Category Archives: Queensland Italian POWs

What a journey!

Today I introduce you to Pasquale Landolfi from Frattaminore Napoli. Pasquale was 20 years old when he was captured at Tobruk 21.1.1941.

From 13.10.41 and his arrival on the Queen Mary into Sydney NSW until his departure on 28.6.1949 from Sydney NSW on the SS Surriento Pasquale travels through five states of Australia.

Tracing his journey Pasquale went from NEW SOUTH WALES: Sydney to Cowra Camp to VICTORIA: Murchison Camp. He transited through SOUTH AUSTRALIA on his way to WESTERN AUSTRALIA: No 8 Labour Detachment Karrakatta and Marrinup Camp.

Pasquale then crossed Australia again and returned to VICTORIA: Murchison Camp and then NEW SOUTH WALES: Hay Camp.

The next stage of his journey took him to QUEENSLAND: Gaythorne Camp and Home Hill* Hostel. After escaping from the Home Hill Hostel, he briefly ‘visited’ Bowen until his arrest and return the Home Hill Hostel.

He returned to Gaythorne Camp before a return to VICTORIA: Murchison Camp and the Dandenong after he escaped from a Murchison working party. Upon capture he was sent to NEW SOUTH WALES: Holdsworthy Military Barracks for detention.

Three Italian prisoners of war boarded the SS Surriento in Sydney on 28.6.49: Pasquale Landolfi, Giacomo Tagliaferri and Isidoro Cammaroto. The ship sailed from Sydney to Brisbane QLD before departing for Italy.

The newspaper article below records this unusual situation of a passenger liner carrying three prisoners of war and two political deportees.

Brisbane Telegraph (Qld. : 1948 – 1954), Thursday 30 June 1949, page 8

1949 ‘Line­­r Has Unwelcome Quintette’, Brisbane Telegraph (Qld. : 1948 – 1954), 30 June, p. 8. (CITY FINAL), viewed 20 Jul 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212190014

*Home Hill is 97 km south of Townsville. Bowen is 104 km south of Home Hill and 84 km north of Whitsundays.

Rosary Beads

Rosary beads are one of the most recognised symbols of Catholicism.

Before I received this photo from Rocco Severino De Micheli, I had not thought about rosary beads and prisoners of war. But for a catholic, rosary beads are important.

Graziella from Cormano Lombardia provides her personal perspective, “Rosary is a powerful weapon against evil. It means CROWN OF ROSES and every time you recite a Hail Mary, with a bead, it is like giving a rose to the Virgin Mary. I say this prayer every day and I always have a rosary in my bag and another one under my pillow. When you hold a Rosary in your hand you feel protected; you are under the mantle of the Virgin Mary and whatever happens you are protected.”

from “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995

The apostolic delegate Giovanni Panico is photographed distributing rosary beads to prisoners of war in Gaythorne Camp Queensland*.


a small but significant gesture


Another interesting reference to rosary beads comes from India. Italian prisoners of war in the British camps in India made requests through the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) for sandalwood and carving knives so that they could make rosary beads.
Rosary beads are like prayer beads used in other religions. To pray the rosary is to recite specific prayers corresponding with particular beads on the string.
A rosary is a made up of a crucifix, one larger bead, three small beads, another larger bead and then a medal. After the medal comes a larger bead again, followed by a group of 10 smaller beads.
Rosary beads are a symbol of religion: a souvenir of your home, parish church, your youth; a reminder to pray.


What did rosary beads mean for the Italian prisoners of war?

*If the photo is dated 1942, then the only residents of Gaythorne Camp were internees, Australian resident Italians who were arrested in parts of Queensland and sent to Gaythorne Camp before onward movement to southern camps.
*If the men in the photo are Italian prisoners of war, then the photo would have been taken from October 1943 onwards.

Further Notes

The image below is of a WW 2 Pull Chain Rosary. Another smaller version of the rosary is the rosary circle.

https://vatican.com/2/Rosaries-Wwii-Soldiers/

I remember Tony, Mike and Matt…

Ninety-year-old Ron Treloar was 14 years old when Tony, Mike and Matt came to work and live on his family’s farm at Hansen Road Dagun via Gympie.

