Category Archives: Italian Prisoners of War North Africa

Stefano Lucantoni: In his spare time

Marco Lucantoni from Napoli has a special collection of items belonging to his father Stefano Lucantoni.  As a prisoner of war in Australia, Stefano kept himself occupied in several ways.

Lucantoni Libya.jpeg

He had a lot on his mind: his family. His wife Egle was pregnant when he had last seen her in 1939.  His son was seven years old before father and son met.

A special thank you to Marco and his brothers for sharing Stefano’s treasured keepsakes.  Relics like these give credence to the historical accounts. They tell the personal history of Italian prisoners of war in Australia.

CHESS

Stefano took home with him a beautiful chess set made in Cowra. Featuring the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the image was a reminder of Stefano’s arrival in and departure from Sydney: 1941 and 1946.

Lucantoni (8)

PLAYS

In Cowra on the 28th June 1946, a group of Italians staged L’Antenato a Commedia in 3 Alli. Stefano played the part of Egidio.

The carefully designed and produced programme highlights the efforts the men made for their production. The play was written by Guerrino Mazzoni, the sets created by Eliseo Pieraccini and Carlo Vannucci. Montaggio by Stefano Lucantoni, Renato bianchi, Felice di Sabatino, Luigi Proietti, Armano Mazzoni and Cesare Di Domenico.  Performers were Bruno Pantani, Guerrino Mazzoni, Carlo Vannucci, Tarcisio Silva, Bruno Dell Amico, Guigi Giambelli, Renato Bazzani, Marcello Falfotti, Alvise Faggiotto, Stefano Lucantoni. Suggestore was Giuseppe Carrari.

They were men from all walks of life: electrical engineer, butcher, clerk, mechanic, plumber, butcher, decorator, policeman, farmer, blacksmith, carpenter.

Lucantoni (2)

Lucantoni (3)

EDUCATION and LANGUAGE CLASSES

Lucantoni (1)

It was considered imperative that POWs occupied their leisure time usefully and the policy was to provide opportunities for POWs to further their studies.  Libraries in the camps were established and canteen profits used to purchase additional text books relevant to courses undertaken. Books from overseas were allowed in the areas of banking and financial, medical, scientific, art, economics, music, agriculture, religion, trade and commerce as well as periodicals of a general literary nature. Grammatica – Italiana – Inglese is Stefano’s exercise book from these language classes and shows his meticulous notes.

Lucantoni (9)

The book, Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War was specifically published and given to Italian POWs being allocated to farm work under the Prisoner of War Control Centre: Without Guard scheme.  Some of the sections were: Tools, Machinery, Farm Produce, Animals, Hygiene and Medical, Family, House and Conjugation of Verbs.

Lucantoni (6)

Stefano’s third book, Piccola Guida per Gli Italiani in Australia was written by Padre Ugo Modotti December 1944.  He worked closely with the Italian migrant community in Melbourne from 1938 to 1946.  He wrote this booklet for the Italian migrants.

On 9 March 1945, the Directorate of Prisoners of War was aware of this booklet and on 31 March 1945 approval was granted to distribute Picolla Guidi per Gli Italiani to the Italian prisoners of war in Australia.

By 1945, there was a relaxation in how the Italian POWs were viewed.  While they were still POWs, they were not considered a high security risk.  It was also a time when the Italians were thinking about life in Australia after the war and requesting permission through their farmers to stay in Australia and not be repatriated.

A guide for Italian migrants to Australia, this book gave the Italian POWs information to prepare for the time when they would return to Australia as migrants and free men.

METAL WORK

A story of love and a story of imprisonment.

The ring shows the intials E and S entwined and signifies the love of Stefano and his wife Egle.  Made in silver and another metal, the silver was obtained from Australian coins eg florins and shillings. Although it was forbidden for POWs to have Australian currency in their possession, necessity and ingenuity always find a way around the rules.

Lucantoni (7)

The emblem is carefully crafted with the words: Ricordo Campo 12 A Cowra and entwined initials POW. It was the badge for the chess set.

