Category Archives: Murchison PW & I Camp

Storia di un contadino italiano in Australia – parte 2: prigioniero in terra australe

by Elena Fortini

Vincenzo ha solo 21 anni quando parte per la Libia. Mai avrebbe pensato che, nei pochi anni successivi, avrebbe attraversato mezzo mondo, passando dapprima per l’Egitto, poi nei campi di concentramento indiani per, infine, raggiungere il misterioso e lontano continente australiano.

Nel gennaio 1944, insieme a qualche migliaio di altri prigionieri italiani, mio zio si imbarca a Bombay per l’Australia. A febbraio giunge nel porto di Melbourne e viene condotto al campo di Murchison, nell’entroterra australiano, per lo smistamento. Dopo la visita medica viene sottoposto ad analisi per la sospetta presenza di tifo, poi smentita dagli accertamenti. Da questo momento in poi verrà identificato con la dicitura PWI (Prisoner of War, Italian, vale a dire “prigioniero di guerra italiano”) 58070.

Il suo viaggio, però, non finisce qui. A Murchison viene decisa la sua destinazione: sarà nell’ancor più remota isola della Tasmania. Nell’aprile del ‘44 giunge nel campo di Brighton, vicino alla capitale Hobart, nel sud-est dello Stato insulare, per l’identificazione. Si tratta del campo centrale della regione, che si dirama poi in ulteriori campi sparsi per tutta l’isola.

Nel maggio 1944 viene trasferito a Burnie, più a nord, e il mese successivo a Smithton, nel nord-ovest dell’isola. Ricoverato per una sospetta appendicite nell’ottobre dello stesso anno, sarà rilasciato qualche giorno dopo senza essere operato, e rimandato al campo. Qui sarà assegnato a un agricoltore locale, Reginald Poke, e inizierà a lavorare come contadino nella sua proprietà agricola a Scotchtown, una località rurale distante circa 6 km dalla cittadina di Smithton. 16.397 sono invece i chilometri che separano Scotchtown dal paese natale di Soncino: una distanza incolmabile oggi, inimmaginabile all’epoca.

Con mia grande sorpresa sono riuscita a contattare i discendenti di Mr. Poke. Alcuni hanno sentito parlare dei prigionieri italiani nei racconti dei rispettivi antenati, altri ricordano di averli visti e conosciuti, durante l’infanzia. In particolare, un nipote di Reginald ricorda Vincenzo come un uomo forte, che spesso si allenava nella fattoria. I prigionieri vivevano in baracche separate nella proprietà, e un’altra nipote ricorda che da bambina, negli anni ’60 e ’70, vi entrava per gioco e che le sembravano sufficientemente spaziose per essere adibite ad abitazioni. Dopo la partenza degli italiani queste costruzioni vennero destinate a baracche degli attrezzi, e successivamente demolite. In generale, i soldati italiani hanno lasciato un bel ricordo alle famiglie locali: sulla sua lettera di dimissione si può leggere che è stato un bravo prigioniero.

Nel marzo del ‘46 Vincenzo viene finalmente rilasciato e torna nell’Australia occidentale, a Loveday, da dove il 3 dicembre dello stesso anno sarà rimpatriato sulla nave neozelandese Rangitata diretta a Napoli. Sbarcherà infine nella città partenopea il 31 dicembre 1946, nello stesso porto da cui era partito otto anni prima. Una leggenda di famiglia vuole che, nel periodo trascorso in Australia, mio zio si sia innamorato di una donna del posto e che volesse perciò rimanere e sposarsi. Non sappiamo se sia tornato per rispettare la convenzione internazionale sui prigionieri di guerra, che voleva che fossero tutti rimpatriati una volta terminato il conflitto, o per sua decisione, conscio che la sua famiglia lo aspettava e aveva bisogno di lui. Gli anni della guerra sono stati duri, infatti, anche nello sperduto paesino di campagna che per Vincenzo era ormai solo un lontano e caro ricordo. Con il figlio primogenito in Australia, il secondogenito, Giulio, anch’egli prigioniero degli Alleati in Albania, il lavoro nei campi e nelle stalle era affidato ai restanti membri della famiglia: il padre Bortolo, la madre Genoveffa, le sorelle Gina, Maria, Cila e Carla e il fratello minore, Miro, che allo scoppio del conflitto aveva solo sei anni, e che Vincenzo ricorda nella lettera inviata dall’India e mai ricevuta dalla famiglia come il “piccolino” di casa.