In the red volcanic soil of the district, the Treloar family grew French beans and pineapples for the Melbourne and Sydney markets.  The three Italian prisoners of war were also responsible for clearing some of the scrub which was littered with volcanic basalt rock.  They used the rocks to build dry stone walls/barriers which were about four feet high. They were very skilled in keeping the wall aligned.

Ron remembers that the men were good at pruning the grape vines, grown for house grapes.  They lived in a three-roomed part of the shed which had been fitted out for them with beds, a kitchen and stove.  Mike returned to Australia after the war and wrote dad a letter.  He asked if he could visit as he really wanted to collect the old stove. Mike must have mastered the wood stove and saw it as important to his memories of those years.  Unfortunately, his wife told him it was too dangerous to travel to Dagun.

The open spaces of farm life was appreciated by the Italians.  Ron reminisces, “The country is hilly and they would sing O Sole Mio and Ave Maria and their voices would reverberate through the hills. I remember a visit from my cousin Trevor with his family. Trevor was about 3 or 4 years old at the time.  They talked amongst themselves when they saw Trevor.  He had red curly hair and reminded them of cherubs. They were allowed to go to church at Kandanga but they always returned home subdued. Dad found out eventually that one of the prisoners in the district was a fascist and he would goad our fellows and stir them up.  They were different when they returned from church.”

Ron continues, “The canteen truck would come around home once a month and they could buy items.  The spaghetti came in a wooden box about 3 feet long, 1 foot wide and 4 inches deep.  One month, there was no spaghetti.  They were different without spaghetti and very annoyed.  They asked mum for some flour and eggs and they made their own spaghetti out under the awning of the shed.  Then they hung up the strands like you would hand up washing.  Once dad had shot a hare.  They were keen to ask if they could have the hare to eat.  They cooked it up with tomatoes and onions and served it up with spaghetti.”

“When it was time for them to leave, the Italians cried.  It was a sad day for the whole family. We never had any trouble with them, they were like family. I still remember their names all these years later: Tony Palladino, Matt Macchia and Mike Laricchia,” Ron reflects.

There full names are Angelo Antonio PALLADINO, Matteo MACCHIA and Michele LARICCHIA. From the same region of Bari, the three men are in a photo taken at Cowra Camp 6th February 1944.  They were then transferred to Gaythorne Camp in Queensland on the 6th April 1944. 

The Treloar farm at Dagun was their home from 2nd June 1944 to 4th January 1946.

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 47904 M. Bello; 45091 C. Bono; 47434 F. De Venuto; 57496 G. Sinisi; 49432 S. Cristiano; 46264 N. Monteleone; 57291 M. Laricchia. Front row: 45349 L. Caputo; 57302 F. Liberto; 57414 A. A. Palladino; 57324 M. Macchia; 57210 A. Fato. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030173/06 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Michele Laricchia [Michael Laricchia] was interviewed by John Meredith and Rob Willis from the National Library of Australia. Click on the link to hear the interview: NLA Interview with Michael Laricchia.

A special thank you to Ron Treloar for sharing his memories via a telephone conversation. Ron’s memories are vibrant and fresh in his mind. Thank you also to Alex Miles for tracking down contact details for Ron.

Miracoli di Internet!

 

My research into Italian prisoners of war in Queensland has a number of public faces: the book Walking in their Boots, the website: italianprisonersofwar.com and the facebook page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia

It was through the facebook page that I received notification from Nino Amante in Italy. On 23rd March 2018, Nino wrote, “Sono il figlio di Angelo Amante, il più alto nella foto.”  Nino had not only found a photo of his father on the facebook page but he then found the website’s article, A Day in the life of …  and comments about his father’s time working on a farm ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian via Gympie 72 years ago.

This was an accident. Nino had been searching the internet for an article about his son, named for his grandfather, Angelo Amante, and instead found his father. Nino was overwhelmed.

I believe that things happen for a reason.  I do not know the chances of bringing together the son of an Italian prisoner of war and the son of a Goomboorian farmer. But a google search and a phone call* has brought together the two sides to this history.

