Category Archives: Prigionieri di guerra italiani in Australia

Arrested in Townsville

On the 18th June 1940 114 Italian crew from the Romolo were arrested in Townsville under a Warrant dated 18th June 1940, to be interned at Interment Camp, Gaythorne. Three women who were part of the crew were not arrested: Maria Cebin and Guilia Panzeletti worked as stewardesses, Elena Giovenale worked as a nurse.

Elena Giovenale: Nurse on the Romolo

(NAA: BP313/1, Giovenale E)

The Romolo an Italian merchant ship was berthed in Brisbane on 30th May 1940. On the 31st May 1940, the captain was ready to depart the Romolo at 21 hours but was delayed by Australian officials claiming a directive from Canberra: an inspection of the ship was required.

Between 31st May and 6th June 1940, the Romolo was delayed on claims for the need for ongoing inspections and searches.  Eventually on 5th June 1940, the Captain Ettore Gavino was notified that authorities were searching for “a package which the Allies did not wish to reach Germany.”

Captain of the Romolo: Ettore Gavino

(NAA: BP242/1, Q28607)

Captain Ettore Gavino chronicled the events:

Thursday 6th June 1940

At 1940 hours we received orders from Trieste to seek refuge in neutral waters, In consequence I called the Royal Commissioner, Chief Engineer and 1st Officer to a conference. We decided to alter our course.  We did this as soon as possible at 21hr.  We sailed without light.

Friday 7th June 1940

About dawn we sighted forward to the east a ship without lights, sailing in a convergent direction. … we discovered that the other ship was an auxiliary patrol cruiser, which was evidently detailed to watch us…

At 0900 hours I gather the crew and informed them of the decision agreed upon.  I recommended calmness, courage, economy of water, light, fuel and rations, and stressed that importance for each one to do his duty with the maximum of discipline, efficiency and conscience… I entreated them to show the pilot [an Australian] and the foreign woman passenger [Aida Senac] a correct and generous hospitality.  I reminded them of the duty of every good Italian to be ready to give all for the greatness of the Motherland.  We broke up cheering H.M. The King Emperor, and our Duce, the founder of the Empire.

Saturday 8th June 1940

We are still followed by the Auxiliary cruiser “Manoora” (carrying a hydroplane) sailing about two miles on our right and coming closer during the night.

Sunday 9th June 1940

This morning I signed Capt. R Lloyd Harry’s (the Torres Straits pilot) book…

At 1415 hours the auxiliary cruiser “Manoora” signalled us to disembark the Torres Strait Pilot…

We practiced ‘Abandon Ship” using the regulation siren and allotted the passengers their place in the life boats. Carried out trials with the wireless in the life boats.

Monday 10th June 1940

Rehearsed closure of water-tight doors.

In the morning I gave orders to the crew to paint the ship inside and outside so as to make her less visible…

Tuesday 11th June 1940

We are at war with France and England. We are sailing without lights. The crew is working and painting the ship to render her less visible.

Wednesday 12th June 1940

A few minutes before midday a ship is sighted on the S.W. horizon,… We identify her as the “Manoora”…. I give full instructions for the abandoning and sinking of the ship.  It is about 1215 hours. The “Manoora”… sends me the following radiogram : “Stop immediately or I fire at you.” Consequently, I stop the ship, hoist the Italian flag and send out an S.O.S.

I receive a second message from the “Manoora”. “Do not abandon your ship because I will not pick you up.” I give the order to abandon ship and have the eight launches, which for some days days been swinging from the davits, and ready for use, lowered to the water. This operation being carried out with the greatest of calm and punctuality.

I take every precaution to ensure that the ship will not be captured by the enemy. At about 1300 hours the ship is abandoned…

PACIFIC OCEAN, 1940-06-12. THE ITALIAN MOTOR-SHIP ROMOLO BEING SHELLED BY AN AUSTRALIAN ARMED MERCHANT CRUISER, HMAS MANOORA, IN THE PACIFIC SHORTLY AFTER ITALY ENTERED THE WAR. (AWM Image P00279.003)

The sails are hoisted in the various boats which are driven by the wind towards the “Manoora” – now stationary… lowered her gangways and signalled for us to approach.

Italian prisoners coming from the Italian motor vessel Romolo in life boats. The Romolo was set on fire and scuttled by its crew after being pursued from Brisbane by HMAS Manoora and finally intercepted, 220 miles south west of the island of Nauru.

