Category Archives: Outside of Queensland

Italian Interpreters

A 3rd June 1941 article reported that with the impending arrival of Italian prisoners of war to Australia, there was an urgent need for more interpreters.  The prerequisites for the job: a thorough knowledge of Italian; British-born with a preference given to those outside the AIF age limit.

It is interesting that on 27th May 1941, over 2000 Italian prisoners of war had already landed in Sydney and been transferred to Hay PW Camp.

On 23th June 1941 a newspaper report told the story of a 28 year old Maltese cook. The Maltese cook was the first to apply for an interpreter job, being fluent in English, Italian, Arabic and Latin.

In a July 1941 report, two months after the arrival of the Italian prisoners of war at Hay, there were no Australian army interpreters on site. “There are no interpreters in this Camp and not one of the P.O.W.s can speak English… The need for interpreters was obvious from every angle of administration, discipline, medical, dental, control of working parties, etc. This lack of interpreters places a great strain on the effective administration and is one that calls for immediate adjustment.” In quick response to this report,two sergeant interpreters had been dispatched to Hay, but “the appointees are not Italians”.

By 13th June 1942, it is reported that Sapper W.M. Crichton had been appointed as an interpreter to Italian prisoners of war.  Sapper Crichton had entered Tobruk on the day of its capture 22nd January 1941; acted as interpreter for Italian civilian engineers who helped repair water pipes carrying water to a prisoner of war camp housing 80,000 prisoners; on the ship from Middle East to India, acted as interpreter for 1000 Italian prisoners who were landed at Bombay.  He also spoke French and Arabic.

A December 1942 report for Cowra Camp indicates that the official allocation for Cowra Camp was eight Lieutenants and eight sergeants: two officers and two N.C.O.s per compound.  The reality was that the deficiency of staff was six officers and 2 sergeants.  Cowra Camp accommodated: 12A Italian prisoners of war, 12B Javanese Civilians, 12C Italian civilian internees, 12D Italian prisoners of war and Japanese prisoners of war.

The interpreters were as follows:

Camps 12A and 12B:

Lieutenant with Italian, German and French. Fair linguist and helpful type.

Sergeant with Italian, Maltese, Latin, French. Maltese and very good linguist. Hates Italians.

Sergeant with Italian, German, French, Spanish, Arabic and Latin. Egyptian born. Good Italian linguist. Suspected of fraternising with PW.

Camps 12C and 12D:

Lieutenant with Italian, Japanese, German, Malay, French, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish. A Russian Jew who is prone to fraternisation. Useful with Japanese in the absence of other Japanese interpreters.

Sergeant with Spanish, Italian, French, Maltese, Greek, Arabic, Latin. Maltese with poor English but a good Italian linguist. Does not fraternise with PW.

Sergeant with Italian, French, Spanish. Frenchman. Honest and trustworthy. Fair linguist.

Sergeant with Italian, French, Maltese.  Maltese. Good linguist. Believed not to fraternise.

Sergeant with Italian, Arabic. Maltese. Fair linguist but unreliable.  A non-fraterniser with PW.

By 18th April 1944, there was further need for Italian interpreters as was advertised in the newspapers:

1944 ‘Italian Interpreters Needed’, Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1915 – 1954), 18 April, p. 2. , viewed 11 Mar 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article194605597

With the transfer of Italian PWs from camps to control centres and farming communities there was an increased need for interpreters. Across Australia, there were 96 control centres.

Notice that by 1944, instead of ‘British subjects’ only being accepted, applications would also be taken from ‘naturalised Italians’.

Unfortunately, this is a topic for which very little has been documented.

Food…Sport…Work

Elio Spandonari spent eight months in the Cowra POW Camp 1941-1942 before a transfer to Murchison Camp and farm work in Victoria. In 1995 he wrote his memoirs as a gift to his granddaughter Laura. His memories of his time as a soldier and prisoner of war were remarkably crystal clear.