Nino Amante’s words and contact has brought this story ‘full circle’. “E’ stata per me una grande emozione avere delle informazioni da aggiungere a quelle raccotle dall sua viva voce, quando mi parlava del period della sua prigionia,” Nino reflects.  Nino not only has knowledge about his father’s time on this farm, but he has a connection to Jim and John Buchanan who were young boys at the time and who have fond memories of Angelo.

More importantly, Angelo’s story before and after ‘Redslopes’ emerges.  At 19 years old, Angelo Amante began his military training, first in Turin and then in Bolzano.  He was a member of the 7th Reggimento Bersaglieri(marksmen).  He was then transferred to Taranto and in 1941, he left Italy by ship for Libya.  He was lucky to survive the journey to Libya, as many soldiers died after the fleet was bombed by the British.

Angelo Amante (1)

Angelo Amante: 19 years old

(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)

Angelo was captured at Gialo, a Libyan oasis town on 25th November 1941. Gialo was taken by British and Punjabi troops on 24th November 1941, but a small group of Italian soldiers continued fighting in the north east  El Libba sector.  After four hours of combat, two Italian had been killed and 27 Italian soldiers were taken prisoner.

Possibly the photo  below of a relaxed Angelo was taken at Benghasi, his first experience of Libya. Like many of his generation, Angelo spent ‘his youth’ in foreign and difficult circumstances. He returned home to Italy when he was 25 years old. Nino explains, “Sei dei suoi anni piubelli trascorsi fra guerra e prigionia.”

Angelo Amante (3)

Angelo Amante in Libya 1941

(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)

Angelo’s journey is like many of his peers.  Italy to the battle field to Egypt to India to Australia to Italy.  Angelo arrived in Melbourne Australia 29th December 1943. The next day he was in the Cowra PW & I Camp.  His time there is recorded in a group photo Cowra 6th February 1944. Ten days later, Angelo was sent to Gaythorne Queensland 16th February 1944.

A Amante standing first left

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57037 A. Amante; 57273 G. Guarnaccia; 57288 G. La Iacona; 57252 S. Giambusso; 57051 C. Avola; 46957 S. Vizzini; 57257 G. Giarratano. Front row: 57268 M. Gordini; 57070 L. Bloisi; 57046 R. Armentano; 57038 S. Amoroso; 57226 D. Foringo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial Image 030173/15)

Before Nino’s internet search, he had one photo and the stories about his father’s time in Australia, but he did not know dates or places.  Nino says, “Sapevo che mio padre era stato in Australia, ma in quale parte di Australia? Che era vissuto in una fattoria, ma quale fattoria?”  But his time in Australia was always remembered with fondness, a place to which Angelo wanted to return.  In 1956, Angelo made preparations to emigrate to Australia with his wife and family. During a medical visit, it was discovered he had a small heart problem and his dreams of going to Australia ended. But his family kept safe a small photo of three men and two boys, knowing that it was an important part of Angelo’s memories of Australia.

Angelo Amante (2)

Angelo Amante , Salvatore Scicchitani (Schichitano), Vincenzo Cannavo with John and Jim Buchanan at Redslopes Goomboorian via Gympie

(courtesy of Nino Amante)

For over seven decades, this photo  did not have a context.  Nino knew that the photo was from his father’s time on a farm, but he did not know where in Australia this farm was located. Angelo told his family a story about chilli plants he had grown on this farm and now he knows it was Jim, a little boy who tasted the chilli with severe repercussions.  Angelo told his family about a trip to the city, to undergo a medical visit at the hospital and the wonder of seeing so many kangaroos on the way.

Jim’s memories and Angelo’s stories to his family are being slotted together. Nino writes that his father arrived in Australia from POW camps in India with very poor health. Angelo had contracted malaria and Nino remembers the story of  an old lady on the farm who realised the seriousness of his condition and encouraged him to eat and the need for him to regain his strength.    Jim knows exactly who this lady was, his Aunty Mag [Margaret], who was the matron (supervisor) for the Land Army girls on the farm.  Angelo’s visit to the Gympie Hospital is recorded in the farm diary: August 21 1944 – Angelo going to hospital.   And the stories travel back and forth between Italy and Australia and across the decades.