Shortly before 1500 hours the passengers and crew of the “Romolo” were safe and sound on board the “Manoora”, who had salvaged seven of our launches. 

Italian prisoners from the Italian Motor Vessel Romolo in the bows of HMAS Manoora. The Romolo was set on fire and scuttled by its crew after being pursued from Brisbane by HMAS Manoora. Shells for the ship’s six inch guns are visible on the hatch way.

I, who was the last to climb aboard, was taken to Commander Spurgeon of the “Manoora”.

At about 1600 hours seven shells were fired along the “Romolo’s” waterline.. At 1815 hours my ship with the water up to her batteries, appeared to be breaking amidships.  Rapidly she listed to starboard, the tricolour flying from h er mast.

At 1820 hours only the railings, illuminated by the “Manoora’s” searchlight, were visible above water.

At 1825 hours the “Romolo” disappeared…

Unlike her sister ship the Remo, Romolo would not be seized as a war prize.

(NAA: MP1103/2 Cereseto, Giuseppe)

Under a Warrant, the Romolo crew was transferred from Townsville Jail to Gaythorne Internment Camp on 22nd June 1940. One hundred and thirteen crew were then transferred to Hay Internment Camp on 6th November 1940.

Pasquale Bottigliero, seaman, arrived in Gaythorne Camp on 22nd June 1940 but was directly transferred to General Hospital Brisbane. On 2nd July 1940 he was transferred to Goodna Hospital where he stayed until his death on 11th January 1941. 

From Hay Internment Camp the Romolo crew was transferred to Loveday Internment Camp on 11th June 1941. One document records that on 15th April 1942 the status of this group of men were changed from ‘internees’ to ‘prisoners of war’.

 On 5th May 1942 the crew was transferred to Murchison Prisoner of War Camp. Other documents identify the 22nd June 1942 as the ‘official’ date of status change.

Officers were sent to Myrtleford Officers’ Camp Victoria.  First Officer Tullio Tami is standing third from the left in the photo below taken at Myrtleford.

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Bonifazio; Voltolini; Tami; Staiano; Donato; Rea. Front row: Migliore; Massimino; Talamanca; Maiolino; Bobbio; Bosi. (AWM Image 030152/05 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Natale Amendolia, one of the Romolo’s cooks was employed in Camp B at Myrtleford Camp. Other crew members were sent from Murchison Camp to farm placement in Victoria and Tasmania.

MYRTLEFORD, VIC. C. 1943-11-06. THE PRISONERS’ KITCHEN IN “B” COMPOUND, 51ST AUSTRALIAN GARRISON COMPANY, PRISONER OF WAR CAMP. SHOWN ARE:- PWI.47727 G. SEMINARA (1); PWI.7133 N. AMENDOLIA, SHIP’S COOK MV ROMOLO (2); PWI.47795 P. VITULLI (3); PWI.47664 G. ROMANO (4). (AWM Image 059303 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Francesco Lubrano was also a cook on the Romolo.  He was sent to work on the farm of Wilfred James Stuart at North Morton Tasmania.  He was remembered by Valerie Stuart for his cooking, particularly introducing the family to pasta. Read more about Francesco Lubrano on page 6 of the document following…

Go to page 90 of the following document to read more about the female crew: Maria Cebin, Guilia Panzeletti and Elena Giovenale.

Internment Cost a Wife

The cargo ship Felce was seized by Britain in Haifa Palestine on 11th June 1940.  The 19 crew onboard the Felce were interned in Palestine and arrived in Sydney Australia on the Queen Elizabeth 23.8.41. Italian and their families who were resident in Palestine and subsequently interned were also on the Queen Elizabeth.

The ship was renamed Empire Defender, her original name, and used by the British Ministry of War Transport. She was put in service across the Atlantic. On 14th November 1941 she was torpedoed and sunk by aircraft off Galite Island north of Tunisia.

On 22nd June 1942, the crew of the Felce were reassigned as prisoners of war.

With the exception of Costantino Bergonzo, all crew were repatriated to Italy. Costantino was ‘released to Melbourne’ and in 1947 married Antonina Maggiore. In 1961, Certificates of Naturalisation were issued to Costantino and Antonina. They settled in Melbourne.