Elio Spandonari PWI48720 (NAA: A7919, C 104362)

His account of Cowra Camp offers invaluable insight into the daily life and routines of a prisoner of war. Elio details his arrival at camp, the buildings, working with the wood cutting gang, the sports equipment provided by the YMCA and FOOD.

Food was scarce in the POW Camps in Egypt while Cowra Camp was remembered for its abundance. Elio wrote:

“The first impression of the new guards was quite benevolent, they treated us with humanity and since we were considered undernourished, we were forced to overeat consisting of the double ration of the Australian military. A huge amount of food was delivered to us every day and we had to consume it; ironically: in Africa [Libya and Egypt] little or nothing, here too much!

Meat, salted butter, jam in quantity, dehydrated fruit of all kinds, sugar, tea, were in such abundance that, to demonstrate the complete scale of the rations, at times (and I am sorry to say it still now …) it was destroyed by throwing it in the waste incinerator furnace.

After a short time as a suggestion, we asked for a reduction in rations and, instead of sweets, we asked for spaghetti and tomato sauce.

The daily dishes that consisted of pasta seasoned in abundance with meat and tomato sauce or minestrone, were generally very abundant so that the Australian guards were almost always present at lunchtime, consuming it often and willingly among us.

This fattening cycle lasted more than three months. In the camp, various pancetta [fat like a pig], red and ruddy faces appeared, and the need arose to be able to apply themselves to some physical exercise.

Elio’s memories reflect that of primary sources. Dr Georges Morel, representative for the International Committee for the Red Cross visited Cowra Camp 11th -12th November 1941.  In his report he recorded the menu of the week.

Saturday’s menu: 15th November 1941

Breakfast: Fresh fruit, cereal and milk, fired sausages with onion gravy, mashed potatoes, bread, butter, jam, tea

Lunch: Corned beef and carrots, fried potatoes, cabbage, bread and butter pudding, bread, butter, tea

Dinner: Spaghetti, apricots and custard, bread, butter, tea

Supper: Pea Soup

Thanks to the interest of a Protestant religious organization, the Y.M.C.A., We obtained the tools necessary for the practice of various sports: football, tennis, volleyball, basket ball and even table tennis.

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Cowra. Le jeu de hand-ball World War 1939-1945. Cowra’s camp. The play of handball.

Cowra Camp c. 1941/42 ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-26

These sports activities were also practiced at a competitive level.

In addition to this, I also had the opportunity to be a lumberjack. Early in the morning, teams of volunteers left the camp to reach, after a long march, a large eucalyptus forest. Equipped with saws and hatchets, we cut down trees that had already been marked previously and, reduced to pieces, they were loaded onto trucks and taken to the camp for cooking or other uses.

It was a welcome pastime that broke the monotony of the camp and on that occasion I was able to see part of the Australian fauna in its environment. Possums, koalas, flying foxes, the barking lizard, the laughing bird, a multitude of parrots, wild rabbits, kangaroos, emus (ostriches) and various varieties of unwelcome reptiles moved at a safe distance around us.

COWRA, NSW. 1944-02-04. ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR MEMBERS OF THE WOOD CUTTING PARTY OF THE 12TH AUSTRALIAN PRISONER OF WAR CAMP FELLING A LARGE TREE AT CANIMBLA CREEK.

(Elio was not at Cowra in 1944. The photo is used for illustrative purposes)

Il Mulo

Ricordati che in guerra sono indispensabile: io solo ti porto armi, munizioni, viveri e notizie dei tuoi cari.

Il primo documento rintracciato dove il mulo “parla” in prima persona, compare su L’ALPINO del 1° agosto 1941. Come indicato nell’articolo, senza menzione dell’autore, questo decalogo era tratto da un foglietto volante largamente diffuso sul fronte greco a cura del Comando Superiore Forze Armate.

Soldati con muli in marcia verso le prime linee nella primavera 1941

IL MULO al suo conducente

1 – Ti servirò fino al sacrificio: dammi però ciò che mi necessita per servirti.

2 – Ricordati che in guerra sono indispensabile: io solo ti porto armi, munizioni, viveri e notizie dei tuoi cari.