Upon Angelo’s return to Italy, he made his way home to Fiumefreddo di Sicilia and his widowed mother.  Angelo married in 1953 and moved to Mascali, his wife’s home town.  He continued to work the land and raised his family: Nino and Giuseppina.  In 1984, Angelo passed away at the age of 63.

Angelo Amante (4)

Angelo Amante

(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)

The sharing of stories and memories, the answering of questions and the ‘Miracoli di Internet!’ is like finding those missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle and finally being able to put them in place.

*In September 2017, I telephoned Jim Buchanan in Gympie.  I had been told that he was the person to speak to about some of the Italian prisoners of war in the Gympie district.  Jim’s words to me were, “I think you will be surprised with what I have to tell you.  I don’t think you will have found another one like this.” And surprised I was!

Jim’s father Neil Buchanan had kept a farm diary for ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian. Peppered through the entries from 7th March 1944 to 1st January 1946 are references not only about farm life, but also to the Italian prisoners of war at ‘Redslopes’. This diary offers a very unique and firsthand account about the employment of Italian prisoners of war.

On 24th March 2018, I telephoned Jim again.  I told Jim that I had some extraordinary news for him. Angelo’s son had sent me an email.  It took a few minutes for the news to sink in. Jim is rarely lost for words. I said to Jim, I wonder if Angelo took any photos home to Italy with him.  Nonplussed, Jim felt that this is not probable as very few photos were taken in those days.   Like Nino Amante, this journey for the Buchanan family is emotional and remarkable.

A Voice from the Past…

In a beautiful tribute to his nonno, Damiano Lumia recorded the voice of Antonino Lumia telling his story as a soldier and a prisoner of war.

Lumia Antonio Lumia Hay II

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: 46032 Raffaele Lomonaco; 46627 Giuseppe Restivo; 46007 Antonio Lumia (front row second left); 45586 Isidoro De Blasi; 46206 Gaetano Mineo; 45360 Giuseppe Cannata; 45103 Leonardo Barbera; 45997 Pietro Lomonte; 46221 Antonio Rondi and 47999 Leonardo Ciaccio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(Australian War Memorial Lewecki Image 030143/33)

Antonino’s  journey begins in Sicily and listening to his voice, we follow in his footsteps from his home town of Bompensiere to Toburk and Benghazi, then Australia. Finally, Antonino takes us back to Italy and his family.

Antonino Lumia begins his story with,

My dear grandson, I had a lot of trouble. When they called us…”

and ends with…

I saw your grandmother. I came down. I came home. I rushed to your father. Here is my story, dear grandson. The sufferings were severe, dear grandson”.

Damiano’s video Antonino Lumia POW in Australia 1941-1946  combines images of Bompensiere with photographs and documents from Australian War Memorial and National Archives of Australia  to take the viewer on an intimate journey through time.

Antonino’s memories are told with humour and melancholy. English subtitles combined with Antonino’s voice, makes this accessible for those who only speak English. More importantly for those Queenslanders who have memories of ‘their’ Italian POW, it brings back to life their voices: the timbre and musicality of the Italian language.

“Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland” has always been about connectivity between people, with the past, between Italians and Australians, with memories and history.

I am honoured and humbled that Damiano Lumia’s video has become part of this project for the oral histories of Italian prisoners of war are paramount to adding depth and perspective to this project.

Another aspect of the project has been to connect people with information. Research has provided Damiano with details about Antonino’s time in Queensland.  Antonino Lumia was assigned to Q3 PWCC Gympie along with Giovanni Adamo.  They were employed by Mr R – Mr Kevin John Rodney of North Deep Creek from 14 March 1944 to 4 January 1946.  Miss Gloria, mentioned by Antonino is Miss Gloria Davis from Auchenflower.  Mr R and Miss Gloria were married in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Brisbane on 6th May 1944.