Salvatore D’Esposito was originally ‘released to Melbourne’ but within eleven months he was repatriated to Italy on the General Heintzelman which also repatriated Italian internees to Palestine.

Another crew member of the Felce, Federico Calosso visited Brisbane in October 1950 onboard the Iris. His comment, “internment cost a wife” would resonate with many Italians who were interned during WW2. He continued working as a wireless operator and in two and a half years had only had ten days in Italy.

1950 ‘INTERNMENT “COST” A WIFE’, Brisbane Telegraph (Qld. : 1948 – 1954), 1 November, p. 23. (LAST RACE), viewed 05 Jun 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article217273094

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.

Il calzolaio di Grottaferrata

Somewhere in the vicinity of Sidi el Barrani, Agostino Marazzi abandoned his machine gun at the suggestion of a lieutenant. He was captured by the British on 11th December 1940. He had served with an infantry unit for 17 months.

On 24th March 1940, Agostino was photographed with a friend at Martuba Libya. Martuba was an important Italian airbase but also had numerous staging camps for newly arrived Italian soldiers.

Agostino Marazzi and friend Martuba Libya 24.3.1940 (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Agostino’s next stop was Tobruk which is 150 km south west of Martuba.His son Amedeo recalls that the two photos of his father with a machine gun were taken at Tobruk.

Agostino Marazzi at Tobruk (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Commander-in-Chief of the Italian army, Rodolfo Graziani had advanced Italian troops from the Libyan-Egyptian border to Sidi el Barrani from 13-16th September.  Field Marshal Wavell’s offensive to reclaim Egyptian territory began on 9th December 1940.

Along the fifty-miles-wide battlefield and astride the road leading west lay a fantastic litter of abandoned trucks, guns and tanks, piles of abandoned arms and ammunition, of food stores and clothing, and of the paper which a modern army spends so profusely. It was some days before all the enemy dead had been found and buried. Long columns of dejected prisoners in drab olive-green and khaki streamed eastwards. In the whole battle 38,300 prisoners, 237 guns and 73 tanks were captured . Four generals were taken: Gallina of the Group of Libyan Divisions, Chario of the 1st Libyan Division, Piscatori of the 2nd Libyan, Merzari of the 4th Blackshirt.

12 December 1940 SOME OF LATEST BATCH OF 4000 PRISONERS FROM AREA BETWEEN BARRANI AND Buq Buq. ALL ITALIAN TROOPS WERE WELL-CLOTHED & ARMED & IN GOOD PHYSICAL CONDITION BUT SEEMED IN NO MOOD FOR FIGHTING AFTER THE FIRST FEW HOURS OF THE ENCOUNTER. (PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

The Italian prisoners’ journey begins: Sidi Barrani to Mersa Matruh to Alexandria. Some were taken to Palestine while others were taken to camps along the Bitter Lakes/Suez area.

Agostino Marazzi boards the Queen Mary bound for Sydney Australia. The ship leaves Suez on 7th May and arrives at Trinomalee (Ceylon) 14th May. She departs Trinomalee on 15th May and arrives in Fremantle Australia 21st May.  Queen Mary departs Fremantle on 21st May and arrives in Sydney on 25th May 1941

The Queen Mary had been in service as a troopship since May 1940 after she had been fitted out to accommodate 5000 troops. Towards the end of the war, Queen Mary was carrying 15,000 American troops in a voyage.

Amedeo Marazzi remembers his father’s story about the Queen Mary: “The Queen Mary was the largest ship in the world at the time and had 3 swimming pools, a theatre and a cinema. My father said that when they passed the equator at night, it was so hot some men jumped into the water of the pools for relief but the temperature in the pool was worse in than out.”

The Australian army identity photo was taken on 4th November 19411. Amedeo reflects, “To see the young face of my father was a unique wonderful emotion.”

Marazzi, Agostino NAA: A367, C85443

Agostino’s brother sent him a picture postcard of his mother, Celeste Vinciguerra, on 16th December 1942.  Mention is made of Sergio Galazzi, a radio mechanic from Rome. 

Sergio had arrived at Hay Camp 26th March 1942.  News must have reached the Marazzi and Galazzi families that Agostino and Sergio were now in the same camp.