Ambrogi Famiglia : late 1940s

Back row: Vincenzo second from left. Front row: Mama Genoveffa on far right (photo courtesy of Elena Fortini)

Si racconta che, dopo il suo ritorno, ogni volta che mio zio parlava di quanto aveva visto in guerra veniva preso per pazzo. Metteva in guardia sugli effetti nefasti delle droghe quando la maggior parte dei compaesani non sapeva nemmeno cosa fosse uno stupefacente. Parlava di tutto ciò che aveva visto, della convivenza di molteplici religioni e confessioni che nella cattolicissima Italia del tempo era solo un lontano miraggio. Portava sei anni di prigionia sulle spalle che l’avevano segnato profondamente, e non solo sul viso che il rovente sole australiano aveva bruciato per sempre: avvertiva il bisogno di parlarne, ma si sentiva incompreso. Forse per questo poi si chiuse in sé stesso e smise di raccontare, lasciando correre anche le domande curiose dei nipoti che, anni dopo, gli avrebbero chiesto della sua esperienza in guerra: ne parlava solo con i commilitoni, uomini che, come lui, avevano lasciato tutto alle spalle e che vivevano gli anni della guerra come un voraginoso e incolmabile vuoto.

Vincenzo Ambrogi 1970s standing at left (photo courtesy of Elena Fortini)

Al funerale di sua madre, Vincenzo chiese alla famiglia di non lasciarlo mai più solo. Spero che questa mia ricerca renda giustizia alla sua storia e al suo ricordo. Non ho avuto il piacere di incontrare lo zio Vincenzo, che ci ha lasciati ben prima che io nascessi ma, dopo le tante ore trascorse a ripercorrere il suo passato, posso forse dire di conoscerlo un po’ anch’io.

Elena Fortini

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)

What a journey!

Today I introduce you to Pasquale Landolfi from Frattaminore Napoli. Pasquale was 20 years old when he was captured at Tobruk 21.1.1941.

From 13.10.41 and his arrival on the Queen Mary into Sydney NSW until his departure on 28.6.1949 from Sydney NSW on the SS Surriento Pasquale travels through five states of Australia.

Tracing his journey Pasquale went from NEW SOUTH WALES: Sydney to Cowra Camp to VICTORIA: Murchison Camp. He transited through SOUTH AUSTRALIA on his way to WESTERN AUSTRALIA: No 8 Labour Detachment Karrakatta and Marrinup Camp.

Pasquale then crossed Australia again and returned to VICTORIA: Murchison Camp and then NEW SOUTH WALES: Hay Camp.

The next stage of his journey took him to QUEENSLAND: Gaythorne Camp and Home Hill* Hostel. After escaping from the Home Hill Hostel, he briefly ‘visited’ Bowen until his arrest and return the Home Hill Hostel.

He returned to Gaythorne Camp before a return to VICTORIA: Murchison Camp and the Dandenong after he escaped from a Murchison working party. Upon capture he was sent to NEW SOUTH WALES: Holdsworthy Military Barracks for detention.

Three Italian prisoners of war boarded the SS Surriento in Sydney on 28.6.49: Pasquale Landolfi, Giacomo Tagliaferri and Isidoro Cammaroto. The ship sailed from Sydney to Brisbane QLD before departing for Italy.

The newspaper article below records this unusual situation of a passenger liner carrying three prisoners of war and two political deportees.

Brisbane Telegraph (Qld. : 1948 – 1954), Thursday 30 June 1949, page 8

1949 ‘Line­­r Has Unwelcome Quintette’, Brisbane Telegraph (Qld. : 1948 – 1954), 30 June, p. 8. (CITY FINAL), viewed 20 Jul 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212190014

*Home Hill is 97 km south of Townsville. Bowen is 104 km south of Home Hill and 84 km north of Whitsundays.

War Prize

The Italian motorship Remo was in Fremantle harbour on 10th June 1940, the day of Mussolini’s declaration of war.

