Category Archives: New South Wales Italian POWS

Camp 379 Qassassin

Prisoner of War Camp Quassassin was situated 35 kms by rail west of Ismalia on the Suez Canal; 230 kms SE of Alexandria and 74 kms from Geneifa.

On the map below, El Qassasin, Ismalia and Geneifa are identified.

(http://www.sunsandcanal.co.uk/canal-zone-map.html)

One Italian prisoner of war, Leonido Tassinari and his documentation assists us in understanding the journey of Italians serving with the navy at Tobruk.

Leonido Tassinari

Leonido was a gunner on the San Giorgio which was stationed in Tobruk Harbour when he was ‘captured’ on 22nd January 1941.

TOBRUK HARBOUR, 1941. ITALIAN GUNNERY TRAINING SHIP SAN GIORGIO WHICH WAS REDUCED TO A WRECK BY ATTACKS OF NAVAL AIRCRAFT AND RAF BOMBERS AT TOBRUK BETWEEN 1940-06 AND JANUARY 1941. (AWM Image P00090.026)

Leonido was processed at Quassassin on 5th March 1941.  His form is stamped in Geneifa Camp 15th September 1941. 

On 24th September Leonida and 988 other Italian prisoners of war boarded the Queen Mary. Around this same time, 948 Italian prisoners of war boarded the Queen Elizabeth.

Elio Spandonari

Elio Spandonari also served in the Italian navy at Tobruk. He wrote that from the Tobruk airfield which was used as a temporary prisoner of war compound, a group was taken to the port of Tobruk and boarded on a rusty boat.  The boat landed the men in Alexandria and they were taken to a concentration camp near the sea which was guarded by Polish soldiers*.  After a short stay, a group of marines were taken to a camp near Ismailia: El Quassassin (El Kassassin). Elio recalls that after many months, he was transferred to a camp close to Suez then the men in total about 2000 were transferred to the Port of Suez to be boarded on a ship: destination unknown.

“Il traghetto procedeva lentamente, però man mano la cittadina di Suez incominciava a rimpicciolirsi sino a diventare una striscia continua e incolore. Le navi ferme alle boe furono sorpassate e davanti a noi e, al di fuori di un enorme scafo poco distante non vi era più nulla, solo mare aperto.

Mai più pensavamo che quello fosse il mezzo destinato a trasportarci verso la destinazione che finalmente ci avevano comunicato: Australia, terra così lontana. Altre incognite, si andava verso posti sconosciuti…

Quel grande scafo con tre grossi fumaioli con una grande ‘C’ (Cunard Line) era la nave destinata al nostro trasporto. Era la Queen Mary, allora il più grande transatlantico del  mondo, stazza 80000 tonnellate, una montagna di acciaio.” (from Diario per Laura by Elio Spandonari)

Together, Tassinari’s documents and Spandonari’s testimony provide a timeline from capture at Tobruk Libya to arrival at Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Australia.

Port Tewfik was where the Italians boarded a ferry to be taken to the Queen Mary. The Queen Mary departed Suez on the 24th September 1941.  It arrived in Ceylon at Trincomalee, a deep-water harbour on 1st October 1941.  On the 7th October 1941, the Queen Mary sailed into Fremantle Harbour Western Australia. Coming in through Sydney Heads and sailing under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Queen Mary disembarked her passengers on the 13th October 1941.

On the 14th October 1941, the first residents of Cowra Prisoner of War Camp arrived.

The Italian prisoners of war on the Queen Elizabeth arrived in Sydney on the 15th October 1941 and ‘marched in’ to Cowra Camp 16th October 1941.

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

1st November 1941 Cowra PW Camp 12 Section D (ICRC V-P-HIST-01879-25)

Elio Spandonari, Ippolito Moscatelli , Leonido Tassinari Giuseppe Loprieno.

All four men served in the Italian Navy and were captured 21-22nd January 1941 at Tobruk.

There were a total of 339 marines from Tobruk on board the Queen Mary’s voyage to Australia in October 1941. It was almost nine months from the time the marines were captured to their arrival in Australia.

*Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade – a group of Polish soldiers, trained by the British in Latrun Palestine; they assisted the Australians and British during the Siege of Tobruk April 1941- December 1941.

A Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Every document, relic and memory relating to this history is special. Each item is invaluable.

A special thank you to Giuseppe Lutro’s family for sharing another ‘missing piece to our historical puzzle’.

Giuseppe was from Albidoni Cosenza and is seated third left in the photo below.

Yanco, Australia. 23 January 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 15 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49640 Luigi La Favia; 47004 Luciano Zanon; 47915 Giovanni Bronzi; 49591 Pietro Perazzi; 49913 Quinto Spognetta; 49663 Carmine Ialongo; 48679 Angelo Tergorelli. Front row: 49858 Lorenzo Laurenti; 45570 Cesare De Angelis; 48160 Giuseppe Lutro; 46813 Pietro Salerno; 46889 Mario Paolocci. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030171/11 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

His Service and Casualty Card record his repatriation date: 31st December 1946 “Ormonde” but with thanks to Giuseppe we also know his arrival date in Naples Italy: 27th January 1947.

Giuseppe kept his arrival card Nave “Ormonde” 27-1.47. This card also confirms that part of the process upon arrival in Naples was to report to the Accommodation Centre in Naples (San Martino).

Recognition of Landing 27-1-1947 (photo courtesy of Nicola Lutro)

Logistically, I have always wondered how the Italian prisoners of war were processed upon arrival in Naples.  How did the Australian guard unit convey to the Italians the next stage of the process?  The Ormonde landed 2231 Italians. 

Now I know. With thanks to Giuseppe Lutro, I now know that the Italian military officials had printed cards, to be distributed to each man as he disembarked.  The card provided information for the next stage of the journey: to report to the Accommodation Centre.

This was most likely the first official document written in Italian the men had read in seven years.  Finally, they were almost home.

Ricordo della mia prigionia Australia

Ian Szafranek has shared two beautiful embroideries sewn by his grandfather Giuseppe Spagnolo while he was in Australia.  Giuseppe arrived in Australia on the Queen Elizabeth 15th October 1941 and departed on the Oranje (a hospital ship) on the 29th March 1943.

The initials within the red heart V G in the Arcangelo work represents Giuseppe’s love for his wife Vita. It was sewn in Cowra 1942.

Arcangelo 1942 (photo courtesy of Ian Szafranek)

Giuseppe  completed Santa Lucia in 1943. Santa Lucia is the patron saint of the blind and her name means light.

These embroideries are poignant and personal reminders of a Giuseppe Spagnolo and treasured keepsakes for his family.

Santa Lucia 1943 (photo courtesy of Ian Szafranek)

Read more about Giuseppe Spagnolo as told by his grandson Ian:

The Incredible Life of Giuseppe Spagnolo

Impersonating an Officer

So many Italian prisoners of war, so many individual stories.

I found Giuseppe Spinelli by accident.

A solicitor from Rome, Giuseppe was with an artillery unit when he was captured in Bardia 4th January 1941.

Upon arrival in Australia on 13th October 1941, his rank was recorded as “Lieutenant”

It was 13 months before the authorities realised that the rank of Giuseppe Spinelli was sergeant.

I thought, did Giuseppe believe he could impersonate an officer?

Did the officers in the camps of Egypt and on the voyage to Australia not realise his deceit?

I offer the suggestion that Giuseppe Spinelli was suffering from a serious injury or medical condition. 

Groups of Italian prisoners of war were being sent to Australia and my suggestion is that an Italian medical officer claimed him to be a lieutenant to accelerate his chances of getting out of Egypt and to better medical care!

Giuseppe arrived in Sydney on the Queen Mary on 13th October 1941.  On this transport, there were 110 Italian officers. Giuseppe did not travel by train to Cowra with the other Italians. Instead on the 14th October 1941, Giuseppe was taken to 113 AGH (Australian General Hospital) in Concord Sydney.

CONCORD MILITARY HOSPITAL. PHOTOGRAPH PUBLISHED IN AUSTRALIA IN THE WAR OF 1939-45, MEDICAL, VOL 2, MIDDLE EAST AND FAR EAST, PAGE 431. (AWM Image 043228)

The newspapers reported that two ambulances ‘took away two stretcher cases and a few other men who were sick’.

1941 ‘Prisoners of War’, Glen Innes Examiner (NSW: 1908 – 1954), 14 October, p. 1. , viewed 20 Aug 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article178556884

Upon arrival in Australia, he had a box of medicine which was returned to him on the 9th December 1941.

Giuseppe spent from 14th October 1941 in the 113 AGH until 5th December when he arrived at Murchison Camp.

Two months later, on the 5th February 1942, his record states: Falsely stated Lieut. – his status is Sgt.  

Maybe one day, Giuseppe’s family will tell me more of his story.

A first…

Sometimes, the little details get missed.

I have seen a letter dated XXII, a plaque for a Cowra fountain dated XXI but for the first time I have seen a date for the fascist calendar used on a REPORT ON PRISONER OF WAR: XIX.

Rocco Cariglia was with Maritime Command Tobruk when he was captured in Libya on 5th January 1941.  On 22nd October 1941, nine days after arriving in Australia, he signed and dated his Report on Prisoner of War.

Is this unusual? 

I doubt that the Australian army clerk processing the form or Lieutenant McCarthy who signed the form noticed these few strokes of the pencil/pen.

And if they did, did they realise the statement Rocco was making.

Rocco Cariglia from Gargamico [Foggia]

From Cowra Camp Rocco was transferred to Murchison Camp in Victoria before being transferred to Western Australia. He departed Australia on the Chitral in September 1946.

This discovery is a reminder that the prisoner of war forms are filled with little bits of information which helps create ‘the bigger picture’.

Baldo’s War

Baldo Valeri was with an infantry division when he was transferred from Italy to Libya.  He is seated in the front row, first right with his friends.

His time in battle was short; he was captured on the second day of the Battle of Bardia 4th January 1941.

When he arrived in Australia in May1941 he had been in the army for 40 months.

Libya: Baldo Valeri seated front row right (photo courtesy of Geremia Valeri)

Fortune was his. It is documented that 40,000 Italians were captured at Bardia. Like winning the lottery, Baldo was lucky to be directed to board the Queen Mary on 6th May 1941 for Australia. Only 2,016 Italian prisoners of war were on this voyage: the first group of Italians to be sent directly to Australia.

From Sydney Harbour he boarded a train for a journey to Hay Camp.

Then Yanco Camp became Baldo’s home for two and a half years.  Yanco Camp was home to 700-800 Italians growing vegetables, tending to a dairy herd and piggery as well as producing supplies of vegetable seeds for the Commonwealth Government.

Eight hundred men need feeding.  The supply of meat per 100 men per week was recorded as: 300 pounds beef, (136kg) 255 pounds mouton, (116kg) and 35 pounds sausages, (16 kg).  A quick calculation equates to 1088 kg beef and 928 kg mouton for 800 men per week. The photo below taken at Yanco Camp illustrates that butchers were important to the operation of the camps.

It seems reasonable to assume that Baldo, a butcher, worked in the meat room at Yanco Camp.

Yanco, NSW. 1944-02-01. Two Italian prisoner of war (POWs) butchers cutting up the day’s meat ration in the butchers shop of No. 15 POW Camp. (AWM Image 063945 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Yanco, Australia. 23 January 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 15 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 46978 Baldo Valeri; 46655 Guido Rosato; 46688 Pasquale Montepara; 45351 Nicola Catalano; 46891 Ernesto Tamburino; 47902 Raffaele Blasioli; 45248 Donato Cipriani. Front row: 45585 Luigi Di Cioccio; 46271 Andrea Moscatelli; 48096 Emilio Grisanti; 45719 Antonio Fafone; 45043 Pellegrino Acquaviva. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

The Yanco kitchen was situated within the barracks used  as a dining room.  The kitchen had a large oven and cookers, four rooms for provisions, a cold room and a bakery where four bakers baked bread daily for the men.

The photo of the kitchen at Yanco below, highlights the industry of the men. It must have been a sense of relief for bakers, cooks, pastry chefs and butchers to work in their field of experience.

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoner of war (POWs) cooks at No. 15 POW Camp preparing a meal in one of the camp kitchens. (AWM Image 063915 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Baldo was also accommodated at Cowra and Liverpool Camps.  Upon his return to Naples on the Ormonde 27th January 1947, Baldo had been a prisoner of war for six years.

Baldo’s son Geremia writes about his father’s life after return to Italy, “La sua vita è stata difficile,ma una volta tornato in Italia ,ha dedicato tutte le sue energie sul lavoro, per il benessere di noi figli.

Le uniche cose che lui ha riportato dalla prigionia, sono una ciotola di alluminio,dove mangiava,un piccolo vocabolario inglese-italiano, e un pezzo di stoffa bordoeux, che usavamo come coperta. Mi raccontava sempre un episodio, dove lui cercava di sottrarre qualche patata dal magazzino, perché aveva fame. Il vigilante del campo se ne accorse e lo colpi con il calcio del fucile. Lui avrebbe voluto tornare in Australia per lavorare, ma non trovò nessuno che gli facesse l’atto di richiamo.”

Baldo Valeri outside his shop in Vittorito (photo courtesy of Geremia Valeri)

Baldo and Cesira celebrating 50 years of marriage with their son Geremia (photo courtesy of Geremia Valeri)

un papa di Vittorito

About the time Baldo Valeri was transferred from Hay Camp to Yanco Camp, Baldo’s wife Cesira sent her husband a photo of his two daughters.

c. 1942 Daughters of Baldo and Cesira Valeri

(photo courtesy of Geremia Valeri)

Baldo arrived home to Italy in January 1947. During those five years since capture, his daughters had grown up. His wife and children had endured the bombings by the Germans, hunger and misery.

During the war, the Royal Air Force Baltimores were active in the area.  They bombed a chemical factory and road networks during February 1944 at the foot of the mountains near Popoli.

Popoli is five kilometres from Vittorito and suffered a tragic and direct hit from the Royal Air Force bombs on 22nd March 1944 at midday. On that day, people gathered in the town centre outside the town hall to collect rations.  Women and children were lined up waiting for rations in a long queue when the city hall was bombed.  The day is remembered as a day of sorrow when many people were killed or wounded.

How emotionally and mentally difficult it must have been for Baldo to know what was happening in Italy. How helpless he must have felt; unable to protect and comfort his wife and little girls.

Baldo and Cesira Valeri with a grandchild (photo courtesy of Geremia Valeri)

Baldo’s youngest child Geremia [born after his father’s return to Vittorito] explains the situation of his mother and father, “Per loro sono stati anni molto difficili, e senza la presenza di mio padre.Quando mio padre è tornato,si sono rimboccati le maniche,e lavorando duramente si sono creati un avvenire. Dopo la guerra  hanno avuto altri due figli….io sono l’ultimo.”

Figli di Baldo Geremia, Laura, Leda and Rosanna

(photo courtesy of Geremia Valeri)

Uniform Regulations

Article 12 of the PW Convention, inter-alia, reads:-

“Clothing, underwear and footwear shall be supplied to prisoners of war by the detaining Power. The regular replacement and repair of such articles shall be assured.  Workers shall also receive working kit wherever the nature of the work requires it.”

What the records tell us

All prisoners of war were allowed to wear their badges of rank and insignia on their uniforms.

Clothing items, except for pyjamas, could not be purchased from the Canteen.

Clothing Issue

1 hat (a)1 hair brush
1 overcoat (a)1 shaving brush
2 coats, medical detachment (a)1 toothbrush
2 pairs of trousers, medical detachment (a)2 pairs of short cotton underwear (b)
1 pullover, labour detachment (a)1 comb
1 pair of trousers, labour detachment (a)2 pairs of woollen and cotton underwear (c)
1 pair of shorts (a) (b)1 jersey pullover (c)
1 pair of shoes1 safety razor with blade (d)
1 pair of laces2 flannel shirts
1 pair of braces2 cotton singlets (b)
2 pairs of woollen socks2 wool and cotton singlets (c)
2 towels3 cotton handkerchiefs
  • (a) Dyed burgundy
  • (b) Summer
  • (c) Winter
  • (d)One new blade a week in exchange for old blade

N.C.O.s and other prisoners of war

This group received a free issue of clothing and necessaries.

All articles were replaced free of charge when necessary.  Facilities were provided for repairs to shoes and clothing and prisoners of war employed as bootmakers, tailors, cobblers.

Prisoner of War Officers

Officers and men of equivalent rank must provide their own items and paid for at their expense. The clothing was manufactured in Australia and issued by authorities. Replacement officer uniforms were made after measurements were taken.  Completed uniforms were made in a venetian grey material, and cost approx. £5 each. The exception was for Japanese officers who were supplied with magenta dyed Australian Military Forces uniforms only but were allowed to wear any national uniforms they had in their possession.

Guerre 1939-1945. Myrtleford. Camp 5 B. Prisonniers de guerre italiens.

Camp 5B Myrtleford June 1943 ICRC V-P-HIST-03290-33A

Merchant Seamen Prisoners of War

Both officers and other ranks merchant seamen were provided with clothing and other items free of charge. Merchant Seamen officers and other ranks did not receive a payment as did other prisoner of war. When arrested, they had been in the employment of shipping companies. There was no agreement with the Italian government to provide a stipend (payment) for merchant seamen.

For this group, the seven first articles on the above list were replaced by a peaked cap, an overcoat, a vest and a pair of trousers suitable for merchant marines.  The material used was a dark green cloth.  The two flannel shirts were grey and had two collars each.  A blue tie was also issued.

What do the photos from Myrtleford Camp tell us

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. Groupe numéro 27. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp. Group number 27.

Non regulation overcoat possibly made from government issue blanket (centre)

Group Number 27 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-27

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. Groupe numéro 23. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp. Group number 23.

Non regulation fleecy winter vests Group Number 23 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-32

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp.

Handmade plaited belt?

February 1945 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-19A

Guerre 1939-1945. Myrtleford. Prisonniers de guerre italiens.

Regardless of being a prisoner of war, the officers wore their uniforms with pride

Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-03290-36A

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.

Nonno Peppino

Memories from Ippolito Moscatelli (Messaggero di Sant’Antonio July-August 2021)

A special thank you to Sara Bavato for her continued support of the Italian prisoner of war research project and her article in the latest publication of Messaggero di Sant’Antonio. Click on the link below to read the article…

Every Italian prisoner of war took something small home to Italy. It might be a memory of flying fish and dolphins, a button from the POW uniform, a dictionary, a theatre program or a chess set.

The history of Italian prisoners of war is enriched by these items. Each item adds new understanding to the life of the Italian prisoner of war in Australia.

Ippolito’s granddaughter Francesca continues to discover bits and pieces of her nonno’s collection and each one brings new meaning to her nonno’s life.

Pastel by Ippolito Moscatelli 11 November 1945 (courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)