Ecco la foto di mamma che tanto desideri. L’abbiamo fatta in questi giorni. Ti saluta e ti bacia. Tanti saluti dalla mamma di Galazzi Sergio. Tanti saluti da noi.

Elide Arturo

Celeste Vinciguerra (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Amedeo reminisces, “My father and his friends once they arrived in Australia  realized that this was a wonderful place. He settled immediately and became a labourer on a farm. He would talk about breakfast where he could have coffee or milk, honey, fruit, bread, butter and jam.  He has never felt like a prisoner of war.”

My father had good memories of Australia. He always told us that if he won the lottery, he would take us all on a holiday to Australia,” reflects Amedeo.

Carnivale 1950s Adele, Rossella, Amedeo, Agostino (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Recently Amedeo obtained a copy of his father’s extra Australian file. 

Little details emerge from this file: Agostino was captured at Buq Buq, west of Sidi Barrani; while in Hay Camp he worked as a bootmaker; in Hay Camp he was awarded 24 hours detention for possession of a prohibited article but this was not officially recorded.

Other documents record that he worked on the farm of Mr LE Peacock at Oakbank together with Sebastiano Aiello.

Upon return to Italy, life returned quickly to a familiar routine surrounded by family.

Adele and Agostino Marazzi (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Young men full of hope and dreams..

By the time Filippo Granatelli arrived in Australia in February 1945, he had already served 6 years in the Italian army, had been captured in Asmara  Eritrea on 6th May 1941 and spent close to 4 years in POW camps in India.

Granatelli Asmara 28 December 1939 lower left - Copy

Filippo (standing front row left and friends) December 28 1939

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

On  20.2.45, an Australian War Diary communicates, “350 Italians to SA for onward movement to WA.”  The date is significant: it was Filippo’s 30th birthday.  He had arrived in Melbourne on 13.2.45. This was his first birthday in Australia.

The die is cast,  Filippo Granatelli is to travel from Melbourne Victoria to Western Australia via South Australia. He was one of 155 Italian prisoners of war who arrived in Western Australia on 24.2.45.

In Western Australia he is sent to the Karrakatta Hostel, the Bunbury Hostel (State Forestry  firewood cutting and Department of Agriculture, hay harvesting, potato digging) before working on a farm in the Moora district (W25).

Movement Orders for PWIX GWM 20.2.45

from AWM52 1/1/14 Headquarters Units January to April 1945

 

But what of the young men like Filippo who fought Mussolini’s war in Eritrea?

Filippo kept a small number of photos from this time which gives us an insight into these young men and a very special thank you to his son Veniero for sharing these photos.

Granatelli right in helmet - Copy

Filippo Granatelli seated right 

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

Granatelli Dicembre 1939 first on right - Copy

Asmara December 1939 Filippo Granatelli seated right 

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

 

Young men enjoying their adventure

1st photo: Filippo right and 2nd photo Filippo standing Cappadocia July 1937

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

Cappadocia was one of the training camps for Filippo during his compulsory military service.  The above photo and the certificate below, reminders of  22 year old Filippo’s youth.

War and imprisonment were to shape many young men’s futures.

Cappadocia 1937

Diploma for Filippo Granatelli 4.8.37 Cappadocia

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

 

Watch this film on Eritrea : Eritrea’s Last Stand

 

When did it start?

10th June 1940 was the official Italian declaration of war.

But for some Italians, the battles started in Eritrea and Ethiopia (1935), Spain (1936), Albania (1939).

For other recruits, it started with training before 1940.

From 10th June 1940, the Mediterranean Sea was a battlefield for the navy and the airforce; on 3rd August 1940 British Somaliland was taken, by 13th September 1940 the Italian forces had arrived at Sidi Barrani on the Libyan-Egyptian border and on 28th October 1940 the invasion of Greece began.

Benghazi… Tripoli… Bardia… Tobruk…Derna…Martuba…Acroma…Barca… Jarabub… desert forts…oases strongholds…

A special thank you to the families of these men for sharing the following photos: Antioco Pinna, Annibale Arangeli, Fioravante Blasioli, Tullio Brutti, Marino Casadio, Emidio Di Benedictis, Filippo Granatelli and Sebastiano di Campli

When and where did the war begin for your father?

