Silvio Masullo)

Carved Wooden Statue of Madonna made by Isidoro Del Piccolo in Yol Camp India (photo courtesy of Ermanno Scrazzolo)

The Italians brought a little of Italy to the chapels in the British camps in India with elaborate decorations: paintings, statues, frescos and altars.

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 22, aile 4. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Prisonniers se recueillant devant un autel. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 22, wing 4. Italian prisoners of war camp. Prisoners meditating in front of an altar.

Prisoners Praying Camp 22 Wing 4 Bangalore (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-10A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 23. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Altar. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 23. Italian prisoners of war camp. Altar.

Camp No 23 Bangalore Altar (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-16A)

Worthy of note are the details of Our Lady of the Prisoner. The hat, the shirt with a black diamond patch, the shorts with the black strip; items which identified the men as prisoners of war have been meticuoulsy represented.

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.

Our Lady of the Prisoner Bangalore Group I 12.12.1941 (ICRC V-P-HIST=03474-05A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp 2. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Autel dans la chapelle. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 2. view of the altar in the chapel.

Bangalore Camp 2 View of the Altar in the Chapel (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-20A)

Australia: In the Camps

The first group of Italian prisoners of war arrived at Hay Camp New South Wales in May 1941. A 1943 report and a 1944 photo records information about how the spiritual needs of the Italians were catered for at Hay Camps 7 and 8:

The prisoners of war of these two camps are all Catholics. Camp 8 has a chapel adorned with a beautiful altar carved in wood and having a harmonium. The chapel of Camp 7 is located in one of the refectories; it also has a beautiful sculpted altar and a harmonium. Each camp has a prisoner of war priest who provides regular worship.

Camp priest, Virgilio Iacobelli featured below arrived in Australia on 27th May 1941 with the first group of Italian prisoners of war.  He served at both Hay and Cowra camps.

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. 45005 LIEUTENANT PADRE I. VIRGILIO IACOBELLI AN ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, AT THE ALTAR IN THE CHAPEL OF NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. ALL THE CRAFT WORK IN THE CHAPEL WAS DONE BY THE PRISONERS. PLAYING THE ORGAN IS 45192 SERGEANT MAJOR VINCENZO COMMARATA. (AWM Image 063360, Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)

To make way for new arrivals of Italian prisoners of war to Australia, Italians were transferred from the established camps at Hay to the tented camps of Cowra.  Cowra Prisoner of War Camps for the Italians were under construction.  In November 1941, photos and reports record the temporary chapel and arrangements for church services:

Each section has a large tent serving as a chapel, containing a pretty altar built for prisoners. The sacred candles, bread and wine are provided once a week by the local priest of Cowra.  Religious duties are carried out by three prisoner of war priests. Recently, Cowra had a visit from the Archbishop of Sydney, representing the Apostolic Delegate in Australia.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra No 12, section D. Autel en construction. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp 12, section D. Altar under construction

Cowra Camp No 12 Section D Altar under Construction 12.11.41 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00216)

Giuseppe Raimondi from Amaroni (Catanzaro) served as priest at Cowra Special Camp 12 D before being sent to Victoria: V28 Attwoods, Myrtleford Camp, Puckapunyal and V22 Rowville. Raimondi was called as a witness to an inquiry into Captain JM Waterson and the fatal shooting of Rodolfo Bartoli at V22 Rowville.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra No 12, section D. La chapelle. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp 12, section D. Chapel

Cowra Camp No 12 Section D The Chapel 12.11.41 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00215)

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra, camp A, série A. Autel dans un réfectoire. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp A, serie A. Altar in a dining hall.

Cowra Camp A Altar in the Dining room 3.9.42 (ICRC V_P-HIST-E-00218)

Faustino Lenti from Milano had been a Missionary Father in India and served at Cowra Camps.  Lenti was a charismatic and colourful character and by April 1944, it was reported: It is alleged that he controls a ‘basher gang’ composed of PoW… and that he employs a personal bodyguard for his protection. The latest information about him is that he fears an attempt will be made on his life. (NAA: SP196/2 443/1/5280)

Reports were conflicting.

Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Information Board (photo courtesy of David Ackers)

The Apostolic Delegate for Australia, Monseigneur Giovanni Panicio published ‘L’Amico del Prigioniero’ in1943.  It is a prayer book written in Latin and Italian containing the service of the mass, important prayers, Catholic Calendar of Holy Days from 1943 to 1951 and hymns.