The ship was seized on 11th June 1940 under international rules. The 229 passengers were a diverse mix of nationalities: Italians, Hungarians, Poles, Greeks, Bulgarians Jugoslavs, Estonians and Finns. Italian women and children together with those of other nationalities were transferred to Melbourne.  The Italian men were interned together with merchant seaman onboard.

Remo was loaded with cargo for several Australia ports including new machinery for a factory in Newcastle and technical equipment for Postmaster’s General Department. The ship was awarded to the Crown as Allied prize after the matter was heard in the Prize Court. By early July 1940, the Australian flag was flown from the Remo.

1940 ‘Australian Defence: Parachute Patrol: Britain’s Food Supply:’, Chronicle (Adelaide, SA: 1895 – 1954), 4 July, p. 25., viewed 04 Jun 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92396089

The crew of the Remo presented an interesting situation for Australian authorities. Were they prisoners of war or internees? In the first instant they were processed on 11.6.40 as ‘internees’. Officers were transferred to Fremantle Prison while the crew were transferred to an internment camp on Rottnest Island.  On 24 and 25th September 1940, officers and crew were transferred to Harvey Internment Camp.

The internment camp in Harvey where up to 1,000 Italians were detained during WWII. (Source: Harvey Historical Society)

In transit to Victoria, officers and crew were then sent from Harvey Camp 2nd April 1942 to Parkeston Transit Internment Camp.  This camp was situated 2 km north-east of Kalgoorlie on the Trans Australian railway line. It is recorded that the camp had accommodation for 20 internees in small cells.

The next stage of the journey was from Parkeston WA to Murchison Camp Victoria. One document records that these ‘internees’ were reassigned as ‘prisoners of war’ on 15th April 1942 as they departed for Murchison Camp. Other documents give the date 22nd June 1942 as the date of reassignment to POW.

The men arrived in Murchison on 18th April 1942.  The officers and their batmen from the Remo were sent to an officers’ camp at Myrtleford and the crew joined Italian soldiers at Murchison and other work placements in Victoria and Tasmania.

Cosmo Valente was an oiler on the Danish tanker Anglo Maersk when it docked in Fremantle Harbour. He was 60 years old when he was ‘arrested’ on 25.6.40 and sent to Rottnest Island Internment Camp.  As a lone Italian on the Anglo Maersk, he travelled with the group from the Remo.

The Remo was renamed the Reynella. It was used to transport foodstuffs and war materials from Australia to Great Britain. Some of the items on a 1940 run were jams, canned fruits, flour, wheat, tallow, hides and lead. In February 1949, the Reynella was no longer suitable for Australian services and the Federal Government offered the ship for sale to the Italian government for £1,875,000.

(1949).  Passenger-cargo ship Reynella anchored in Newcastle Harbour, New South Wales, 12 November 1949

By November 1949, newspapers report the ship had been sold to an Italian company and had returned to its original name Remo.

Souvenirs

souvenir: an item that is kept as a reminder of a person, place, or event

Eugenio Talamo had a little over two years in Australia as a prisoner of war.

He arrived in Melbourne 29th December 1944 on the Melon; part of a group of 991 Italian prisoners of war from India and the second last group to arrive in Australia.

Upon return to Italy 19th February 1947 on the Otrontes Eugenio had three Australian souvenirs.

A button with a map of Australia is a reminder of the prisoner of war uniforms the Italians wore. These uniforms were second-hand Australian uniforms. 

POW Uniform Button

(photo courtesy of Laura Demartino)

A 1945 Christmas Card is a reminder of the six Christmases he spent as a prisoner of war. The YMCA Australia [Societa Giovenu Cristiana Australia] provided for the Italian prisoners of war: books, sports and musical equipment and Christmas Cards. 

1945 Christmas Card Issued to Italian Prisoners of War

(photos courtesy of Laura Demartino)

A copy of Propagation of the Faith Year Book 1945 is a reminder of the importance of the Catholic faith to the Italians.  As best can be found, it is a book about the work of Catholic Missionaries in promoting the Catholic religion. Money was raised and used to support missionary programs. Two such programs were in Papua New Guinea and aboriginal communities in Australia.

Propagation of the Faith Year Book 1945

(photo courtesy of Laura Demartino)

Most ex-Italian prisoner of war rarely spoke about their trials of being a prisoner. Some kept a few souvenirs of Australia.