3 – Trattami con dolcezza e pazienza, se non vuoi rendermi nervoso e costringermi a sferrare qualche calcio. Non darmi strapponi alle redini: essi mi fanno male alla bocca.

4 – Sono ruvido e brutto con le mie lunghe orecchie. Ma sotto la ruvidezza è la mia forza, la mia resistenza, la mia sobrietà.

5 – Cerca di tenermi pulito: si salverai così dalle malattie, parassitarie, specie dalla rogna, che dovrai temere più della peste. Ricorda che “buon governo vale metà razione”: se non mi pulisci diventerò magro e triste per la sporcizia.

6 – Toglimi il basto e i finimenti appena terminato il lavoro. Asciugami se sono bagnato e sudato: strofinami con paglia o altro e riparami, se possibile, dall’acqua e dal vento: mi salverai così da reumatismi, tosse, polmonite e coliche pericolose.

7 – Non lasciarmi all’aperto di notte col cattivo tempo e col freddo. Se non ci sono baracche od altri ricoveri: cerca di farmi riparo con un po’ di ramaglie o coprimi con un copertone o qualche coperta vecchia.

8 – Sorveglia i miei pasti: dammi da bere e da mangiare: a stomaco vuoto anch’io come te non posso lavorare. Se il lavoro ti fa venire appetito, pensa che lo stesso succede a me e se tu hai qualche cosa da mangiare ed io nulla, dividi un poco con me la pagnotta e la galletta.

Soldati con muli in marcia lungo un sentiero nell’inverno 1941.

9 – Durante le marce fammi bere dove si offra l’occasione di una roggia, di una polla montana, ecc., specialmente nella stagione estiva. Cerca che l’acqua dove mi fai bere sia possibilmente pulita: sai che io sono schifiltoso e che l’acqua troppo sporca mi fa male.

10- Tu sai che noi due dobbiamo essere indivisibili e conosci la nostra importanza per assicurare i rifornimenti ai tuoi compagni in linea. Per noi non c’è riposo, ma dobbiamo mantenerci in forze per continuare il nostro lavoro. Se sei stanco, pensa che anch’io sono stanco, anche se non posso dirlo: non ti attaccare alla mia coda, non mi montare, io non reagirei per affezione, ma forse tu provocheresti così la mia morte per troppa fatica.

Soldati con muli in cammino verso le linee nemiche nella primavera 1941

11- Sorvegliami nelle salite e discese: accorciami la braca in discesa, perché il carico non mi scenda sul collo e mi spinga a cadere: allungami invece la braca quando vado in salita e, se la salita è forte, accorciami il pettorale, perché il carico non scenda sulle reni. In discesa tienimi a guinzaglio lento perché io possa io possa vedere dove metto i piedi, ma sii pronto a sostenermi se inciampo. Nelle salite lascia lungo il guinzaglio.

12- Sorveglia i miei piedi tutti i giorni, affinché i ferri siano sempre in ordine, ben saldo agli zoccoli, rinnovati a tempo debito.

13- Se perdo un ferro in marcia e vuoi che io ti segua ovunque fammelo riattaccare subito, perché “ferro perduto, mulo perduto”. Mantieni puliti i miei zoccoli dalle immondizie che vi si accumulano, specialmente sotto: così mi salverai da varie malattie ai piedi.

14- I buoni trattamenti varranno per me come gli encomi e le ricompense per te.

15- Ricorda tutte le mie benemerenze a favore dell’Esercito, in pace e in guerra e vogliami bene.

Soldati con mulo che trasporta artiglieria da campo nella primavara 1941

Soldiers of the Greco-Italian War 1940-1941

The invasion of Greece at the end of October 1940 resulted in changing borders between Greece and Albania. 

The Italians pushed into Greece, the Greeks withdrew. 

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Italian_War)

The Greeks pushed into Albania, the Italians withdrew. 

