Category Archives: Prigionieri di guerra italiani in Australia

Buona Pasqua

Pasqua 1943: Apostolic Delegate in Australia Giovanni Panico wrote the preface for his publication

L’Amico del Prigioniero

L’amico del Prigioniero was distributed to Italian prisoners of war in 1943. It contained prayers, hymns, service of the mass and the liturgical calendar. In 1946, 75 years ago, Easter was celebrated on 21st April.

Did the Italian prisoners of war see Anno 1951 and ponder: is the war going to last this long!

Prisoner of War Uniforms

Sometimes it is the little items which catch my eye.

Prisoner of war uniforms has left me quite perplexed.

For a few years now, I had noticed the black stripe down the side of trousers.  This however only seemed to be for Italian POWs who had time in India.

This was confirmed by Domenico Ferulli’s recollections:

Ad Ismailia, località al centro del canale di Suez, sono cinque giorni chiusi un un recinto nel deserto.  Sono spossati fisicamente e con il morale a terra.  La notte è talmente freddo che molti sono costretti a bruciare la giacca o le scarpe per riscaldarsi. Per cucinare si usa la paglia.  Fatti spogliare e fare una doccia tutto il vestiario è ritirato e bruciato in alcuni forni.  Periscono incenerite anche le migliaia di pidocchi, che da mesi hanno tenuto fastidiosa compagnia! Assegnano a ciascun prigioniero: una giacca leggera color cenere con una toppa di stoffa nero quadrata cucito dietro le spalle, pantaloni lunghi con banda nero, scarpe nuove, sapone per la pulizia e persino dentifricio con spazzolino da denti.

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp 2. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Communion donnée par un délégué apostolique. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 2. Holy communion given by an apolostic delegate.

Italians Taking Communion in a British Camp in India 1943

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-19A)

Suddenly, everywhere I looked, I saw the black diamond sitting squarely between the shoulders of a light colour jacket and shirt, as well as the black stripe down the leg of shorts and trousers.

Many of the clothing items the Italian soldiers brought into the camps in Egypt were infested with lice or fleas.  It makes sense that these uniforms were burnt and new ones issued.

In May 1943 it was reported that Italian casualties (deaths, missing and prisoners of war) were 400,000. 

Logistically, how did the Allied Forces procure 400,000 replacement clothing and find staff to sew on patches.

And what did these patches represent!  Was there a code relating to intended destinations for the prisoners? Or was the allocation of uniforms random?

Prisoners of war in England wore a dark coloured uniform with either a pale coloured circle shaped patch sewn on the right leg or a diamond patch on the right leg.

Emilio Clemente is standing on the right of the photo

Prisoner of War Uniforms with patch on right trouser leg

English Prisoner of War Camp courtesy of Mimosa Clemente

Then I noticed an Italian prisoner of war in November 1941 at Cowra camp wearing a black diamond shaped patch on the backside of light coloured trousers.

The Italians who arrived in Australia during 1941, was transferred directly from Egypt to Australia. Did they receive these pants in Australia or Egypt?
Answer: Egypt, because once in Australia, the Italians were issued with their Australia POW uniform.

The strap is taken from a uniform jacket issued to enemy prisoners of war and civilian internees held in Australian camps during the Second World War.  (AMW Relic 32594)

The official Australian prisoner of war uniform was disposal Australian Army khaki uniforms which had been dyed burgundy as is illustrated in the above photograph. The men were allowed to keep other clothing to be worn only inside camp or for farm work, this included their national uniforms.

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

Canteen at Cowra Camp November 1941

(ICRC V-P-HIST-01879-32B 1941)

At Campo 306 Geneifa Egypt prisoners of war were photographed wearing the black diamond pants with dark shirts and there are groups of Italians wearing the black stripe pants and black diamond shirts. A pattern seems to emerge: prisoners once processed in Egypt were given clothing: 1. pale coloured pants with a black stripe and pale coloured shirt with a black diamond OR 2. dark coloured shirt and pale coloured pants with a black diamond on the backside of the pants.

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Fourneaux.

The Kitchen at Geneifa Camp 360 Egypt (ICRC VP-HIST-00851-25)

The photo below was taken in 1943, Italian prisoners of war in Melbourne after arriving from India….black stripe on pant!

(1943). Italian Prisoners of War – Italian prisoners of war on their way to a prisoner-of-war camp, following their arrival in Australia.

(National Archives of Australia)

Cowra, NSW. 1944-02-03. Italian prisoners-of-war from No. 12 Prisoner-of-War Camp using a heavy duty pulley block and tackle to pull down a large tree in a paddock near the camp. (AWM Image 064137, Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Was the allocation of clothing random?

Was the use of stripes and diamonds random?

Did your father or grandfather mention the POW uniforms?

Has anyone else noticed these uniforms with patches or stripes?

Have a look at photos taken of nonno or papa in the camps of India?

The USA appear to have adopted a completely different approach as is indicated by the P.W. stamped on both shorts and shirts of these German prisoners of war.

German Prisoner of War Uniforms

(from Military Law and Vigilante Justice

in Prisoner of War Camps during World War II

Mark M. Hull, PhD, JD, FRHistS January-February 2020 MILITARY REVIEW)

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.