Eugenio’s souvenirs have added three more items to the collection of relics for this history.

Each relic assists families to have a greater understanding of the everyday life of an Italian prisoner of war in Australia.

It is with special thanks to Eugenio’s granddaughter Laura, that these souvenirs have been shared.

souvenirs… memories… family legacy

Nonna and Nonno Talamo (photo courtesy of Laura Demartino)

Home on the ‘Andes’

Cosimo Papadia had served with a Tank Corps for 29 months when he was captured at Sidi Barrani 11th December 1940. He had sustained a major injury and was hospitalized from the 12th December 1940 in a Cairo hospital until 22nd December 1941. From Cairo he was then sent to Campo di Ismailia.  On 22nd January 1941 he was sent to the concentration camp 4 (Egypt).

14th December 1940 SIDI BARRANI – THE ITALIANS WERE WELL EQUIPPED AND HAD TANKS AND OTHER MOBILE EQUIPMENT EVERYWHERE…EVEN ON THE BEACH AT SIDI BARRANI. THIS ONE IS IN FAIR WORKING ORDER & WILL SOON BE FOLLOWING ITS ORIGINAL OWNERS – BUT WITH A DIFFERENT FLAG FLYING. (AWM Image 00416, Photographer Frank Hurley)

Cosimo arrived in Sydney 27th May 1941 on the Queen Mary with the first group of Italian prisoners of war to arrive in Australia. He departed on the Andes, an early repatriation ship on3rd August 1945.

He had three Australian homes: Hay Camp NSW, Murchison Camp Victoria and Kinglake Hostel Victoria.  Known as V18 Kinglake, this hostel accommodated 151 Italian prisoners of war from September 1944 to July 1945.  Employed by the State Forests Commission, the Italians were involved in wood cutting and forestry work.

Cosimo’s son Francesco Vincenzo was quick to recognise his father in the photo below at Hay Camp.  He is standing second from the left with the hat.

Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 46963 Giuseppe Veronesi; 45802 Vincenzo Gaudiero; 46161 Alfredo Masacchia; 46362 Cosimo Papadia; 45203 Alberto Ciattaglia; 36759 Michelangelo Spina; 45971 Emilio Larini, and 46864 Francesco Tuppy. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030142/06, Photographer Michael Lewicki)

Mal McKInty from the Forestry Commission Retired Personnel Association has provided invaluable information about the prisoner of war hostel site at Kinglake West. For more information, click on the line: https://www.victoriasforestryheritage.org.au/community/alien-workers-pow-camps.html

A painting by D.W.Murray Paine illustrates the type of trees the Italians worked amongst.

Kinglake Forest – a painting by DWM Paine

D.W.Murray Paine 2008 (photo courtesy of https://www.victoriasforestryheritage.org.au/)

A photograph taken by J.D. Gillespie shows the Kinglake site in 1952. Most likely some of the buildings were remnants from the prisoner of war hostel.

Photograph taken in 1952 by JD Gillespie (Source: S Gillespie) : FCV Fire School at the Kinglake West Camp.

1952 Kinglake Forestry Camp (photographer J.D. Gillespie, photo courtesy of https://www.victoriasforestryheritage.org.au/)

Mal McKlinty has also been able to identify the exact location of the Kinglake West camp:  Latitude: -37.458115 Longitude: 145.227849  The Google Earth photo shows the modern buildings on the site, which have been used for many years for youth group camps. 

Site of V18 Kinglake Hostel (Google Earth)

Cosimo was at V18 Kinglake from 10th December 1944 until 21st July 1945.  Within two weeks of leaving Kinglake, Cosimo had embarked the Andes in Sydney for his voyage home.

There were several reasons for being on the Andes: ten were requested by the Italian Government, 389 were medically unfit, 156 were recommended by the Mixed Medical Commission, eight men were over 60 years of age, 22 were sent home early on compassionate grounds and 133 were aged between 50 and 60.

 Francesco Vincenzo provides the details for his father’s early repatriation, “He [my father] was repatriated early because he was disabled due to being hit by a DUM DUM bullet with consequent damage to the muscle of the left arm, forearm and hand, so much so that on his return to Italy he was assigned an annuity amount provided to him until his death.”

