Category Archives: Prigionieri di guerra italiani in Australia

Language Lessons

It is March 1944 and Jack Stewart of Rocky Glen Muradup employs two Italian prisoners of war: Gino and Giuseppe (Joe).  There is no doubt that language would be an obstacle for both farmer and worker.

It is interesting how authorities in Western Australia approached the language barrier.

Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War had been prepared and distributed by Department of Army across Australia, but HQ Western Command prepared a separate language booklet with specific industry related sentences. A great deal of effort had gone into this booklet with sections such as: rabbit extermination, shearing, cement work, work around the house.  It also contained vocabulary lists: English – Italian; Italian English.

W4 Prisoner of War Control Centre Kojonup issued a language booklet prepared by HQ Western Command.  (photos courtesy of Alessandra Garizzo)

It is obvious that this booklet was to assist the farmers to communicate instructions to the Italians. The phonetic pronunciation in Italian is provided.

Garizzo language 1 (3)

Instructions for Shearing including Marking and Dipping and Potato Growing

(photo courtesy of Alessandra Garizzo)

Giuseppe Garizzo (Joe) had an interest in learning English.  Using a dictionary, Joe would teach himself English by reading the newspapers.  In December 1944, Jack Stewart purchased a  Grammatica Encidlopedia for Joe. The receipt for the book was one Joe’s treasured possessions from that time.

Garizzo Language Book Receipt

Receipt from Foreign Library and Book Shop Melbourne

(photo courtesy of Alessandra Garizzo)

Possibly, Jack Stewart read an advertisement like the one below from a Perth newspaper, wrote a letter requesting a booklist for Italian and then purchased Grammatica Enciclopedia.

1944 Advertisement

1944 ‘Advertising’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 3 December, p. 7. , viewed 22 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59326615

 

Where is Popanyinning?

A farm in the wheat growing district of Popanyinning WA was home to Enrico Riga for two years from March 1944 to March 1946.

Enrico Riga working on a farm in WA (photo courtesy of Maria Riga)

From Lamon Belluno, Enrico was captured on 5th April 1941 in Addis Abeda, Abyssinia before being sent to prisoner of war camps in India.

Enrico arrived in Fremantle Western Australia on the Ruys.  This was the only ship to disembark Italian prisoners of war on the west coast of Australia. The ship boarded 2028 Italian prisoners of war in Bombay destined for Fremantle and Melbourne. 

The town of Popanyinning was originally given the name: “Popaning”; the local Aboriginal Noongar word for waterhole.  It was built alongside the Great Southern Railway line, servicing the wheat and sheep farmers in the district.

The photo of Enrico captures the landscape, the vegetation of this part of Australia as well as the work he did while living with a farming family.

Enrico was repatriated on the Chitral on 30th September 1946.

1946 ‘2500 ITALIAN P.O.W. LEAVE ON MONDAY ‘, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 27 September, p. 10. (HOME EDITION), viewed 13 Aug 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article78267376

Popanyinning is referred to as “Hard to Say, Nice to Stay”. 

I hope that this is how Enrico might have remembered his time in the district: it was a funny word to pronounce but it was a good place to live and work.

Welcome Sign for Popanyinning

(photo courtesy of Gordon Stewart)

Salt Harvest Project Laverton

Salt havesting at Laverton during WW2 is a history lesson in itself.

Allied Works Council – Italian Ex-Internees – Italian Prisoners of War – Laverton Hostel

Salt Harvesting 1943

In February 1943, there was a real concern that the salt harvest would not be possible unless labour was found.

MEN NEEDED FOR SALT HARVESTING

GEELONG. — The salt harvest began here today, but the manpower shortage is so acute that the District National Service Officer (Mr J. H. Hamlyn) is awaiting final instruction to make a special call-up in Class 4 for men from less essential industry to help in the harvest. At least 100 men are required locally and 60 at Laverton. Where Cheetham Salt Co. has extensive settling pans.

The manpower position at Laverton is even more difficult than at Geelong where a start was made with about 25 men.The work must be done against time, as a break in the weather may cause the loss of a harvest essential for munitions*, as well as a food commodity. The loss of the harvest would also hold up the industry in the winter, when the company’s factories are usually operated at capacity.

FACTORIES CLOSED

To permit a start today It was necessary to close the factories and transfer employees to the harvesting. Manpower authorities believed they would obtain the release of a number of men from district military camps and others from less essential industry, but these have not yet been obtained. Outside staffs of district municipalities are assisting but It may be necessary. In addition to a special call-up, to engage a number of volunteers who formerly harvested In this district, on a part-time basis. This will not be altogether satisfactory as the work requires skill and Is more difficult, than that which the volunteers have previously done.

Hardly any manpower is available for the Laverton harvest.

1943 ‘MEN NEEDED FOR SALT HARVESTING’, The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 8 February, p. 3. , viewed 05 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245965857

Ex-Internees Harvest Salt 1943

A labour force of Italians was sent to Laverton to alleviated the labour shortage. This group of Italians had been interned. Three of these Italians were from Halifax and Macknade North Queensland.  They had been arrested in 1942, processed at Gaythorne Internment Camp and sent to Cowra for internment.  In February 1943, they were released to AWC (Allied Works Council) Victoria.

A release from internment, did not necessarily guarantee a return to their home and families.  For Giuseppe, Giovanni and Paolo they were then sent to work harvesting salt at Cheetham.  The AWC Salt Works Camp broke up on 14th May 1943.

Ex-Internees Harvest Salt 1944

A workforce of Italian ex-Internees was again utilised for the 1944 salt harvest.  The Italians were dissatisfied and adopted a ‘go slow’ campaign. The article explains the situation:

1944 Go Slow

1944 ‘ITALIANS AT SALT WORKS’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 8 February, p. 4. , viewed 03 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206786756

This workforce of Italian ex-internees was replaced by Italian prisoners of war.

Italian Prisoners of War Harvest Salt 1944

A number of entries in the War Diary for L.H.Q. Melbourne for 4.3.44,  discuss the use of Italian prisoners of war to harvest salt. On 17.3.44  59 Italian prisoners of war were transferred to Laverton (Temporary) Hostel: C.S.W. Laverton.  The salt harvest finished in June and 60 Italian POWs were transferred to Murchison PW Camp.

Laverton 3.3.44

(AWM Adjutant General 6 (a) Prisoners of War Adjutant General 13. March – May 44)

Laverton List of Prisoners of War 1944

Italian Prisoners of War Harvest Salt 1945

Italian prisoners of war are were again employed to harvest salt, this time during the 1945 season.  The Cheetham Salt Works had purchased a mechanical harvester.  The 1944 Italian prisoners of war had worked at  50% capacity.  The Salt Works hoped that the Italian prisoners of war together with a harvester would ensure that salt would be harvested in 2 months. The 1945 harvest took 3 1/2 months: Italian prisoners of war worked on the salt harvest from February 45 to 1.7.45.

Laverton 17.2.45AWM Adjutant General 6 (a) Prisoners of War Adjutant General 13. January  – March 45

1945 POW Labour - Copy

1945 ‘RACE TO GET IN SALT HARVEST’, The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 21 February, p. 5. , viewed 03 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245343563

The Laverton (Temporary) Hostel which provided accommodation for the Italians was located at Werribee as the article below indicates.  Francesco Fuda was assigned to Laverton Hostel on 27.2.45.

1945 escape

1945 ‘ITALIAN PRISONER ESCAPES’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 9 March, p. 4. , viewed 03 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1095687

Laverton List of Prisoners of War 1945

*I am interested to know about the use of salt in munitions.  Can anyone help?

a pastry chef from Genoa

Adolfo Allaria was on the Italian ship Romolo which was on a return voyage from Australia to Italy when Mussolini declared war on 10th June 1940. Rescued in the Coral Sea, he was transferred to Townsville Gaol and Gaythorne Camp Queensland, Hay Camp New South Wales, Loveday Camp South Australia and Murchison Camp Victoria.

In October 1943 he was transferred to a farm placement with the Kurrle family in the Leongatha district.

Adolfo Allaria on the right with Lynette and Frank Kurrle and an unnamed Italian prisoner of war (AWM Image P95423.002)

The Kurrle family donated three items to the Australian War Memorial (AWM) Collection: the photo above, a model house and Adolfo’s letter to the children.

The AWM records the following:

Informal portrait of two Italian prisoners of war (POW) on the Kurrle farm at Korumburra with Lynette and Frank Kurrle and a model house which was gifted to the children. The man holding Frank Kurrle is Adolfo Allaria (PWIM7134) a ship’s pastrycook in civilian life, who made this model house and presented it on 8 February 1944 to Lynette and Frank as a keepsake of his time with the family. The children are dressed in their Sunday best and have just returned from church; Sunday was also the day on which prisoners were allowed to visit other prisoners.

Model House gifted by Adolfo Allaria to the Kurrle children (AWM REL35288.001)

This unique item is a reminder of the special friendships formed between an Italian sailor and Australian farming children. Details of the house describe it as, “Two storey model Italianate style house with elaborate decoration, a small garden, open windows and doors, and interior furnishing details, made from a composition material – possibly plaster and sawdust. Mounted on a wooden base. A small plaque on the front of the roof reads ‘7134 P of W’ and an illegible placename.

Model house made by Italian prisoner of war (POW) 7134 Aldolfo Allaria for Lynette (born 1940) and Frank (born 1939) Kurrle, the son and daughter of Edith and Jack Kurrle of Korumburra, Victoria. Jack Kurrle owned and ran a 300 acre dairy and pig farm situated approximately three kilometres from Korumburra.”

Rarely do we see such a poignant collection of related items.

Adolfo’s gesture was clear, as indicated in his letter: a keepsake so that Frank and Lynette would have something to remember him by.

Letter written by Adolfo Allaria to Lynette and Frank Kurrle (AWM REL35288.002)

The AWM notes that, After the war he [Adolfo] returned to working aboard ships as a patsrycook, including between Italy and New York aboard the ship ‘Saturnia’ in the mid 1950s.”

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

Brighton PW Camp: December 1943

Brighton Military Camp has an interesting history.  A military camp for training recruits, it became a prisoner of war camp during WW2 and then after the war it was a migrant hostel for newly arrived migrants from Europe. Details of this history has been written by Reg Watson: Brighton Army Camp History

But from December 1943 to 1946 (April/May) the complex was known as Brighton PW Camp No. 18. Army records state that it had a capacity of 600: two compounds of 300 each. It was the parent and administrative camp for all Italian prisoners of war sent to work on farms in Tasmania.

Professor Ian McFarlane’s research into the Italian POW workforce adds further details and personal experiences to this history: Italian POWS in North West Tasmania

Below is a diagram of the PW Camp drawn in October 1944.  With some concern over the security of the camp, changes to the boundaries had changed as resident numbers decreased. The original compound is indicated by the outer blue line.  The compound was reduced in size to the red line.  The second reduction saw the compound decreased in size to the a to b line.  The October 1944 proposed reduction of the compound at night was to the inner blue line.  This last proposal was rejected by Camp Commandant Captain A Pearson.  In a letter he reports that due to the number of years the Italians had been in captivity c. 3.5 years, they had developed ‘barbed wire complex’ and would struggle mentally if they were fenced in, in a small compound as many were becoming ‘mentally deranged.’  Captain Pearson wrote, “In conclusion, it is desired to emphasise that the forgoing is not submitted to molly-coddle PW, but with the sole purpose of keeping them mentally and physically sound and thereby have the maximum number available for employment and at the same time comply with intention of regulations issued relative to the control of PW.” NAA P617 519.3.159 PART 1 

 

NAA P617 519.3.159 PART 1 Page 35

Brighton PW Compound 1944

NAA P617 519.3.159 PART 1 Page 35

In  February 1944, the scheme of employing prisoners of war on Tasmanian farms had received the ‘thumbs up’ from farmers and further recruitment of farmers was sort from Department of Manpower.

nla.news-page000001867187-nla.news-article26018382-L3-2d4170b0224f0f19d6badbf4beb926a1-0001

1944 ‘ITALIAN WAR PRISONERS’, The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 14 February, p. 2. , viewed 30 Jul 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article26018382

nla.news-page000025422766-nla.news-article235765497-L3-6b2ee59ca476d7d28b771057852b1086-0001

But by June 1944, right wing racism was being reported by ‘Smith’s Weekly’ which seized on any opportunity to discredit the Italian prisoners of war and their treatment.

1944 ‘PREFERENCE TO DAGOES’, Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1919 – 1950), 3 June, p. 1. , viewed 30 Jul 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article235765497

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following two photos were taken of the Brighton PW Camp site in April 1943 when it was under the direction of Department of Army as an army training camp.  Little would have changed when it transitioned to a PW Camp.

3908726

BRIGHTON, TAS. 1943-04-23. A SECTION OF BRIGHTON CAMP IS BEING CONVERTED BY MEMBERS OF NO. 19 MAINTENANCE PLATOON, ROYAL AUSTRALIAN ENGINEERS, INTO BARRACKS FOR A TRAINING UNIT OF THE AWAS. THIS PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS A GENERAL VIEW OF THE NEW QUARTERS FOR THE TRAINING UNIT.

 

3957764

BRIGHTON, TASMANIA, AUSTRALIA. 1943-04-28. GENERAL VIEW OF BRIGHTON MILITARY CAMP.

By June 1944, Brighton PW Camp Tasmania had been abandoned and the Italian prisoners of war were transferred to Loveday PW Camp South Australia.

ShowImage (5)

Prisoners of War. Italian. Loveday (S.A.) & Northam (W.A.) Camps. NAA: A1067, IC46/32/1/9

 

 

Do the blankets have four folds?

On 21st December 1943, Camp Commandant Major William Cummins ratified version 3 of Camp Rules for Hay PW Camp No. 6. While the rules relate to Hay Camp 6 only, it is probable that similar Camp Rules applied to other camps. At the least, it is a guide to the rules the Italian POWs at Camp 7 and 8 had to abide by.

No 7 and No 8 Camps Hay in New South Wales were the first camps to accommodate Italian prisoners of war in Australia in May 1941.

These rules and regulations were necessary for the “proper management of the Camp and for the enforcement of discipline in the Camp.” The rules covered daily routines such as roll calls, general routine, sick parades, smoking, safety razors, complaints and can be found in the link below. Some rules were very specific eg four folds in each blanket, no smoking on parade or roll call or in mess huts, bedding to be thoroughly aired, weekly scrubbing of hut floors. The photo below was taken 3 1/2 weeks after the new Camps Rules were enforced.

Do those blankets have four folds?

15. (3) is worth a mention: Every care shall be taken to salvage the following materials which shall be placed in the receptables and at the places set out hereunder: bottles, bags, cases, carboard, tins and fat were to be placed outside kitchen.

We think of recycling and salvage as a ‘modern’ pursuit, but in times of war, every waste item was a precious commodity.

Looking through the Service and Casualty Cards of the men in the photo reflects the many camps and hostels that these Italians were transferred to and lived in; a history in itself.

Q6 HOME HILL HOSTEL, LAVERTON HOSTEL (Salt Harvesting), V26 MORNINTON HOSTEL, V22 ROWVILLE, MOOROOK WOOD CAMP, No. 3 LABOUR DETATCHENT COOK, YANCO, V22 OAKLEIGH, MARRINUP


the man behind the camera

Michael Lewicki

(Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW: 1931-1954), Saturday 27 April 1940, page 1)

I am not sure if you have noticed the names of the army photographers who took the group photos of the Italian prisoners of war: Geoffrey McInnes, Ronald Leslie Stewart and Lewecki.