Lucantoni (4)

LETTER WRITING

Lucantoni (5)

This card was printed and distributed for Natale 1944. A bucolic Australia landscape of sheep, gum trees and space.  Despite processes in place for prisoners of war to send postcards for Notification of Capture and Transfer of Prisoner, Stefano’s wife believed him dead and asked the Red Cross to try to locate some information about him.

In September 1941, Egle received a letter from the Red Cross telling her that her husband was a prisoner of war in Australia. Instructions were given to send mail to: Posta per prigionieri di Guerra, Australia.

Any wonder why mail was lost and months and sometimes years passed before mail was received.  The image on this postcard was very foreign to Stefano’s family, but its arrival conveyed love and hope.

Lucantoni Stefano and Egle

Stefano and Egle: Happier Times

A special thank you to Marco Lucantoni for the photographs used in this article.

POW Paperwork Trail

From the time the Italians were captured in North Africa to the time they were repatriated and handed over to authorities in Naples,  the footprints of the Italian POWs can be traced through a dossier of documents. Each document provides a glimpse into the journey of a prisoner of war.

Collectors of military records and military postal correspondence have preserved important documentation regarding prisoners of war. Together with official documents in national archives, items in private collections assist researchers to piece together a more complete picture.

A special sincere grazie to Vitoronzo Pastore for his permission to reproduce the documents relating to Donato Lorusso and Lorenzo Illuzzi.  Members of the Associazione Italiana Colleczionisti Posta Militare have been most helpful in my quest to find prisoner of war letters for Italians who were in Australia and Queensland in particular.

  1. Notification of Capture- Prisoner of War – Comite International de la Croix Rouge

Once the Italian prisoners of war were processed in Egypt, they were given a Notification of Capture card to send to their next-of-kin. Information included place of imprisonment: Italian POW Camp N. 19, Egypt.

Notification Egypt Prisoner of War

from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore

2. Letter to Italy – from Prisoner of War Cage in Middle East

Mail from Egypt.  When you read the address: Camp 321 POW Cage 5, Chief POW Postal Centre Middle East, one understands why letters when missing and were never received.

Mike White Worldwide Postal History

2. Notification of  Transfer to India

Every time an Italian prisoner of war was transferred, they were given a card to send to their next-of-kin regarding the transfer: Transfed to India.

India

from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore

3. Italian Prisoner of War in India

A number of documents have survived relating to POWs in India.  On the Australian Service and Casualty Record, there is a M/E number.  This is the number given to the Italian prisoners of war once they were processed in Egypt.  This number stayed with the men in India, and then is recorded on their Australian card as well.

India: Prisoner’s of War and Civil Internee’s History Sheet – of particular interest is the record of vaccinations and inoculations.

Torrese India Pink

(NAA: A 7919, C99078 Isaia Torrese)

India: Envelope containing POW photos for prisoners of war – Bangalore

Santolini Bangalore envelope

(NAA: A7919, C104104 Gino Santolini)

India: ID photograph

Italian POW Rossi Pith Helmet

(NAA: A7919, C100451 Italo Rossi)

India: Postcard

Postcard from India

from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore

India: Financial Record for No 16 Prisoner of War Camp, Bairagarh

Procedures ensured that financial accountability for all income and expenses was recorded.

Migliori Canteen India

(NAA: A7919, C101033 Giorgio Migliore)

India: Booklet – Clothing and Supplies

Italian prisoners of war in India were issued with a Clothing and Supply Booklet which accounted for the dispersal of items to the men.

Trunono India Clothing Card

(NAA: A7919, C98805 Michele Truono)

4. Notification of Transfer to Australia

Once the Italians arrived in Australia, they were given a card to notify next-of-kin of their transfer: Transfrd to Australia. To comply with Article 36 of the Geneva Convention, these cards were to be sent within a week of arrival at their camp. Lorenzo Illuzzi was scheduled to be transferred to South Africa, but was sent to Australia instead.

Italian POW Transfer to Australia lluzzi

from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore

5. Italian Prisoner of War in Australia

Australia: Service and Casualty Form for Prisoner of War

This form contains valuable information about the movement of the Italian prisoner of war.  Finding Nonno is a HOW TO interpret the information on this form.