For Biagio di Ferdinando life as a soldier started March 1938 when he was called up for military service. The following extract is from his book Odyssey

I was called up for military service during the month of February 1938. The postcard came from the military district of Teramo asking to present myself for military service. I left home the morning of 5 March 1938.  I farewelled my family and left together with a friend of the same age.  We arrived at the military barracks in good time. After a little while and a medical check up I was assigned to the 116th infantry regiment based in Chieti, a town inland from Pescara and south of my hometown. 

All the recruits from the district of Chieti of my class were assigned to the 116th infantry regiment in Libya.  The following days they gave us the green-gray uniforms.  Before that time the Italian soldiers in Africa wore the khaki colonial uniforms. 

… I wrote a letter to my family to let them know that I was assigned to the infantry in Tobruck, Libya.

We left Chieti on 13 March 1938.  We took the train to Naples and when we arrived we went to the harbour where we embarked on a ship that would carry us to Libya.

When the ship departed and we heard the siren it was a blow to the heart.. Nearly all us recruits had tears to our eyes, for the first time away from home and going so far away.  During the trip the sea was very rough and nearly all suffered sea sickness. 

When the ship arrived at Derna on 17 March 1938 it anchored far away from the land because there was no port.  Several boats came to take us to shore.  That morning the sea was very rough and the waves were breaking over the ship and as a result they could not use the ladders in order to board the boats. To disembark they put us in the nets used to unload goods, lifted us with the crane and lowered us into the boats, when over the boat we had to wait for the waves and the boat to be level in order to jump from the net into the boat. In the boats, to help us exit from the bag, were some Arabs. We approached them with fear, in the way they were dressed with those turbans on their head.   

In every net that came down were ten soldiers. When the net was lowered we had to wait in order to jump into the boat, had to be quick to get out of the bag to avoid falling into the sea.  In fact while the net was being withdrawn one soldier was nearly thrown overboard because one leg was caught in it….

Before leaving for Tobruck we stayed for the evening in the barracks of the 115th infantry in Derna.  We slept in bunk beds…

On 18 March 1938 we left Derna for Tobruck, one column of approximately 170 trucks. There were 170km from Derna to Tobruck and we arrived on 19 March 1938. The barracks in which we were billetted were brand new.  We, the new regiment of the 116 Marmarica infantry, were the first to wear the grey green uniform in Tobruck. I was allocated to the second company.  My serial number was:  8404… 

In Tobruck, and in all of Libya, blows a wind called ‘ghibli’, very hot and the sand is driven like a fog…and the flies were as thick as bees, like large swarms. 

 Drinking water was carried by tanker from Taranto in the south of Italy. The water that we had in Tobruck was not suitable to drink because it was salty.  With that water we only washed the clothes. 

In the first few months we were training every day.  We were the soldiers of the King and because we were the first gray-green uniforms in the Italian colonies, after a few months the King, Victor Emmanuel III, came to inaugurate all the new barracks in which we lived.  Our Colonel of the 116th Regiment Marmarica infantry presented all of us soldiers in the great square, with one beautiful new road around the barracks. 

The King arrived in an open carriage with General Balbo, the commander of all the Italian troops in Libya.  Behind the General was the King, he was small with a large helmet as protection from the sun, he remained seated and we could hardly see him. We filed past [marching] with the Roman step.  The King drove around the barracks and left.

Biagio returned home on leave four times. On the 1st June 1940 Biago returned to Libya.

He served at Sidi Barrani and Sollum, withdrew to Bardia on foot, was deployed inland to Jarabub and was captured 3rd January 1941 at Bardia.

On Christmas day 1940 for lunch they gave us about eight bucatini, strands of spaghetti, cooked with water.  In those last days of 1940 we were very badly situated.  We were full of fleas, unwashed and had almost nothing to eat.

Giovanni Palermo’s journey can be found in Noi Prigionieri Africa 1941-1947

Benghazi, Derna and Giarabub in Libya

Cowra Chess Set

Artefacts made by Italian Prisoners of War are rare. While there are many memories of the gifts made by the POWs such as rings, engravings and wooden objects, there are few items still in existence.

So an email from David Stahel in Brisbane was very exciting. David owns a boxed chess set made by Italian POWs in Cowra.  It is not only beautiful but it is special because of the story behind the board.