The Albanian/Greek border was fluid.  Some Italian prisoners record themselves as having been captured at Nevizza Greece while other record that they were captured at Nevizza Albania.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Italian_War)

It is my pleasure to introduce you to some of the Italian soldiers from this battlefront who arrived in Australia in 1941. The amazing photos are from Archivio Centrale dello Stato [www.acs.beniculturali.it]. They provide an invaluable insight into the life of the soldier in Greece and Albania.

November 1940

1.11.40 Verniku Albania: Ottavio Tommolillo, 49th Inf, an accountant from Napoli

15.11.40 Monte Ivan Albania: Francesco Spada, 41st inf, a teacher from Riposto Catania

15.11.40 Cocli Greece: Giammaria Zappimbulso, 48th Inf., a teacher from San Michele Bari

16.11.40 Cippo 9 Confine Greco Albanese: Antonio Vaglio, Inf., a student from Noha Lecce

29.11.40 NW Permeti Albania: Eugenio Stragiotti, 41st Reg. Inf., a student from Genoa

Un carro armato M13 40 con un carrista in torretta nel novembre 1940

Operazioni oltre il confine greco albanese nel novembre 1940

Postazione contraerea nell’autunno-inverno 1940

Korca November1940

I bersaglieri su un camion nei pressi della Moschea Vecchia di Tirana nel novembre 1940

Soldati puntano una mitragliatrice antiaerea verso il cielo nel novembre 1940

Sbarco degli alpini in un campo di aviazione in Albania dagli apparecchi delle aviolinee nel novembre 1940

December 1940

3.12.40 Delvino Greece: Severino Bartoli, Inf., a farm worker from Cintilese [?] Pistoia

3.12.40 Premeti: Carlo Fossati, Inf., a mechanic from Lissone Milano

13.12.40 Sella Di Golem Albania: Guilio Vattuone, 42nd Inf. Reg., a teacher from Bologna

22.12.40 Himara Greece: Luigi Torrini, an agricultural expert from Pozzuolo per Casamaggiore Perugia

23.12.40 Klisura Greece: Ernesto Simonetto, Alpine Troop, a student from Padova

Neve su un campo di aviazione in Albania nel dicembre 1940

Bombe sotto la neve in un campo di aviazione in Albania nel dicembre 1940

Alpini on watch on the Albanian front, winter of 1940-1941

Una nostra mitragliatrice colpita nell’inverno 1940

Soldato attinge l’acqua da un serbatoio nell’autunno-inverno 1940

Alpini davanti ad un posto di ristori per soldati nell’autunno-inverno 1940

Postazione contraerea nell’autunno-inverno 1940

January 1941

4.1.41 Pogradec Albania: Giuseppe Tanzi, 84th Reg. Inf., a teacher from Citta Di Castello Perugia

22.1.41 Ali Baliban Albania: Ugo Tobino, 31st Inf. Res., a student from Genoa

24.1.41 Bubesit Albania: Agostino Zamparutti 8th Aline Reg., a student from San Pietro al Natisone Udine

25.1.41 Mala Spadarit Albania: Mario Schiapparoli, Aline, a student/clerk from Roma

31.1.41 Clisura Greece: Guglielmo Tizzoni, Batt. Mortar Div, a teacher from Arluno Milano

Alpini in alta montagna utilizzano uno strumento ottico nell’inverno 1941

Alpini sciatori in marcia in alta montagna nell’inverno 1941

11775 Alpino sciatore in alta montagna appostato nell’inverno 1941

Alpini in alta montagna in marcia sulla neve nell’inverno 1941

Una base aerea dell’Albania sotto una tempesta di neve nel gennaio 1941

Soldati del reparto d’assalto della legione “Modena” nell’inverno 1941

Alpini sciatori in marcia in alta montagna nell’inverno 1941

Alpini sciatori in marcia in alta montagna nell’inverno 1941

Soldati preparano il rancio nell’inverno 1941

February 1941

4.2.41 Bubesi Albania: Pasquale Volpe, 14th Reg. Inf., a student teacher from Intordarqua L’Aquila

15.2.41 Arsa [Arta?] Albania: Roberto Selva, 67th Inf. Reg., a teacher from Cerano d’Intelvi Como

15.2.41 Albania: Tullio Vigoni, 67th Inf. Reg., a student from Milano

15.2.41 Greece: Angelo Spoto, 68th Inf. Reg., an accountant from Sant’Angelo Muxaro Agrigento

20.2.41Mont Golic Greece: Oscar Fiore, Reserve Army, a student from Alex. [?]