Service and Casulty Form Italian POW Pietro Romano

(NAA: MP1103/1 PWI60929 Romano, Pietro)

Australia: Property Statement

Financial accountability required a Property Statement to be issued for each prisoner of war regarding the amount of money relinquished to authorities upon arrival in Australia.

Brancato Salvatore Record of Property

(NAA: MP1103/2 Brancato, Salvatore PWIX66245)

Australia: Medical History Sheet

Each Italian prisoner of war was medically examined upon arrival in Australia.

Medical History

from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore

Australia: Agreement to work on farms

Italian prisoners of war volunteering for farm work, completed the form below.

Costa F agreement to work

(NAA: A7919, C101443 Costa, Francesco PWIM12105)

Australia: Identity Cards Issued for POWs allocated to PWCC and PWC Hostels

For Queensland, Italian prisoners of war sent to work on farms, their Identity Cards were issued at Gaythorne PW & I Camp.

(NAA: J3118, 65 Fresilli, Sebastiano)

This is a copy of an Identity Card for Italian prisoners of war who worked in Victoria.

(NAA: A7919, C102791 Di Pietro, Camillo)

Australia: Army Issue Post Card

written to Filippo Modica (father) from  Gaetano Modica (son) who was in New South Wales (Cowra and Liverpool Camps and N20 PWCC Murwilimbah)

Letter 13

from the collection of Carlo Pintarelli AICPM

Australia: Army Issue Notelope

You will notice a signature: Blunt above the addressee’s name.  This was the captain of the Q8 Prisoner of War and Control Centre.  All mail for Queensland Italian POWs went via POW Camp at Gaythorne, which was the parent camp for the men.

Letter 2

from the collection of Carlo Pintarelli AICPM

Australia: Christmas Card: Natale 1943

Christmas Cards were provided to the prisoners of war by the YMCA.  They were provided in German and Italian.

CArd 1943 Natale

from the collection of MARIAMAR AICPM

Australia: Mixed Medical Commission Assessment

To comply with Article 68 of the Geneva Convention, A Mixed Medical Commission was formed to assess cases for early medical repatriation.  The men had to be in a fit condition to travel. Seriously wounded or seriously ill prisoners of war could ask to appear before the Commission.  There were 1400 Italian prisoners of war examined in Australia, with 242 being recommended for early repatriation.  The form below was part of this process. Orzaio Baris was repatriated on Empire Clyde, a Royal Navy hospital ship.

Baris Orazio Medical Committe form

(NAA:A7919, C101259 Baris, Orazio)

Australia: Financial Statement of Account

Upon repatriation, a Statement of Account was presented to the prisoners of war.  Exactly how this money was paid to the POWs is unknown.  The financial settlement as below was settled the day before repatriation.

Statement of Accounts

 Statement of Account: Umberto Confrancesco

6. Back in Italy

Once in Naples, the Italian prisoners of war were accompanied by their Australia guards onshore.  The POWs were delivered to Army Headquarters and necessary paperwork including medical records were handed over.  The Australians were given a receipt for their prisoners.

Vito Pastore writes in reference to LoRusso’s return to Naples… He introduced himself to the Accommodation Center of S. Martino in Naples where group drew up a questionnaire and sent in return license. Placed on leave on 6 \ 2 \ 47″.

Important for Italian families to know, is that families can obtain a copy of  Service Records for their fathers/grandfathers, from the Office of State Archives in their region.

At the Military Housing Centre in Naples, the POWs were registered and given two weeks leave together with a payment of 10,000 lire.  Technically, they were still soldiers in the Italian Armed Services.

Discharge Giovanni Riboldi.jpg

Declaration of Leave from Naples Military Command Centre

(From “Guerra e Prigionia di Giovanni Riboldi”)

The men would then have to report to their local Military District Offices.  There, more paperwork was completed regarding military service and time spent as a prisoner of war.  This was important documentation, which was needed to determine when one could receive a pension. I have been told that, “For every year you [Italian soldier] served in the army, you were given a 2 year reduction in your pension age.”

The declaration below from Giovanni Riboldi, also provides detailed information about his time as a prisoner of war.  He was captured on 7.2.41 at Agedabia, was liberated by the Italians on 5.4.41 and was captured again at Sidi Oma [Sidi Omar] on 22.11.41.