Antonino remembers with clarity when he first met Miss Gloria. “The farmer was back. You could hear the horn of his car in the distance.  His wife was with him.  I had planted very beautiful flowers near the hut. I mad a bouquet of flowers.  When they arrived near us… I offered flowers to his wife.  He introduced us to his wife: Miss Gloria. They went home. For us the work continued. The next morning Madame served us the meal.  A very nice woman. Every morning I brought wood to this woman for cooking”, speaks Antonino.

Antonino Lumia’s testimony is not only a voice from the past but also an important window into the past.  Click on the above link and take a walk with Antonino through history.

Lumia Antonio Lumia Hay

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR HAVING A MEAL IN THEIR MESS AT NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. PICTURED ARE: 46007 ANTONIO LUMIA (1); 45824 BRUNO GALLIZZI (2); 46734 ALMO STAGNARO (3); 48355 GIUSEPPE ARRIGONI; (4); 45087 ANTONIO BACCIGALUPO (5); 46620 MICHELE RIZZO (6); 46626 EMILIO RUOCCO (7); 46635 FRANCO RONDELLI (8); 45900 ALESSANDRO IANNOTTA (9).

(Australian War Memorial, Geoffrey McInnes Image 063371)

 

Milestone, Miracles and Magic

Today it is 4 years since I launched this website/blog. It is an important milestone.

With 207 posts and 12 pages, Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Australia is the most comprehensive documentation of this chapter in Australia’s history.

We are an international research project with Australians and Italians in 14 countries contributing a diverse range of items, insights and memories. We have built a community where information is share freely. We are unique because of the diversity of perspectives portrayed.

There are moments of sadness; moments of elation and moments of quiet reflection.

It is important that we try to place ourselves in the boots of the soldier and prisoner of war and walk through this history.

Four years ago, I had no knowledge of website building and blogging. Four years ago, I did not think that “Google Translate” would become my best friend. Four years ago I did not know the history of Bardia or Matapan nor did I know the geographic location of many of the regional Australian farming communities in this history.

Nino Amante from Catania accidentally found a photo of his father on the internet and wrote to me about the “Miracolo di Internet”.

I also believe that your individual passionate searches for your father or grandfather’s ‘lost years’ is part of this ‘magic‘.

Families cannot always find specific personal information about and connections to Australia families for their father or grandfathers. But in the sharing of information, there is the possibility to reconstruct the journey for your loved ones.

My family wonder when I will stop!

My answer is ‘I don’t know’.

Regardless of when I run out of energy, this website serves as a ‘virtual’ museum: a museum which can add items to its collection at any time.

I patiently await the next donation to this museum.

Ciao

Joanne

NB New donations coming soon: Geneifa Eggito and Yol India

Un’altra Coincidenza

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57063 A. Belsito; 57300 G. Lettera; 57314 A. Limongi; 57317 G. Lucente; 57478 D. Ruggiano; 57363 L. Mastrota; 57120 A. Chiaradia. Front row: 57473 G. Rocco; 45281 M. Coiro; 57386 V. Messuto; 48003 G. Di Fazio; 57208 G. Farina. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Francesco Chiaradia was showing his friend photos and information he had uncovered for his grandfather Antonio Chiaradia and friends Lorenzo and Domenico. His friend was amazed, in the photo is also his great uncle Giovacchino Luciente: an ‘accidental’ connection.

Then another coincidence emerged.

In February 2017, I interviewed Joyce Dickenson in Kingarory Queensland. Joyce was newly married to Dudley Dickenson when they employed two Italian prisoners of war in 1944: Giuseppe Lettera and Giovacchino Luciente who are both in the photo above.

Identity Card for Giovacchino Luciente (NAA: J3119 98)

Joyce remembered: “they were young men, ordinary men with no will to fight or to be the enemy. They were terribly homesick and would look forward to receiving letters which came on canteen day once a week on a Monday… They slept in a room at the corner of two verandas of a Queenslander [typical house style]…. they were scared of frogs. The veranda was unsealed and the frogs would get in. The men would stuff rags into the corrugations of the roof to try to keep the frogs out. They would catch the frogs and take them away but two days later they would be back…Dud [Dudley] set up a ping pong [tabletennis] table for them. I suppose to give them something to do… They weren’t allowed alcohol but they used the oranges to make liquor, making a still out of a 4 gallon kerosene tin. I don’t think they had much success with the alcohol, so I don’t count the still as a breach in the rules… they weren’t with us long, but it seemed like a long time. It was long enough for them to become part of our family and for me to have fond memories of those times.”