Why did Steward and McInnes have their first names identified but not Lewecki? A little puzzle…

Once I started to look for more information about these army photographers, I found the answer to another puzzle:

why did the Italian prisoners of war look like criminals in their identification photos?

The answer is simple: these identification photos were standard army photographs.

Australian soldiers and Italian prisoners of war had the same type of photos taken. There was no stigma or negative aspect to these identification photos. This was just a process.

Read the article below to find out further information…

The man behind the camera and named as Lewecki is Michael Nicholas LEWICKI.  When he arrived in Australia in 1928 on the Cephee, he identified his nationality as Polish; his last residence as Germany and his occupation as agriculturalist.  By 1936 he was operating a successful business in partnership with Herman Schϋtze: The Leicagraph Company. They took street photographs, and were “skilled in sport, ballroom, commercial, portrait, outdoor and other branches of this art.”

By April 1940, Michael Lewicki was the official Defence Department photographer and the following article is from the Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW: 1931-1954), Saturday 27 April 1940, page 5:

Pictures 350 A.I.F. Men Daily

Australia’s busiest cameraman is Mr Michael Lewicki, official Defence Department photographer.

He takes on an average of 700 pictures of A.I.F. recruits every day.

“Since war began, I have taken 19,000 pictures of soldiers,” Mr Lewicki said yesterday.

Mr Lewicki is a Pole by birth. He left Warsaw for Australia 12 years ago and is now a naturalised Australian.

He is engaged by the Defence Department under contract to take pictures of soldiers.

Photographed Twice

Every A.I.F. recruit has to be photographed twice – once full face and once profile.

From each negative four prints are taken.  One of these is pasted in the soldiers’ pay-book, and the rest are for Defence Department records.

Mr Lewicki’s studio was recently transferred from Ingleburn camp to the A.I.F. recruiting depot, Moore Park.

Recruits are enlisted and officially photographed on the same day.

At present 350 men ae being photographed daily, but Mr Lewicki’s single camera equipment is capable of photographing 1200 men a day.

It stands to reason that the identification photos of the Italian prisoners of war were also taken by these same photographers.  For those of you lucky enough to have copies of your father’s identification photos, you will notice that they were taken in the same manner as the Australian soldiers: one full face and one profile.

At first, it is easy to think that the Italians were made to look like criminals in the identification photos.  Reality is that it did not matter whether you were an Australian soldier or an Italian prisoner of war, the same photos were taken. This was part of military procedure.

Alfredo Bertini and William Hugh Lewis

(NAA: A7919 C99229 and NAA: A7919 C99409)

Michael Lewicki was taking identification photos of 350 recruits per day.

The first group of Italian prisoners of war to Australia in May 1941, totalled 2006.  I wonder how many days it took to take identification photos of these 2006 Italians at Hay Prisoner of War Camp. I wonder if Michael Lewicki took the identification photos of the Italian prisoners of war.  He had the equipment; and he had the experience.

If your father was photographed by LEWECKI, now you know a little more about the man behind the camera: Michael LEWICKI.

Nonno Peppino’s Cowra Photos

Francesca Maffeitti has a valuable and sentimental collection of items belonging to her nonno Peppino. 

Two photos in her collection are the Cowra group photos taken in 16th September 1943 by Army photographer Michael Lewicki.

At 5’ 8” tall, Ippolito Moscatelli (Peppino) is noticeably taller than other men in the photos.  He is the man standing third on the left in the top photo and he is standing at the end of the right in the second photo.

These are the first ‘original’ photos I have seen. The Australian War Memorial in Canberra holds the Italian prisoners of war collection of photos.

Cowra 16th September 1943

(photo courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)

The regulations [regarding photographs] state that:

(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…

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

But these are the first photos that I am aware of that made it home to Italy. There is an interesting stamp on the reverse of the photos: MILITARY HISTORY SECTION.  Nonno Peppino’s name and number is written in the bottom right corner; indicating these photos had been ordered and paid for; waiting collection.  