Having the book written in Italian and Latin is significant.  Mass was said in Latin until the Second Vatican 1965. This book ensured that the Italian prisoners of war had a prayer book in Italian. This gesture was a significant show of concern for the spiritual welfare of the Italian prisoners of war in Australia.

Ermanno Nicoletti carved a piece of wood and turned it into a profile of his mother, while praying. Granddaughter Alessandra contemplates, “News of prisoners of war were scarce and at some point my grandmother almost lost faith that her son was still alive.” On the other side of the world in Australia, Ermanno ‘knew’ that his mother was praying for him and carved his thoughts in wood.

Wood Carving by Ermanno Nicoletti (photo courtesy of Alessandra Nicoletti)

Australia: Life on the farm

By the middle of 1943, the first Italian prisoners of war were sent to farm placements in the Hamilton district of Victoria and Coonabarabran district of New South Wales.  This trial was successful and was implemented throughout Australia: Prisoner of War Control Centres: Without Guards [PWCC].  In the Notice to Employers of Prisoners-of-War given to the farmers as part of the employment contract there is this statement:

5. You will be required to see that the following rules are obeyed:-

          (a) P.W. must not leave your property except-

(i) to attend religious services, for which special arrangements will be made by the Military Authorities; (NAA: D2380)

There are many memories of the Italians attending local churches. All manner of transport was used to get the men to church; bikes, horse and sulky, truck, car, on foot.  It was remembered the Italians would go to church with the Catholic family on the neighbouring farm, as the host family were not Catholic. Children of the time remember the Italians walking to church in their ‘red pyjamas’ a reference to the burgundy coloured uniform the men wore. Some Australians remember with shame that the Italian POWs had to stand at the back or sides of the church and had to leave the mass before its conclusion. Others recall the beautiful singing voices of the Italians during mass.

Italians in the Boonah district of Queensland attended a Mission Church because they learned that the pastor, Dr Dwyer spoke Italian. The Italians would enjoy conversations with Dr Dwyer after service.  Members of the congregation knew this was against the ‘rules’ and wondered if they would get arrested for their compassion. Father Steele from Beaudesert Queensland, assisted and nominated Paul Raffa with his application process to return to Australia.  It was Father Steele who welcomed Raffa when he disembarked from the ‘Napoli’ at Brisbane in May 1949.  

In June 1944, a special event was reported in the Gympie news:  His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate, Most Rev. John Panico, has recently been visiting prisoners of war employed in various centres on the North Coast of Queensland.  At Gympie he met a large number of them at St. Patrick’s Church, where he celebrated Mass.  At 10 o’clock his Excellency addressed the people, speaking in Italian to the prisoners of war and tendering them excellent advice.  The services of these men are greatly valued by their employers because of their good habits and their knowledge of rural industries. (1944 ‘Of General Interest’, Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 7 June, p. 4. , viewed 12 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172213489)

However this event drew the ire of Smith’s Weekly whose headline was:  Fascist “Guard of Honor” and made mention of ‘dago prisoners of war’.

Also criticized was a decision by Commonwealth Authorities to give a petrol allowance [petrol was rationed in Australia during WW 2] to farmers to take Italian prisoners to church. The question was asked as to ‘why such benevolent treatment was accorded “these dagoes”.’

A kindly gentleman, Cyril Blacket of Pinery South Australia met an Italian prisoner of war at his local church.  With good intentions, Cyril tried to communicate with the Italian farm worker, via the Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War booklet the Italian had, but with little success.  Blacket applied to the Department of Army for a copy of the booklet, only to be warned: PW are not allowed to fraternise with members of the public, PW Camp Order No. 13 Sec 68 (c). (NAA: D2380)

1946 Cowra Camp

In 1946, the Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farm placements and brought into the camps to await repatriation. It was during this time that two altar panels for the chapel were painted by Cowra Italian POWs.

Cowra Chapel 1946 (courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)

Back to Italy

Ippolito Moscatelli from Ospitaletto di Cormano (Milano) returned to Italy with photos of the Cowra Chapel.  It is with special thanks to his granddaughter Francesca Maffietti that there is a record of the Cowra Chapel in 1946.

The altar panels survived. However they deserve a more detailed article.

How many other copies of this photo returned to Italy?

Have you seen this photo in your nonno’s collection?

Maybe you thought this photo was of a church in Italy?

Life as a soldier and as a prisoner of war was difficult.  Some Italians were absent from their families for ten years. Those years saw the men always on the move.  Life was a continual cycle of change.

One aspect of the men’s lives that did no change was their religious faith.

… prayer books, churches, chapels, paintings, frescoes, statues, embroideries, priests, photos, prayer cards, memories…