Identity Card for Giuseppe Lettera (NAA: J3118 91)

A special thank you to Joyce and her daughter Robyn for sharing these memories and being part of this historical journey.

Three Distinct Del-Bo Paintings

Hugh Cullimore Assistant Curator: Art Section at the Australian War Memorial has uncovered another painting by prisoner of war Riccardo Del Bo.

A caricature of Lt Colonel Brown is housed in the Australian War Memorial.  It was attributed as a caricature painted by an Italian prisoner of war which,  “depicts a profile portrait caricature of Lt. Colonel Montague Ambrose Brown (1899-1975) wearing a cap and uniform, who served as Group Commandant of the Cowra prisoner of war camp during the Second World War. During his time at Cowra, Lt. Colonel Brown became friendly with a number of the Italian POWs interred there, before returning to civilian duties in 1947. The Cowra prisoner of war camp was constructed in 1941-42 to house Italian POWs captured by Allied Forces during the war. By December 1942, some 2000 mainly Italian prisoners and internees were housed in the camp.”

Caricature of Lt Colonel Montague Ambrose Brown 1943 by Riccardo Pietro Edwardo Del Bo (AWM ART92902)

The signature of the artist appeared to be RDel-Bi, which was thought to be an abbreviation and not identifiable.

A little luck; a little magic and RDel-Bi is Riccardo Del-Bo. Confirmation came from grandson Riccardo Del-Bo in Italy, “..it is confirmed that the technique used is that of my grandfather and also the signature I found on other works. I always thank you for your interest.” The Del-Bo family is planning a ‘Retrospective Exhibition: Maestro Riccardo Del-Bo’ and is always interested in finding more evidence of Riccardo’s art. Other examples of his work can be found at this link : Maestro Riccardo Del Bo – 1914/1997

Riccardo Del-Bo’s legacy in Australia is two portraits and one caricature.

 Riccardo was at Cowra Camp from October 9141 to October 1943 and Lt. Colonel Brown was at Cowra Camp from March to August 1943. This is the period when he painted Lt Colonel Brown. How many other caricatures did Riccardo paint while in Cowra?

Riccardo then left his mark at his next placement: a farm outside Stanthorpe, Queensland. He painted a young Janette Jones. The portrait of Janette’s sister Dorothy, unfortunately has been lost. Click on the link for this article: Del Bo the painter

Portrait of Janette Jones (photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

The third Del-Bo portrait was rescued by Jennifer Ellis at a second hand shop in country Victoria and purchased for $2.00. Riccardo spent almost two years at the Murchison Prisoner of War Camp in Victoria; pointing in the direction that this portrait was painted in this camp. Click on the link for this article: Another Del-Bo

Portrait of a Lady by Riccardo Del-Bo (photo courtesy of Jennifer Ellis)

Three distinct prisoner of war placements; three distinct portraits.

The Italian prisoners of war were more than captured soldiers in burgundy coloured uniforms; they were individuals who amongst the backdrop of ‘imprisonment’ found a way to shine.

Prayers, Priests and Chapels

The inspiration for this article began with a photo of the Cowra Chapel. After some research, I realised that this topic was much more complex.  Prayers, Priests and Chapels begins with the patron saints of villages and is a journey of the Italian soldier and prisoners of war through their faith.

Italy

There might have been exceptions but it was reported that all Italian prisoners of war were Catholic.  Evidence of their religious faith starts with the prayer cards they were given of the patron saint of their village. These prayer cards were taken with them to the battlefields, to the prisoner of war camps, to Australia and then finally returned with the men to Italy.

Domenico Feruilli’s Prayer Card (photo courtesy of Rossana Ferulli)

Libya

In Libya Roman Catholic Churches were built by the Italians before the outbreak of war. Did the Italian soldiers get an opportunity to visit these churches and pray? Did they light a candle for their safety in battle? Or maybe they made the sign of the cross as they passed by these churches on the way to battle?