Cowra Chess (1).jpeg

Badge on Chess Set

( from the photographic collection of David Stahel)

The Italian prisoners of war were making chess sets in 1944, when Geoffrey McInnes captured them on film.  And quite possibly David’s chess set was one such set made by the Italian POWs. The photo below shows five Italian POWs working on a lathe built from salvaged timber and metal to produce chess pieces. The sets were sold for 35/- to Army Amenities Section.

Cowra Chess AWM 4134226

(AWM Image 064356 Photo by McInnes, Geoffrey Cowra, NSW. 1944-02-07)

David’s chess sets adds detail to the history of the chess sets being made by Italian POWs at Cowra.  “My father had a chess board that he told me he bought from an Italian POW for some packs of cigarettes.  I grew up with this board and learnt to play draught and chess on it with my father… the painted watercolour scene (unsigned) is very reminiscent of the Italian countryside.  The workmanship of the board and pieces are of a very high standard. Inside is quilted with a satin like fabric. Pawns, rooks, bishops, kings, queens, draught have been turned on a lathe which the knights are carved from a turned base… My father was a lieutenant in the artillery, specifically in the anti aircraft arena,” writes David Stahel.

Boxed Chess Set

( from the photographic collection of David Stahel)

The concept of Italian POWs selling boxed chess sets for 35/- raises a few questions.  POWs were not allowed to have in their possession Australian currency, so what happened to the proceeds of sales.  Quite possibly funds were deposited into the canteen fund.  Profits from the canteen were used by POWs to purchase books for the camp library. Prisoners of war were allowed access to books and music to further their studies and libraries were established in camps. Additionally, access to books and music was a way for POWs to usefully occupy their leisure time.

More than a photo frame

Memories can be easily forgotten. Tangible items are long lasting.

The Italian prisoners of war used paint, handkerchiefs, board, thread, wood and metal to create tangible items as a way of recording their time as a prisoner of war.

Anselmo Franchi from Tesogno (Parma) crafted his memories in wood.

At first glance you will see the obvious: a photo frame in the shape of Australia.

But this is more than a photo frame: it is a record of Anselmo’s journey.

Photo frame made by Anselmo Franchi (photo courtesy of Roberto Pardini)

The crest and crown motif – Crest representing the House of Savoia, the Kingdom of Italy

The date palms, minaret, and sand dunes – Libya, Anselmo was captured at Port Bardia Libya

The three-funnel ship – the Queen Mary which transported Anselmo from Egypt to Australia

The kangaroo – Australia

F A – Franchi Anselmo

While the photo frame represents the past, with the inclusion of a photo of Anselmo’s wife, it also represented the ‘present’ and the ‘future’.

Stand for Photo Frame (photo courtesy of Roberto Pardini)

Roberto Pardini, Anselmo’s son-in-law, shares further details, “Anselmo was very proud of his work, since, as you can imagine, the tools to make it were not many. He used an axe to bring the wood to the desired thickness and with a piece of blade from a table knife he made the bas-relief. Anselmo used the map of Australia on the 1941 YMCA Christmas card as a pattern for the frame.”

Front cover of Anselmo’s 1941 Christmas Card from YMCA (photo courtesy of Roberto Pardini)

Food… finally

Food… water… the most basic of necessities was in short supply for the Italians after capture.  Providing food and water to 40,000 prisoners of war after the capture of Bardia or to 28,000 after the surrender of Tobruk was a logistical nightmare for the Allied forces.

At the Tobruk [prisoner of war]Cage it was reported that, “At first, it took one of the two infantry companies posted at the cage seven hours to distribute the day’s rations—one tin of veal, two biscuits and a bottle of water to each man, though few prisoners had even a bottle to receive their water in… The 2/2nd Battalion which relieved the 2/7th reduced the time spent feeding the prisoners to five hours by installing water tubs and employing Italian N .C.O’s to organise the lines.

(From AUSTRALIA IN THE WAR OF 1939-1945 SERIES ONE ARMY

VOLUME I TO BENGHAZI AUSTRALIA IN THE WAR OF 1939-1945

SERIES 1 (ARMY ) I . To Benghazi. By Gavin Long. *

Volume 1 Chapter 9 Capture of Tobruk)

The featured photo is dated 22 January 1943: COME AND GET IT. HUNGRY GERMAN AND ITALIAN PRISONERS TAKEN BY THE 8TH ARMY RECEIVE A RATION OF BULLY BEEF AND BISCUITS. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY). It illustrates the distribution of food as reported above: tinned meat and biscuits.

The hunger pains and the lack of food security contributed to fear of starvation and dehydration. Thirst was more pressing, made worse by the fact that the tinned meat was highly salted.

In the camps of Egypt, one would either smoke or eat. Cigarettes were currency and would be exchanged for bread. Italians took up the offer to work outside the camps or within the British Officers’ compounds. Any opportunity which offered a chance to scrounge found was taken.

Secret Document: “Ration scale to be applied in respect of prisoners of war, all ranks, from Middle East in Troop Transports” indicates that the Italians on the ships, at least for the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth voyages of 1941 were well fed.

This view is supported by written testimonies of Italians on two separate voyages of the Queen Mary

steaming food… hot tea… bread… butter… jam

breakfast…lunch…dinner

dream or reality

(AWM2021.8.387)

Suspicious that the first meals were a ruse, minds turned to thoughts that soon, life would return to days of hunger.

Will tomorrow be the day that the food rations are reduced?

Will tomorrow be the day that hunger returns?

Italians took opportunities to volunteer to work in the kitchens or galleys to ensure food security.  In time, the Italians realised that they would always have enough food and they drifted away from ‘work’.

Kindness was shown to the Italians by the British ship’s crew: a box of capstan cigarette and matches, being taken to a crew’s cabin for a shower, a bowl of plum-pudding, slices of ham, delicious apricot tart, issue of white clothing and apron for kitchen work; and the Australian soldiers: cigarettes, pressed tobacco and papers.

For c. three weeks from Suez to Sydney with three meals a day, the daunting concerns were now:

will we have enough food in the camps in Australia?

Nonno’s Blanket

Salvatore Di Noia has sent me photo of a grey blanket with light grey stripes. This blanket is his nonno’s blanket from his prisoner of war days in Australia.

Nonno’s Blanket (courtesy of Salvatore Di Noia)

Salvatore Targiani departed Australia on the Oranje, a medical ship, on the 27th March 1943.  The Oranje was the first repatriation of Italian prisoners of war, under special arrangements. Salvatore worked in the 17th Hygiene Unit in Bardia.  His skills as a medical orderly is most likely the reason for his early repatriation.

In Australia, the Italian prisoners of war were issued with 4 blankets for their bedding.  An extra blanket was issued in winter.

The topic of blankets is interesting.

Italians at Sandy Creek Transit Camp in South Australia complained about the quality of the blankets they had been issued. It was claimed that the blankets were made India and were of poor quality.  They requested that these blankets were substituted for Australian made blankets which were of a better quality.

On 27th September 1946, a newspaper reported that the Italians being repatriated on the Chitral from Western Australia, had been given army blankets at Northam Camp but they were to return them to the Australian guards upon arrival in Naples. I see a logistical problem in this directive.  There were up to 3000 Italians repatriated on ships: 4 blankets x 3000 men = 12,000 blankets.  Was it possible that the Australia guards could count every blanket?

 Pasquale Landolfi and Vincenzo Di Pietro from the Home Hill Hostel in north Queensland used their army blankets for suits.  They were found 110 south of Home Hill outside the town of Bowen.  They were dressed in grey suits made from blankets.  There were five Italian tailors at the Home Hill Hostel.

Italian officers in Myrtleford Camp in Victoria made coats from blankets. The photo below shows a rather stylish yet practical coat.  Myrtleford is in the alpine country of northern Victoria: winters have maximum temperature 12 degrees C and minimum temperature 3 degrees C.

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

1-6-43 Myrtleford Officers Camp (ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-27)

Domenico Modugno’s souvenirs from Australia were blankets. Domenico was sent to Tasmania for farm work and then was sent to V25 Hume Hostel to await repatriation.  His daughter Lucrezia recalls, “From captivity, my father brought home grey-black blankets date 1945 which we used as children in the cold winters.”

A report on a group of Italians from Liverpool Camp mentions that the men were taking home items such as soap, cotton and wool goods purchased from the canteen.  These items were in short supply in Italy. Wool army blankets would have been an appropriate and practical item to ‘souvenir’.

The men boarding the Moreton Bay repatriation ship in 1946 found many ways to strap their blankets to luggage or to make a swag to hang from shoulder to waist.

4-8-46 Repatriation of Italian prisoners of war on the Moreton Bay