Gruppo di soldati in posa nell’inverno 1941

Soldato lavora alla verniciatura di elmetti nell’inverno 1941

Soldati sistemano delle apparecchiature in un campo nell’inverno 1941

Artiglieria antiaerea in azione a ridosso delle prime linee nell’inverno 1941

Postazione di mitraglieria in azione nell’inverno 1941

March 1941

4.3.41 Klisura Albania: Cesare Scoccia, Reserves, a doctor from Fornovo di Taro Parma

8.3.41 Mont Golico Albania, Lorenzo Sola, Reserve Battaglione Susa, a trade and commercial expert from Torino.

8.3.41 Tepeleni Albania:  Giuseppe Franceschini, Grenardier, a gardener from Ternate Varese

9.3.41 Serpentina Greece: Giuseppe Ingiardi, Machine Gunners, a baker from Cascina del Sole Bollate, Milano

12.3.41 Monastin Fronte Greco : Riccardo Modena, Inf., cane cutter from Pontelongo Padova.

Militari davanti ad un posto di ristoro dei feriti dell’Assistenza fascista albanese nella primavara 1941

Soldati in avanzata verso le prime linee nella primavara 1941

Soldati in avanzata verso le prime linee nella primavara 1941

Soldati durante il combattimento posizionati con fucili e bombe a mano nella primavara 1941

          L’occupazione di Klisura nella primavara 1941

Bersagliere del 1° reggimento in motocicletta nella primavera 1941

Soldati posizionati con artiglieria da campo nella primavara 1941

Motolancia in servizio di perlustrazione sul lago di Ohrida in Albania nella primavara 1941

Alpino della divisione “Julia” spenna un volatile nella primavara 1941

Genieri ed alpini addetti alla costruzione di mulattiere nelle immediate prime linee dello Scindeli in Albania nella primavara 1941

Waiting to Go Home

It is 1946 and Italian prisoners of war have been removed from farm work in preparation for repatriation. They have been brought into the camps: Hay, Cowra, Sandy Creek, Marrinup, Brighton, Murchison, Gaythorne and Liverpool. By May 1946 the prisoner of war camps at Brighton, Gaythorne, Marrinup and Sandy Creek had closed.

Loveday Camp which had been an internment camp is re-opened and men from Sandy Creek transferred to Loveday Camp.  Northam Camp is opened as a prisoner of war camp to accommodate the men from Marrinup Camp. Brighton prisoners of war are transferred to Murchison or Loveday Camp and Gaythorne men are transferred to Hay or Cowra Camps.

A small number of Italian prisoners of war were allocated to temporary hostels at Australian Military Forces (AMF) sites to undertake maintenance, repair and storage work at these sites. 

Many AMF camps had been built on private land leased by the Commonwealth Government.  With an end to hostilities, these sites had to be prepared for ‘hand back’ to property owners. Those sites which continued as AMF camps also required maintenance and storage work.

Some of these hostels were established as early as July 1945.

The type of work varied from site to site:

maintenance painting and general repairs

drainage, road and area maintenance

general labour duties

repair of vehicles

scraping and painting of marine craft,

placement of equipment into ‘dead’ storage condition

repair and maintenance of MT vehicles

receiving reconditioning, identifying, labelling, stacking signal equipment

barracks maintenance

demolishing camouflage works and preparing equipment for storage

demolishing barbed wire

general rehabilitation of land.

Some of these activities were photographed by the Australian Army photographers.