 

Riboldi Declaration

Declaration: Distretto Militare di Tortona

(From “Guerra e Prigionia di Giovanni Riboldi”)

il soldato Palagianellese

 

Ferulli

Domenico Ferulli

(photo courtesy of Rossana Ferulli)

A very special thank you to Rossana Ferulli who is sharing her father’s memoirs.  From Palagianello Taranto, Domenico Ferulli was 21 years old when he was captured at Bardia on 3rd January 1941.  He was 27 years old when he returned home to his wife Rosa. It is an honour to share his story.  As Rosanna says, ‘Era un ragazzino ed è tornato un uomo.’  Domenico’s recollections add many important details to the journey of the Italian soldier and prisoner of war:***

Ferulli Domenico.

Domenico Ferulli is seated second from the left.

His photo is also in the small box to the left.

(photo courtesy of Rossana Ferulli)

Campo di prigionia 3C Soldati italiani. Nel riquadro in basso a sn. il soldato palagianellese Domenico Ferulli catturato il 3 gennaio 1941 a Bardia.  dopo 3 anni di prigionia in India viene condotto il 4 aprile 1944 via mare a Melbourne (Australia) ove sbarca il 26 aprile del 1944 e portato nel campo di prigionia N. 13. Rientrera in Italia il 30 Octobre 1946.  Tra il 3 ed il 5 gennaio 1941 cadono prigionieri a Bardia 40,000 soldati italiani.  Appiedati ed incolonnati sono avviati in direzione delle line inglesi.  Un proiettile di cannone proveniente dale batterie italiane centra per errore la Colonna: è una strage. Una decina di Soldati italiani sono fatti a brandelli terminano le loro sventure in quella sabbia.  Ci sono anche parecchi feriti.

A causa della mancanza di mezzi, I Soldati inglesi dicono ai prigionieri italiani che non sono in grado di soccorrere I feriti anche se rischiano di morire dissanguati.  I prigionieri italiano soccorrono I loro colleghi come mglio passono.  Sopravvissuti a mesi di Guerra, all’assedio ed alla battaglia, spetta loro una dura pigionia senza sapere quanto lunga e dove saranno portati.  La speranza di riabbracciare I loro cari e di rivedere l’amata Italia pero è come un fuoco sotto la cenere. Dopo un giorno di marcia giungono a Sollum bassa sul mare, località che nei mesi precedent hanno colpito con I pezzi d’artiglieria.  Da Sollum in poi le lunghe colonne di prigionieri italani sono sorvegliate da motociclisti con le moto Triump, Norton ed autoveicoli fuoristrada.  Per giungere a Marsa Matruh comminano anche di notte, soffrendo soprattutto la stanchezza e la sete.  Li li fanno salire a bordo d’autocarri.  Transitati non distanti dalla citta di Alessandria d’Egitto, mediante un ponte in ferro attraversano il grande fiume Nilo nella zona del delta.

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.  Da questi campi di raccolta e smistamento sono transferiti a Suez, porto sud mar Rosso.  Sono imbarcati su una nave inglese, probabilmente da carico, oltre 2000 prigionieri di varied armi e specialità.  Si sistemano alla meglio sul ponte e nella stiva, dormendo avvolti in una coperta.  Il cibo distribuito a bordo è scarso: quando c’e da spartirsi le poche patate o cipolle, le buone regole del vivere civile vanno a farsi friggere.  Esiste solo il brutale istinto di sopravvivenza che prevarica tutto, I litigi sono frequenti.  Attraversano il Mar Rosso: a sinistra della nave scorrono le coste desolate dell’Arabia, a dritta quelle dell’Africa.  Oltrepassato Aden, di giorno si va a riparasi tutti all’interno della nave perche in coperta non si riesce a risistere a causa del sole forte.  La nave e scortata da due cacciatorpediniere della Marina Reale inglese; dopo cinque giorni di navigazione, quando si è ormai in pieno oceano Indiano, queste navi si sganciano.  Le probabilità che qualche nave da Guerra Italiana li liberi, oramai, sono pressochè nulle.

Rapida e triste ricorre spesso sulla nave la cerimonia di sepoltura; chi non ce la fa, avvolto in un lenzuolo bianco, viene fatto scivolare in mare. Nell’Oceano Indiano si sente la vicinanza dell’equatore.  Qui il clima è molto piu umido di Bardia. Dopo circa 22 giorni di navigazione giungono al porto di Bombay in India, colonia inglese.

*** Rossana has solved a couple of puzzles for me. 

I had noticed in the photos taken at Cowra, only some Italians wore pants with a distinctive black stripe down the leg.  It seemed that only the Italians who had spent time in India wore these pants.  Were these pants standard issue for India?

Then on Sunday, I found photos taken in the camps of India, and on the back of the shirts was a diamond pattern of black material.  How odd, I thought.  Were these shirts standard issue for India?

Domenico’s story answers these questions: these items of clothing were issued in Egypt.  Maybe Italians going to India were issued with the clothing with black stripe and black diamond! Maybe those Italians going directly go Australia were given a different set of clothes!  One question might be answered. But another question is raised!

V-P-HIST-03468-24.JPG

Camp No. 8 Prisoner of War Camp India: Preparation of Vegetables

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03468-24)

Processing at Geneifa

I found it!

One piece of paper that had alluded me, was a document which proved that the processing camp for Italian prisoners of war was Geneifa, Egypt:  the official start of the many documents which made up a prisoner’s of war dossier.

On my  many trolling missions through random documents in the National Archives of Australia, I found it!

I am still to understand an army/government filing system which appears to have more records for one Italian POW and less for the majority.

For every Italian POWs who was held captive in Australia, there are two files available to view online: MP1103/1 and MP1103/2.

Yet, for a number of others, their records from the POW Camps in India, their Identity Cards for Australia  and Australian medical records have been kept.

There seems to be no rhyme or reason for this.  And for Italian families looking for information on their POW relatives, this is frustrating.

Maybe these records are lying deep in the archives, yet to be catalogued.

But excitingly, one Army Form W.3000 (Italian) Prisoner of War has survived.

Genefia Form

NAA: A367, C86896 P.W.62533, Rinaldini, Argo

I think, this is the first of many forms that accompanied the Italian POW.  A printed document with sequential M.E. numbers is the first official record.  A feint stamp in the top right hand corner : Prisoner of War Camp Geneifa, is where the paperwork trail begins.  Received into a POW Camp in India, 7th August 1941, Argo Rinaldini had  a further transfer to Murchison Australia 27th April 1944, as is stamped on the reverse side of the form.

Interestingly, he received a TAB. VACC 6th July 1941.  Quite possibly, all prisoners of war, as a matter of course, received this vaccination.

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

In the POW Camps in India,  Italian POWs received further inoculations and vaccinations.

Possibly, this was one of the forms transferred to Italian officials at the time of arrival in Italy. Who knows?

Unfortunately, this random ‘find’ will only encourage me to continue my random searches of POW records.

I wonder what I will find next!

Genefia 2 Form

NAA: A367, C86896 P.W.62533, Rinaldini, Argo

Further reading:

Suez Canal Zone POW Camps

To Palestine…

Every day there is new history to be learnt. What was the status quo regarding Italian prisoners of war in December 1940 and January 1941? Probably, strategic planning and availability of sites would have determined the flow of prisoners.  Which groups of Italian prisoners of war were sent to Egypt and which group of prisoners went to Palestine?

Sidi el Barrani Italian prisoners of war were sent to Palestine and ‘some’ Bardia Italians joined them.  With 38,300 Italian captured at Sidi el Barrani and thousands of allied army forces marshalling in Egypt, for the continued assault westward through Libya, these first prisoners were sent to Palestine. [Palestine was a Protectorate of the British Government: British Mandate of Palestine] Latrun Prisoner of War camp was constructed in three days.

Paolo Reginato records in his libretto some details of his time from Sidi el Barrani to Latrun Palestine:

I was taken prisoner [11 December 1940] with almost the entire division.  For 4 days we stayed in the desert (four days to remember), on the 15th [December] we left in column towards Marsa Matruh and on the 16th we left for Alexandria, here we stayed until 21st day when I was transported to the port and I was embarked.  On the Egiziano Ethiopia ship we left for Palestine and on the 24th we arrived in Haifa where we also passed ‘il bel giorno di Natale’. On the 30th we left and arrived in Latrum [Latrun] to a great concentration camp where we remained until 14th June 1941.

Australian war photographer Damien Peter Parer and Frank Hurley captured the events described by Paolo Reginato through the lens of  their cameras and newspaper articles recount the movements of Italian POWs:

Column of Italian Soldiers: Sidi el Barrani

Sidi Barrani to Sollum13th December 1940 SIDI BARRANI – A STREAM OF PRISONERS NEARLY TWO MILES LONG CAME INTO SIDI BARRANI FROM THE SOLLUM AREA, THERE TO AWAIT TRANSHIPMENT TO PRISON CAMPS. (AWM Image 004436 PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

Arrival at Alexandria Egypt

Alexandria

31st December 1940 Alexandria, Egypt. Italian prisoners being put ashore from an RAN destroyer.(AWM Image 005002/05 Photographer Damien Peter Parer)

Arrival at Haifa Palestine

The featured photo also records the arrival of Italian Prisoners of War to Haifa including the injured:[ 20th December 1940 HAIFA – A BRITISH CORPORAL AND A PRISONER ASSIST A SLIGHTLY DISABLED PRISONER TO THE TRAIN. (AWM Image 004607 NEGATIVE BY D. PARER)].

20 December first meal in Haifa

20th December 1940 HAIFA, PALESTINE. AUSTRALIAN TROOPS DISHING OUT ITALIAN PRISONERS’ FIRST MEAL IN PALESTINE. (AWM Image 004605 NEGATIVE BY DAMIEN PARER).

Haifa to Latrun via Yesodot

Italian POWs, captured by the British in North Africa, arrive at Wadi Sarar [name of train station] in Palestine near Yesodot. Latrun is 14 km east of Wadi Sara [Wady Sarar] train station.  Alighted from trains, the Italian prisoners of war were fed.  They were then assembled and from the photographic records, it appears that they walked to Latrun.  Injured POWs were loaded in ambulances.

20925u.jpg

Contrary to popular belief, winter in Palestine can be quite cold; both Italians and British are wrapped in their winter coats. Wady Sarar  Dec 21, 1940. [Library of Congress Matson Collection: Eric and Edith Matson]

12 Wady Sarar

21st December 1940 Men Eating on Ground Wady Sarar [Library of Congress Matson Collection: Eric and Edith Matson]

15 Wady Sarar

21st December 1940 Men Gathered in a Field Wady Sarar [Library of Congress Matson Collection: Eric and Edith Matson]

To Latrun Palestine

Information about the Prisoner of War camp at Latrun is scare.  Without Paolo Reginato’s mention of Latrum [Latrun], it is doubtful the location of this camp would be known. [Notice the absence of town name in the articles below.]  In 1940, Latrun was used for 3 months as a training camp for Polish soldiers. It is better known for a series of battles between  Israel Defense Forces and the Jordanian Arab Legion in 1948.

Haifa 1

1940 ‘ITALIAN PRISONERS.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 26 December, p. 5. , viewed 24 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47299778

Palestine

1940 ‘Drawing In On Bardia’, The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 – 1954), 23 December, p. 1. , viewed 24 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248827242

Christmas Mass In Jerusalem 1940

The distance between Latrun and Jerusalem is 35 km.

Xmas Mass

1941 ‘Italian Prisoners Hear Christmas Mass in Jerusalem.’, Catholic Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1932 – 1942), 17 April, p. 13. , viewed 24 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146369616

Capture…what next and where to!

The Italians soldiers, airmen and sailors who were captured from December 1940 to February 1941,  believed the propaganda promises that the second advance would arrive quickly to liberate the increasing numbers of prisoners of war. This was not to happen.

Another insult was that they felt betrayed by the Italian Commanders.  Before capture, the soldiers were ordered to destroy everything. The belief was that the enemy would not take any of the supplies.  Water tanks were tainted with oil and food supplies destroyed. How then were the Allies expected to conjure food and water for 40,000 prisoners at Bardia? This order to destroy Italian provisions contributed to the deaths of Italians from starvation. The other betrayal was that the commanders ‘vanished’ so as to evade capture.

Ferdinando Pancisi remembers, “We hadn’t eaten for days. Food wasn’t arriving. We tried our best to survive. We were trying to make do looking for food on one side or the other of the Front, looking everywhere that we could and we survived. Well those who managed, survived, many others didn’t make it. I went for 7 days and 7 nights without food or water because the English were not giving us anything. I tried asking a British guard for some food or water and he’d always reply “tomorrow, tomorrow”. For 8 days we were kept at Bardia. Then they moved us to near Alexandria in Egypt near the SuezCanal. Every now and then they would send some of us to some part of the World.

For me, India. I was trying to depart, I wanted to go. I was trying to get out of there. People were dying of starvation, there were fleas and head lice, we couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t a nice place to be.”

Sidi El Barrani.jpg

13th December 1940 SIDI BARRANI – A STREAM OF PRISONERS NEARLY TWO MILES LONG CAME INTO SIDI BARRANI FROM THE SOLLUM AREA, THERE TO AWAIT TRANSHIPMENT TO PRISON CAMPS. (AWM 004436 PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

The Italian POWs also suffered from bombardments by the Germans.  Filthy, covered in lice and sand, hungry and thirsty, there are many testimonies that the Italians did not eat or drink for seven days. There was always a promise of ‘tomorrow’ from the British and Australia.

1940 Water

10th December 1940. WESTERN DESERT – THE MOST PRECIOUS COMMODITY IN THE DESERT….WATER. EVERY OPPORTUNITY MUST BE TAKEN TO REPLENISH SUPPLIES & THESE ITALIAN PRISONERS, ALTHOUGH THEIR WORRIES ARE OVER, ARE TAKING NO CHANCES OF RUNNING DRY DURING TIME OF WAITING TO BE SENT TO SOME COMFORTABLE PRISON CAMP. (AWM Image 004452 PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

From places of capture the men walked to internment areas; caged compounds; and then to marinas at Bardia, Sollum or Tobruk.

“In fact, now prisoners they led us to Sollum and I stayed there for five days. Waiting for the propaganda promises of the Army that the 2nd advance that would come to free us. Hunger, the despair was so great and who knows the destiny what would have reserved for us. So from Sollum they transferred us to Mersamentuck in a concentration camp in Egyptian territory. From there they took us to the station and as beasts they put us in a freight train, and each wagon more than 40 -50 prisoners to reach a concentration camp along the Suez Canal.

The number of prisoners, which could not be counted, was high and I can affirm that the treatment for us was of the pitiful and inhuman ones that not everyone could sustain. In this field I stayed for about two months, then they took us to lead us to Suez and from there embarked on an English ship, think that in a hold, below sea level, worse than animals we were amassed in 700 prisoners. For nineteen days by sea we suffered that penance, until we arrived in Bombay in India and received another “moral slap”.” Domenico Masciulli

Loaded onto supply ships,  Italians were first used to unload supplies before embarkation.

1940 supplies

SIDI BARRANI – ITALIAN PRISONERS EARNING THEIR KEEP & HELP TO UNLOAD STORES FROM BRITISH SUPPLY VESSELS. LOWER RIGHT CORNER MEMBERS OF THE “COMMANDERS” – A SORT OF ENGLISH FOREIGN LEGION, WHO BECAUSE OF THEIR SLOUCH HATS ARE OFTEN MISTAKEN FOR AUSTRALIANS. (AWM Image 004464, PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

Some were shipped to Marsa Matruh (Mersa Matruh) and entrained to Alexandria: Film footage of the Italians on trains 

Mersha Merah

MERSA MATRUH, EGYPT. C.1941. GERMAN PRISONERS OF WAR CAPTURED IN THE WESTERN DESERT IN A COMPOUND SEEN THROUGH THE BARBED WIRE PERIMETER. (AWM Image P00064.013)

Others were sent directly to Alexandria.