For perspective: Italian prisoners of war were paid 1 shilling threepence (1/3d) per day while working on farms. Each photos was 1 shilling sixpence. (1/6d)

Cowra 16th September 1943: Reverse of Photos

(photo courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)

Letters from Myrtleford

From Intelligence Reports – 15 July 1943

Myrtleford Camp No. 5 was divided into two compounds: A and B. A compound housed those aligned to fascism and B compound was the Royalist compound. Two years after their capture, their letters highlight where their sympathies lie.

2nd Lieutenant Fortunato Donnini was a teacher by occupation.  He was captured at Sollum in June 1941.  He wrote:

“You can imagine the sort of life I am living, exactly the same as the life of collegiates of Regina Cocli” [Regina Cocli = gaol in Rome]

Lieutenant Carlo Pescatori records his occupation as Regular Army Officer.  He was captured at Agedabia in February 1941.  He wrote:

“We are excited about the news of the landing. Nobody talks about anything else.  I am hoping that everything will turn out in our favour and I feel miserable not being able to do a thing for my country.  Camp activities continue fortunately on a bigger scale and we have the opportunity to divert our thoughts to something else.” [Landing = Operation Husky was the Allies’ invasion of Sicily beginning on the night of 9-10th July 1943]

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Stella; Talamo; Moretti; Pescatori; Cavanna; Torti. Front row: Laccetti; Brugnoli; Barbaranelli; Cagnoni; Bonelli; Celestino.

Major Ubaldo Quaranta lists his occupation as Official R.E.I. in S.P.E.  He was captured at Spi Camerad Grecia in March 1941.  He wrote:

“Not even hot showers are missing. We have built a marvellous little church, tennis courts, bowling greens, and an amphitheatre for open air picture shows which we have twice a week for payment… The food, even if no longer the same as when we first came to Australia, is till good and sufficient.  Is there anything to complain about?  I show not only my moral superiority to the intriguers and inventers of tall stories but I show that the true soldier is always honest and proud of the foe whom he is fighting.” [Comments made the IO… speaks enthusiastically of the facilities and convenience of the camp, the letter is typical of the old officer of pre-Fascist era.]

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Panvini; Piragino. Front row: Pietravalle; Bertelli; Papandrea; Faga; Castellano; Quaranta.

2nd Lieutenant Antonio Cau states his occupation as student. He was captured at Giarabub in March 1941.  He wrote:

“The essential thing is that our friend from PREDAPPIO should make it snappy up there, then everything will turn out alright.  However, maybe PREDAPPIO himself will look after you and your people and he will tell you what to do.” [IO notes that PREDAPPIO is a small village in central Italy and Mussolino’s birthplace]

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Napoli; Lecis; Puggioni; Uda; Birocchi; Maccio. Front row: Maglietta; Motzo; Tonizzo; Correnti; Montalcini; Cau.

Over the next eight months, 2nd Lieutenant Antonio Cau allegiances shift.  In July 1944, he requests a change from Compound A to Compound B. 

In a letter to his family 6th March 1944, Cau wrote: “You ask me if I was satisfied with events? I do not know whether you realise that, since the end of 1937, when I was called up, I underwent a slow change.  Even the finest steel bends when in contact with granite. So it was with me. And also with others.  Then, when in Africa I saw and came into personal contact with all our miseries, veiled by pomp and empty talk, “full of nothingness’, I understood what we were and what we thought we were. And so did others. As a result even here at 12000 miles distance I felt Italy’s sigh of relief coupled with my own and those of others here (even if there were not many of us).

By April 1945, Cau was working on a farm in the Corryong district of Victoria. He wrote to 2nd Lieutenant Della Foglia B Cpd on 1st April 1945: “ Here they are mad about me, firstly, because have no children and secondly because I keep them in good spirits.  By now I speak Australian and if MOTZO knew about this he would cut my tongue…” [Both Motzo and Cau are from Sardinia. MOTZO is in the same photo as CAU]