LIVERPOOL, NSW 1945-11-23. PRISONER OF WAR AND INTERNMENT CAMP. ITALIAN PRISONER OF WAR Q. DI-SAUTS PAINTING ONE OF THE ADMINISTRATION BUILDINGS. (AWM Image 123754 PHOTOGRAPHER L. CPL E. MCQUILLAN)

MOOREBANK, NSW. 1946-08-19. AN ITALIAN PRISONER OF WAR BALING BLANKETS AT 1 RETURNED STORES DEPOT (AWM Image 131270 Photographer Reginald Mervyn Barrett)

28.6.46 Italian prisoners-of-war constructing a drain at 3rd Base Ordnance Depot, Bandiana, Victoria (AWM Image 129831 Photographer Keith Benjamin Davis) Bandiana drew workers from V25 Hume Hostel.

BANDIANA, VIC. 1946-09-17. AN ITALIAN PRISONER OF WAR HELPS STACK JEEP TRAILERS IN DEAD STORAGE AT 1 AUSTRALIAN ORDNANCE VEHICLE PARK.  (AWM Image 13161 Photographer Keith Benjamin Davis) Bandiana drew workers from V25 Hume Hostel.

MOOREBANK, NSW. 1946-01-31. RITONDO MARCELLO PWI56356, AN ITALIAN PRISONER OF WAR CAPTURED AT BENGHAZI, HOSES A GARDEN AT NO. 5 AUSTRALIAN BASE ORDNANCE DEPOT (BOD) (AWM Image 125313 Photographer Ernest Mervyn McQuillan

LIVERPOOL, NSW 1945-11-21. PRISONER OF WAR AND INTERNEE CAMP. PRIVATE G. CARPENTERE , AN ITALIAN PRISONER OF WAR, MENDING BOOTS IN THE CAMP BOOT REPAIR SHOP. OVER 10,000 PAIRS OF BOOTS HAVE BEEN REPAIRED HERE FOR THE AUSTRALIAN MILITARY FORCES (AMF). PRISONER OF WAR LABOUR COSTS 1/7d (17 CENTS) PER PAIR OF BOOTS. (AWM Image 122180 PHOTOGRAPHER L. CPL E. MCQUILLAN)

MOOREBANK, NSW. 1946-08-19. ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR WHO ARE WORKING AT 1 RETURNED STORES DEPOT UNLOADING A TRUCK INSIDE ONE OF THE QUANSON HUTS (AWM Image 131220 Photographer Reginald Mervyn Barrett)

MOOREBANK, NSW. 1946-01-30. NO. 5 BASE ORDNANCE DEPOT. BRUNO ZAMMUNER PWI55918, AN ITALIAN PRISONER OF WAR (POW), WHITEWASHING A GARDEN FENCE. POW’S DO A LOT OF SIMILAR WORK AT THE DEPOT. (AWM Image 125223 PHOTOGRAPHER L. CPL E. MCQUILLAN)

LIVERPOOL, NSW 1945-11-21. PRISONER OF WAR AND INTERNEE CAMP. TWO ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR ADMIRING PHOTOS OF PIN UP GIRLS ON THE WALLS OF THE TENT REPAIR WORKSHOP. (AWM Image 122179 PHOTOGRAPHER L. CPL E. MCQUILLAN)

LIVERPOOL, NSW 1945-11-21. PRISONER OF WAR AND INTERNEE CAMP. ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR REPAIRING AUSTRALIAN ARMY FURNITURE IN THE CAMP CARPENTERS SHOP. (AWM Image 122178 PHOTOGRAPHER L. CPL E. MCQUILLAN)

LIVERPOOL, NSW 1945-11-21. PRISONER OF WAR AND INTERNEE CAMP. LEFT TO RIGHT: PRIVATE (Leonardo) ARENA AND PRIVATE (Angelo) PAGLIARI, ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR, WORKING IN THE ENGINEERS SHOP. (AWM 122181 PHOTOGRAPHER L. CPL E. MCQUILLAN)

In May 1946, Easter Command requested a list of Italians and their trades from Hay PW Group as per below. It was an effort to match the skills of the Italians to relevant projects.

The list for Camp 8 Hay: