Category Archives: Prigionieri di guerra italiani in Australia

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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]

Bogus Cigarettes

May-June 1943

PW Domenico SIGILLO, on transfer from No. 3 Lab. Det. COOK, [to Hay Camp] was found to be carrying two £1 notes rolled in cigarette papers and stored with genuine cigarettes in a tobacco tin.  The tin was half full of tobacco, with a packet of papers and three made cigarettes on top, indicating that the owner had rolled a few cigarettes for future use.  The false cigarettes had a small amount of tobacco each and with the notes tightly rolled in the middle.  SIGILLO also carried four aluminium rings hidden in cotton wool, two silver rings in a tin of talcum powder, Italian notes totalling 150 lire in the hollowed out wooden back of a mirror, razor blades in a hollowed out cake of soap rewrapped and sealed, and 1/- in a pot of cream. As a reward for ingenuity he received 28 days detention.  (NAA: A989, 1943/925/1/97)

Domenico Sigillo is described as 5’ tall, 126lbs, black hair and dark complexion.  He is listed as one of the men in the photo below. When the photo was taken, he was 30 years old.

Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 46279 Giuseppe Morabito; 45374 Salvatore Cardone; 45379 Giuseppe Costa; 46762 Domenico Sigillo; 46274 Giovanni Maisano; 48304 Michele Russo; 47695 Antonio Spano and Antonio Santuoro. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030142/13, Photographer Lewecki)

Domenico had been in Australia since 27.5.41, Australia’s first group of Italian prisoners of war.  He was sent to Hay PW Camp NSW and less than a year later he was sent to work on a government railway maintenance project: No. 3 Labour Detachment Cook.  Upon return to Hay Camp, a search of Italians from the Cook group took place.  His ingenious methods to conceal ‘illicit’ items was unveiled. 

In September 1944, Domenico arrived at the Home Hill PW Hostel.  His attitude to work on the Commonwealth Vegetable Project, was rewarded with a two-month transfer to Atherton in far north Queensland. Only 53 of the best and most trusted workers were sent to Atherton to harvest maize from July to September 1945.

When Domenico boarded at train at the Home Hill Railway Station in November 1945, he must have believed that repatriation was looming.

Home Hill Hostel to Gaythorne PW Camp to Cowra PW Camp

On the 23rd December 1946, Domenico boarded the Alcantara. He arrived in Naples c. 22th January 1947, it had been six years since his capture at Tobruk on 21st January 1941.

In Maropati [Reggio Calabria] Domenico had his wife Caterina, two sons and one daughter waiting for his return.

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      

In their spare time…

What isn’t written into the records is how the Italian prisoners of war kept themselves occupied during their many hours of idleness.  It just wasn’t the hours spent on board the transport ships to India and Australia that needed filling, but also the Sundays on farms and the days and nights in Cowra, Hay and Murchison.

Snippets of information from newspapers, oral histories and letters, when combined with images from photos deliver an insight into the pastimes of our Italian POWs.

CARDS and BOARD GAMES My nonno taught me how to play card games.  I have always thought that this is how he wiled away his spare hours during the ‘slack’ in the cane cutting communities of north Queensland during the 1920s and 1930s.  Briscola and scopa are two Italian card games which no doubt the Italian POWs played while in Australia.  A newspaper photographer captured two Italians playing cards onboard the train taking them to Hay.  A pack of cards is portable and cheap.

Mention is made in a newspaper article of an ‘improvised draughts board’ carried by an Italian POW when he landed in Sydney. The draught pieces had been cut from broom handles. Official photos taken at Hay and Cowra, had Italian POWs playing chess and making chess sets (from lathes constructed by the POWs).

Italian POWs Playing Cards

(The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842-1954) Thursday 16th October 1941, page 10)

EDUCATION and LANGUAGE CLASSES Costanzo Melino wrote that whilst in India, he attended Italian and English classes.  Having minimal formal education in Italy, he seized opportunities to undertake classes in Italian and English. It was considered imperative that POWs occupied their leisure time usefully and the policy was to provide opportunities for POWs to further their studies.  Libraries in the camps were established and canteen profits used to purchase additional text books relevant to courses undertaken. Books from overseas were allowed in the areas of banking and financial, medical, scientific, art, economics, music, agriculture, religion, trade and commerce as well as periodicals of a general literary nature.

METAL WORK CLASSES Rosemary Watt (Bury) is caretaker of a carved artefact made in Cowra by Angelo Capone.  Most like mass produced in a mould, the Italians then finished the carving with adornments of their choosing.  Interestingly, the Australia War Memorial has a similar arefact in their collection and one is left to ponder “how many other carved arefacts are their in homes in Australia and Italy?”

LEATHER WORK  Australian children recall the shoes and sandals made by their Italian POWs.  The leather would be produced from hides and crafted into practical items such as coin pouches, belts and footwear.  In POW group photos taken at Cowra, Hay and Murchison, many Italians can be seen wearing sandals, which were certainly not standard issue.

EMBROIDERY The origins of the elegant sewing prowess of Italian POWs is hard to locate.  Personal memories are that the Italian POWs had learnt the skill in India and embroideries completed by Italian POWs in India can be found from time to time on EBay. Two beautifully embroidered works are keepsakes of Colleen Lindley (a gift from Domenico Petruzzi to her mother Ruby Robinson of Gayndah) and Ian Harsant (a gift from Francesco Pintabona to the Harsant family of Boonah). An interesting interpretation of the word ’embroidery’ is offered by Alan Fitzgerald in his book ‘The Italian Farming Soldiers’. Used in letters written by Italian POWs,  the word ’embroidery’ was code  for ‘fascist propaganda’.

ART and MUSIC and PLAYS Musical performances and stage plays were performed in the camps.  The wigs of theatre as illustrated below were captured on film at Cowra.
V-P-HIST-01882-02.JPG

Cowra 12D 2 7.43 Wigs of Theatre V-P-HIST-01882-02

(International Committee for the Red Cross)

Instruments and art supplies were provided to Italian prisoners of war. The photo below shows a wall of the barracks at Hay which had been decorated as well as the musical instruments acquired for use by the Italians.  Furthermore, Queenslanders remember the mandolins, guitars and banjos that were played on the farms and Nino Cipolla has the music for songs his father Francesco notated while in Q6 Home Hill and Cowra PW & I Camp.

Hay.Art.Music

HAY, AUSTRALIA, 1943-09-09. GROUP OF ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR INTERNED AT NO.6. P.O.W. GROUP, WHO HAVE FORMED THEMSELVES INTO THE CAMP ORHESTRA.

(Australian War Memorial Image 030142/02)

Cowra Council have an interpretive display on a number of themes at various points around the precinct.  The Italians is once such display and under the title Members of the Family, the following is recorded: “Their great love of music, food and art endeared them to the community.  They formed bands and produced musical events which would attract local people to sit outside the camp and listen to their beautiful singing”.

FOOTBALL, TENNIS and BOXING

It is not surprising that just as football is a passion for Italians today, it was also a passion back in the 1940’s.  Group photos of Italian prisoners of war were taken in 1944, among them photos of the Football Teams.

Murchison.Football Team

MURCHISON, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA. 1944-05-20. SOCCER TEAM OF ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR OF NO. 13A COMPOUND, MURCHISON PRISONER OF WAR GROUP.

(Australian War Memorial: Image 066766)

Hay.Football

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Soccer teams from No. 15 Prisoner of War (POW) Camp lined up on the ground before commencement of play. All Italians, some have recently transferred from Hay. The match was played in temperatures over 109 degrees F.

(Australian War Memorial: Image 063921 Geoffrey McInnes)

Official photos in the Australian War Memorial collection also show the Italians playing tennis at Hay and boxing competitions at Cowra.

GARDENS and STATUES and FOUNTAINS  One would be hard put to find a piazza in Italy that doesn’t have a statue or fountain. Group photos taken at Cowra have the Italians seated in front of this prominent fountain.

V-P-HIST-01881-01.JPGo

Guerre 1939-1945 Nouvelle – Galls du Sud. Camp du Cowra Fontaine.

(International Red Cross V-P-HIST-01881-01)

Reflecting their history and culture, the Italians keenly constructed statues like the replica Colosseum  at Hay and just to the right of the photo is a tank atop a plinth. Italian POWs grew their own vegetables as is evident by the photo below. Between the barracks at Hay, gardens were dug and crops grown.   Ham Kelly told his grandson that the Italian POWs at Q6 Home Hill Hostel grew the most amazing vegetables outside their barracks.

Hay.Gardens.Statues

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. THE CRAFTSMANSHIP OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR IS ILLUSTRATED BY THIS GARDEN AT THE 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. NOTE THE MODEL OF THE COLISEUM IN THE FOREGROUND.

(Australian War Memorial Image 063365)

LETTER and JOURNAL WRITING

For the Italian POWs, there were two main regulations regarding the sending of mail:

Prisoners were not to send letters other than through official channels.

Prisoners were allowed to send two letters or two postcards or one letter and one postcard every week on approved Service of Prisoners of War Notelopes and postcards.

Unfortunately, postal services to and from Italy were unreliable. Italians became despondent at not receiving mail from family.  In a letter written by Giuliano Pecchioli, he writes on 12/1/45 that he was in receipt of his sister’s letter dated 3/6/1943.  Communication with family was difficult.  Before Christmas, POWs were given cards with Australian scenes to send home to Italy. Below is a page of a booklet of scenes produced for Christmas 1941.

Card 1941 Xmas

Di sotto la “cartolina” dell’YMCA distribuita per il Natale del 1941

(From the collection of Enrico Dalla Morra)

A number of journals survive, written by Italian soliders and prisoners of war.  For some Italians, it was a way of recording the events of the lives, over which they had little control.  From Tobruk to Clare  is the story of Luigi Bortolotti as recorded in his diary. The “Libbretta” of “Corporal Cofrancesco Umberto” is the basis for “Umberto’s War” . Recorded are details of his journey as a soldier and prisoner of war which took him to Australia.  Another journal “Diario di Guerra” by Francesco D’Urbano was found in  the sands of north Africa by an Australia soldier.  In time, the soldier asked the assistance of CO.AS.IT to trace D’Urbano.  Laura Mecca researched the Italian archives and found that he had spent time in India before returning to Italy.  A copy of the diary was presented to his wife.

CRAFT

While this photo is of Italian POWs in an Egyptian camp, it illustrates the type of craft work POWs engaged in and similar projects would have been undertaken in Australian camps.

NZ Italian Prisoners of War Craft Work

Italian prisoners of war with items of their carved handiwork at Helwan POW Camp, Egypt. One prisoner shown chiselling portrait features of a roundel. Taken 1940-1943 by an official photographer.

John Oxley Library from the collection of New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs Image DA-00736-F