Eypt POW onboard troopship 1940

31st December 1940 Alexandria, Egypt. An Australian destroyer with Italian prisoners aboard. (AWM Image 005002/03 Photographer Damien Peter Parer)

Recollections tell of being treated no better than beasts as they were loaded into train crates.   Sent to camps such as Quassassin or Ismailia the Italians eventually were sent to camps at Geneifa where they were officially processed.

In time they boardered ships at Suez headed for Australia or India. ‘Emanuele Favoloro a fishman from Lipari Sicily:  “…took us to Alexandria in Egypt. Here we were given a loaf of bread for tomorrow.  But we ate it instantly and starved fthe next morning.  We had plenty of water.  We got given five cigarettes and I sold my cigarettes for more bread.  My biggest horror from the war is the starvation and lack of water plus the horror of the deaths.  After six months in Alexandria, I was taken to Quassassin Camp.  We worked carrying light poles.  I was there six months and then I was shipped to Suez where I became ill and was left behind whereas the others went to Australia.” Favoloro Emanuele from Bocia Cesarin by Cesare Romane Stefanate.

Geneifa POW Camp AWM 2

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

Luigi Bortolli kept a diary and detailed maps of Campo 9 Ismailia and Campo 2 Suez:  Luigi Bortolotti: From Tobruk to Clare.

Edmondo Mazzinghi Testimonial Yol-La mia avventura: is in Italian and includes numerous photos for his journey.

Canal Zone Camps

It was 1941 and those sent to Australia did not return home until January-February 1947.

Map 2

Marsa Matruh… Alexandria…Port Said…Ismailia…Suez…

(from Google Maps)

 

the words of an Italian soldier

Paolo Reginato was a soldier with the 202 Regg. Artiglieria Division XXVIII Ottobre when he was captured at Sidi el Barrani 11 December 1940.

A special thank you to Daniel Reginato and his family for sharing the details of his father’s libretto.  Paolo’s record of his days as a soldier and a prisoner of war is adding a personal perspective to this history; written at the time his comments are brief but poignant.

libretanono1Libretto di Paolo Reginato

(photo courtesy of Daniel Reginato)

Paolo writes: On 8th December (in the afternoon) we suffered a heavy naval bombardment and on the 9th we were attached by a strong artillery fire throughout the day, the same afternoon when the fire ceased the order came to retreat to Sidi el Barrani. Our subcommander takes a bottle of anise and makes us all dring, one by one with his own hands on his knees around him, at night we follow the retreat and on the morning of 10th we are located 10 km from Sidi el Barrani where we went again. We attacked with batteries and armed cars throughout the day, at night the fight continued until day 11, at hour 9 I was taken prisoner with almost the entire divison.

Newsreel: Fall of Sidi Barrani

From Second World War Official Histories, Volume 1 – to Benghazi (AWM):

Sidi El Barrani from Chapter Six Victory at Barrani AWM

Naval ships were to shell the Maktila positions on the night before the attack, [8] air support was to be given by No. 202 Group which included three squadrons and one flight of fighters, three squadrons and two flights of day bombers and three squadrons of night bombers… [9th] Frightened, dazed or desperate Italians erupted from tents and slit trenches, some to surrender supinely, others to leap gallantly into battle, hurling frenades or blasing machine guns in futile belavour of the impregnable intruders… On the morning of the 10th the 4th Armoured Brigade was lying on an arrowhead between Sidi Barrani and Buq Buq, facing on the west a series of Italian camps…the 7th Hussars attacked the enemy’s posts but they were too strong to take withouth costly losses and by early afternoon the main strength of the brigade had been sent eastwards… 6th Royal Tanks and the 2nd Royal Tanks attacking…  the 16th Brigade had attacked at dawn on the 10th..Advancing over open country in a dense dust storm it was met by effective artillery fire and was held… Finally a concerted attack late in the afternoon broke the enemy’s reisatance and by 4.40 Sidi Barrani had fallen.

3883536

12th 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. (AWM Image 004431 PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

Long columns of dejected prisoners in drab oive-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 Divison,  Piscatori of the 2nd Libyan,  Merzari of the 4th Blackshirt.

Sidi el Barrani Italian dispositions

Sidi El Barrani