The voyage home to Italy was unpleasant.  Food was scarce and of poor quality; water was scare and men were ill with dysentery. The prisoners spent much of the time locked in their cabins. Francesco Vincenzo adds, “Le paure maggiori, durante le traversate erano comunque legate alle possibili incursioni aeree ma, per fortuna, tale evento non si verificò mai.Naval mines were also a major concern for shipping post WW2.

Once landed in Naples, Australian guards delivered the Italians to the Army Headquarters.

After almost 5 years, Cosimo was free.

Francesco Vincenzo reflects, “ Mio padre ricordava sempre il suo soggiorno in Australia e, ad un certo punto aveva preso in considerazione l’idea di tornarvi per cercare una vita migliore rispetto a quella del dopoguerra in Italia.

A Father’s Love

Liborio Bonadonna was a private in the Italian Army, serving with the 231 Legion Militia when he was captured at Buq Buq on 11th December 1940. The Battle of Sidi Barrani was the opening battle of Operation Compass and 38,300 Italians were captured at Sidi Barrani and Buq Buq from 10 – 11 December 1940.

Bonadonna, Liborio

Liborio Bonadonna

(NAA: A7919 C101539 Buonadonna, Librio)

A young farmer from Gela Caltanissetta, Liborio was living in Tripoli along with his wife and his parents when he joined Mussolini’s war.  His father, desperate for his son’s safety, fell prey to unscrupulous agents who, for a sum of money, promised the repatriation of their family members who were prisoners of war.

In a letter sent to Liborio, his father Carmelo Bonadonna wrote on 21st December 1943:

Dear son, here it was said that prisoners who are sons of farmers, were to be repatriated on the payment of six thousand lire, and I, for the great affection I bear you, was one of the first to pay; in fact they asked us for one of your letters in order to have your address.  Up to the present, we have seen nothing.  Imagine, dear son, how happy we all in the family were for just then I did not know what I could do for the love of you.

Liborio had spent almost three years in camps in India and would not arrive in Italy for another three years. The actions of his father however highlight how anxious the family were to ensure a safe and early return of Liborio.

From Cowra, Liborio was assigned to work on farms at N8 PWCC Orange and N24 PWCC Lismore. Suffering on-going health issues, he was sent to local and military hospitals and was eventually transferred to Murchison for consideration for early repatriation on the basis of medical grounds.

Such was his health,  he was on the list to embark on the Andes which left Australia on 3rd August 1945. Unfortunately, on 16th July 1945 he was sent to 28 Australian Camp Hospital at Tatura which was part of the Murchison POW complex.  He missed early repatriation and was to stay in hospital for two and a half months.

Liborio 28 ACH

28th Australian Camp Hospital Tatura

(AWM Image 052452)

The irony of his situation was that while he was approved for early medical repatriation he was too unwell to travel.  His medical condition had deemed him ‘medically’ unfit to work and gave him priority for repatriation on medical grounds. During 1946, several transports for special circumstance cases, left Australia for Naples but Liborio was overlooked.

While he considered himself to be well enough to travel, he was identified as having need for specialist medical attention during the voyage to Italy. He could only be repatriated once as specially fitted out ship became available.

On 10th September 1946, in a letter to the Camp C.O. he presented his case:

Just at the time when the repatriation of the sick was to take place I was in the Waranga military hospital whence I was discharged early in September…

The present repatriation lists from which I have been exclude because repatriation is to be effect by ordinary means (i.e. in ships not especially adapted for transport of the sick) include nearly all the sick who, like me, were then considered as needing attention during the voyage.

Today I will to inform you that, notwithstanding a year’s stay in camp without any special treatment, my condition is such as to enable me to stand the possible discomforts of the trip home; I therefore request to be reinscribed on the above mentioned list, taking upon myself the full and complete responsibility in the event of any possible deterioration of my health.

My family live in Tripolitania and it is my urgent wish to rejoin it in the shortest possible time.  To the above I can only add the prayer that you will kindly consider my request.

The Empire Clyde* returned Liborio to Italy. It was a Royal Navy Hospital Ship which departed Sydney for Naples on 12th December 1946. There were 226 Italian prisoners of war on board who had embarked at Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle.

But Liborio’s return to his family in Tripoli was further delayed. Once he arrived in Naples, he required an operation.  Fighting bureaucracy, he tried to gain permission several times to reach Libya and his wife and parents.

Liborio’s grandson, Liborio Mauro says that “He told her [my grandmother] if I’m not able to join you, I would like to go back in Australia. After 3 times, he finally joined my grandmother in Libya where my father Carmelo was born in Tripoli in 1949.

Tracing Liborio’s journey as a prisoner of war has not been an easy on. His grandson  explains that his records have his name spelt incorrectly: BUONADONNA instead of BONADONNA, LIBRIO instead of LIBORIO.

But passion and determination on the part of grandson Liborio has ensured that Liborio Bonadonna’s story is told and his records and photographs of his time as a prisoner of war in Australia are with the family.

Liborio Mauro says, “All my family are happy and my father is crying for happiness. My grandfather was the most important person in my family.  He was a true gentleman, well-educated and everyone fell in love with him.  He was a strong and simple man.”

*The Empire Clyde was a British Navy war prize from the Abyssinian campaign. It was formerly an Italian passenger liner Leonardo da Vinci.

 

Leonardo Da Vinci-07

 

Liborio and Liborio - Copy

Liborio Bonadonna with his family c 1979, grandson Liborio Mauro on his grandfather’s lap

(photograph from the collection of Liborio Mauro)

 

 

 

 

Regulations for Photographs of Prisoners of War

The following information is from the Report on the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees (NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1 History: Report on the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, 1939-1951: Volume 1 [pp1-279] and Volume 2 [pp280-476] [includes matters relating to internees, prisoners of war, war crimes, Prisoners of War Information Bureau in Australia and a report on the Cowra Breakout escape attempt by Japanese Prisoners of War in August 1944])

This document provides the regulations regarding the policy on PHOTOGRAPHS relating to prisoners of war. 

Following the regulations I have included photos and additional information relating to this history.

12. PW Regulations gave authority to Camp Commandants to arrange the photographing of PW for Identification and record purposes, Reg. 11 (2). These photographs were forwarded to the Prisoners of War Information Bureau for inclusion with other basic records.

13. Provision was also made to prohibit PW from having in their possessions any photographic apparatus, vide Camp Order No. 13, para 15 (a). Strict compliance with this order was demanded at all times.

14. The International Red Cross delegate was authorised to take photographs in PW Camps under the same conditions as applicable to internment camps, vide Chapter 20.  Approval was also given for representatives of the Department of Information to visit camps for the purpose of taking photographs for record purposes only and subject in each case to Command approval.  Press reporters and other photographers were not allowed to enter camps as published stories and pictures could quite easily create wrong impressions and cause unfortunate repercussions.

15. Group photographs of German and Italian PW held in camps, labour detachments or Hostels, and photographs of general camp interest in German and Italian camps, could be taken subject to the conditions hereunder, but group photographs of PW allocated through Control Centres for employment in rural industry were NOT permitted:

(a) Groups were to comprise not less than 10 PW

(b) PW were permitted to purchase two copies of photographs in which they appeared and two copies of photographs of general camp interest, for despatch to relatives

(c) All such photographs were to be taken by Army Photographers who visited camps for the purpose of taking other photographs for historical and record purposes.

(d) Prints were supplied at a cost of 1/6d. each

(e) Items of general camp interest photographed were to include only sports teams, gardens, chapels and theatres

(f) PW being photographed were to be properly dressed (in their national uniforms if possible) except that sports teams could be photographed in their sporting attire

(g) No camp security fencing or other security arrangements were to appear in photographs

16. As PW employed in rural industry had opportunity to have photographs of themselves taken at will, care was taken to ensure that permission was not granted under para 38 (1C) of Camp Order No. 13 for the despatch by them of photographs showing them in the company of women in Australia.

12. Photographs for Identification Purposes

The celluloid negatives for Western Australian Italian prisoners of war are archived in the Sydney branch of the National Archives.  Due to the fragility of and concern for the ongoing preservation for these negatives, a number of photographs have been developed.  They are part of the K1174 series of records.  If you father or grandfather was sent to work in Western Australia, check to see if his identification photograph has survived.

Aurelio CANESE PWI48413 NAA: K1174 Canese, Aurelio

13. PW prohibited to have photographic apparatus

Ermanno Nicoletti was a keen photographer.  His property statement indicates that a roll of film was taken from him upon arrival in Australia. According to the regulations, this roll should have been returned to him upon departure from Australia.

There is a case in India of an Italian prisoner of war constructing an illicit camera: Lido Saltamartini took 2000 photographs with this camera.

Do any families have stories about illicit cameras made in Australia?

Ermanno Nicoletti (NAA: MP1103/2 Nicoletti, Ermanno)

14. The International Red Cross delegate was authorised to take photographs in PW Camps

The archival records from the ICRC are invaluable in helping us ‘see’ this history 75+ years later.  Below is a photo taken at the Morgan Wood Hostel in South Australia.

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Hostel Morgan. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens.

Italian Prisoners of War: Morgan Hostel SA July 1944 ICRC V-P-HIST-01879-22A

15. Group photographs of German and Italian PW held in camps, labour detachments or Hostels, and photographs of general camp interest in German and Italian camps, could be taken subject to the conditions hereunder, but group photographs of PW allocated through Control Centres for employment in rural industry were NOT permitted:

Q4 was the prisoner of war control centre at Gayndah in Queensland. The below photo was taken in the Gayndah district. It captures seven Italian prisoners of war with local ladies and children. There is no record of who took the photo.  Giovanni Cioffi is standing on the left and Marco Liscio is standing second from the right. They both worked on the farm of R.J. Mayfield north of Gayndah Queensland.

Group of Italian prisoners of war and local families Gayndah Queensland c. 1944-45 (photo courtesy of Liscio and Cioffi families)

15 (a) Groups were to comprise not less than 10 PW

Generally speaking, group photos consisted of 10 or more Italian prisoners of war.  There are photos of less than 10 Italians, most likely taken in the camps where officers and their batmen resided.

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D2 Compound, No. 13 POW Group. (AWM Image 030230/01 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

Murchison, Australia. 4 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D1 Compound, No. 13 POW Group. (AWM Image 030237/03 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

15 (b) PW were permitted to purchase two copies of photographs in which they appeared and two copies of photographs of general camp interest, for despatch to relatives

Massimo Gatti is the gentleman with the big smile on his face seated second from the left.  Massimo is one of many Italians who appeared to have taken advantage of the ‘two copies of photographs in which they appeared’ rule.  Massimo Gatti is in not one but five Cowra photos: Sept 1943 and February 1944. Technically, he could buy 10 photos of himself with different groups of friends.

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49515 A. Rosmini; 46586 C. Robbone; 46064 M. Matteini; 45737 B. Gambutti; 46297 O. Novi; 49535 P. Miglietta. Front row: 46096 A. Matteini; 45739 M. Gatti; 45006 B. Arbasi 45740 L. Guarnieri. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM 030149/16 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

15 (e) Items of general camp interest photographed were to include only sports teams, gardens, chapels and theatres

You will notice the model of the colosseum in the centre of the photo and the plinth with an Italian tank just at the right side of the photo. Anecdotal accounts of vegetable garden beds constructed between the barracks are verified by photographs of Hay Camp.  You will notice the care taken to wire off vegetables from rabbits and construct edging around the garden beds and statues. The first residents of Hay Camp were Italian internees. The internees departed for Murchison in May 1941 and the first group of Italian prisoners of war to arrive in Australia ‘marched in’ late May 1941. By the time this photograph was taken, Hay Camp is well established.

Hay, NSW. 1944-01-16 The craftmanship of the Italian Prisoners of War is illustrated by this garden at the 16th Garrison Battalion Prisoner of War Detention Camp. Note the model of the Coliseum in the foreground. (AWM Image 063365 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

15 (f) PW being photographed were to be properly dressed (in their national uniforms if possible) except that sports teams could be photographed in their sporting attire

How did the Italians procure sports shirts, shin guards and socks? Possibly they were provided by the YMCA, a group instrumental in providing sporting, music and craft equipment for the Italian prisoners of war.

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in C Compound, No. 13 POW Group. Shown here are: 65915 F. Pieri; 65987 C. Rossi; 65209 G. Baffa; 65710 V. La Rocca; 65370 F. Carone; 65230 E. Baruzzi; 65197 A. Armeni; 65237 F. Battisti; 65300 L. Bruno; 65602 G. Furioli; 65398 S. Cavillin; 65864 A. Pacini. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030231/14 Photographer Stewart, Ronald Leslie)

15 (g) No camp security fencing or other security arrangements were to appear in photographs

Obviously the photographer of this photo was not aware of this regulation! Or possibly, because the photo was taken in November 1945, concerns over the photographing of security installations had been relaxed.

Liverpool, NSW 1945-11-23. Prisoner of War and Internment Camp. NX167806 Private L. Patchett on Guard in a searchlight equipped sentry tower. (AWM Image 123756 Photographer L. Cpl. E. McQuillan)

16. As PW employed in rural industry had opportunity to have photographs of themselves taken at will, care was taken to ensure that permission was not granted under para 38 (1C) of Camp Order No. 13 for the despatch by them of photographs showing them in the company of women in Australia.

The regulation was clear, ‘no fraternization with women’.  Farming families however did take photographs of the Italian prisoners of war with family members.  The Italians were photographed with family groups for Christmas, Boxing Day picnic at the beach, with grandma, grandpa and children of all ages.  Many farming families had the attitude: ‘no harm done’.

Ruby Robinson standing and Olive Munro (nee Robinson) seated with three men from the province of Lecce:  Antonio Colomba, Antonio Alfarano (Alfarno) and Giuseppe Vergine Robinson Family Orchard via Gayndah (photo courtesy of Avis Hildreth)

Dr Georges Morel

Georges Morel was a Swiss Doctor of Economics who was appointed to Australia as the officially accredited representative of the International Committee for the Red Cross, Geneva in February 1941.

Dr Georges Morel [1941 ‘HAS KEY TO CAMPS OF INTERNEES’, The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), 1 March, p. 2. (LAST RACE ALL DETAILS), viewed 07 Feb 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231204582]

He was responsible for visiting internees and prisoners of war held in camps in Australia and to ensure that the conditions of the Geneva Convention regarding prisoners of war were upheld.

With an understanding of ten languages, Dr Morel was free to enter any camp at will, reside in a camp if so desired and leave without permission. Internees and prisoners of war were at liberty to speak freely with Dr Morel and communicate any complaints.

His comprehensive reports were shared with the Australian Government via the Minister of State for External Affairs. All reports were written in French, the language of the ICRC.

Copies of Dr Morel’s reports are archived in the National Archives of Australia and three files covering the period 1942-1944 are available for viewing: search terms to use – Red Cross Dr Morel.

In May 1944 on a visit to Western Australia, he was reported as saying, “My main task is to visit the camps whether the POWs are Germans or Italians…in addition I must keep in permanent touch with Australian Government departments, the Army and various branches of the Red Cross. However the first task is to see that the convention is being strictly applied and from my observations elsewhere [in Australia]I can say quite frankly that the conditions in Australian camps are very good. The treatment, food and clothing are in fact, excellent. Australian officers and guards have tried to help in many minor matters as well as in more important subjects, and I have received 100 per cent co-operation at Army Headquarters, Melbourne and from the Government.

Naturally there are complaints at every camp and these are quite minor matters. The complains have been rectified. Australia actually applies the International convention very generously in regard to POWs and internees, and in all my reports to the International Red Cross Committee I have stressed that conditions in Australia are good.” [1944 ‘VISIT TO P.O.W. CAMPS’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 19 May, p. 6. , viewed 07 Feb 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44809894%5D

Hand in hand with the written reports are the photographic records of Dr Morel’s visits. These photos can be found at : Archives of the ICRC . You will need to register as a user but this process is easy.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle-Galles du sud, camp de Cowra. Camp A, Série B. Groupe 24 avec le délégué CICR. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp A, serie B. Group 24 with the ICRC delegate.

Cowra Camp A September 1942 Dr Morel seated centre with officials of the camp including Padre Lenti (ICRC V-P-HIST-01881-02)

Dr Morel died in October 1945 and his wife Eugenia continued his work temporarily until the arrival of Dr Pierre Descoeudres in May 1946.

It is with thanks to the Red Cross and the work of their delegates like Dr Morel that there is a comprehensive and neutral record of the internee and prisoner of war camps in Australia.

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