Biagio di Ferdinando wrote, “During my travels from Tobruck to Bengasi, after Derna and Barce there were many beautiful villas, towns, schools, churches, all new.”  (Odyssey by Biagio di Ferdinando)

1st March 1941 BENGHAZI. EXTERIOR OF THE CATHEDRAL OF THE SACRED NAME OF JESUS. SMALL BOMBS HAVE FALLEN IN THE COURTYARD BEFORE THE CATHEDRAL AND THE BLAST FROM HEAVY GERMAN BOMBS HAS SHATTERED MOST OF THE WINDOWS. (AWM Image 006539, Photographer Hurley, James Francis (Frank)

Egypt

In 1941, the Apostolic Delegate for Egypt and Palestine had ‘Libro di Preghiere’ published in Palestine, with the permission of G.H.Q. Middle East. It was a prayer book distributed to Italian prisoners of war. 

It included Preghiera Del Prigioniero as well as part of a prayer for the prisoners by Pope Pius XII. For many, this would have been their only book but it was a book to give the men spiritual guidance and comfort.

Libro di Preghiere (photo courtesy of Daniel Reginato)

India

In India, the men were given materials to paint and sew with. The men drew inspiration from their faith. Filippo Granatelli’s ‘Last Supper’ is one example.

Filippo Granatelli 16.11.42 (photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

Many of the embroideries are religious in nature: the patron saint of a village, Jesus, The Sacred Heart, Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Giuseppe Polito: Rappresenta la Madonna degli Angeli, protettrice di Sacco (SA) il suo paese. (photo courtesy of Silvio Masullo)

Carved Wooden Statue of Madonna made by Isidoro Del Piccolo in Yol Camp India (photo courtesy of Ermanno Scrazzolo)

The Italians brought a little of Italy to the chapels in the British camps in India with elaborate decorations: paintings, statues, frescos and altars.

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 22, aile 4. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Prisonniers se recueillant devant un autel. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 22, wing 4. Italian prisoners of war camp. Prisoners meditating in front of an altar.

Prisoners Praying Camp 22 Wing 4 Bangalore (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-10A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 23. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Altar. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 23. Italian prisoners of war camp. Altar.

Camp No 23 Bangalore Altar (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-16A)

Worthy of note are the details of Our Lady of the Prisoner. The hat, the shirt with a black diamond patch, the shorts with the black strip; items which identified the men as prisoners of war have been meticuoulsy represented.

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Groupe I. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Monument “Notre-Dame du prisonnier”. Word War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp. “Notre-Dame du prisonnier” monument.

Our Lady of the Prisoner Bangalore Group I 12.12.1941 (ICRC V-P-HIST=03474-05A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp 2. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Autel dans la chapelle. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 2. view of the altar in the chapel.

Bangalore Camp 2 View of the Altar in the Chapel (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-20A)

Australia: In the Camps

The first group of Italian prisoners of war arrived at Hay Camp New South Wales in May 1941. A 1943 report and a 1944 photo records information about how the spiritual needs of the Italians were catered for at Hay Camps 7 and 8:

The prisoners of war of these two camps are all Catholics. Camp 8 has a chapel adorned with a beautiful altar carved in wood and having a harmonium. The chapel of Camp 7 is located in one of the refectories; it also has a beautiful sculpted altar and a harmonium. Each camp has a prisoner of war priest who provides regular worship.

Camp priest, Virgilio Iacobelli featured below arrived in Australia on 27th May 1941 with the first group of Italian prisoners of war.  He served at both Hay and Cowra camps.

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. 45005 LIEUTENANT PADRE I. VIRGILIO IACOBELLI AN ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, AT THE ALTAR IN THE CHAPEL OF NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. ALL THE CRAFT WORK IN THE CHAPEL WAS DONE BY THE PRISONERS. PLAYING THE ORGAN IS 45192 SERGEANT MAJOR VINCENZO COMMARATA. (AWM Image 063360, Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)

To make way for new arrivals of Italian prisoners of war to Australia, Italians were transferred from the established camps at Hay to the tented camps of Cowra.  Cowra Prisoner of War Camps for the Italians were under construction.  In November 1941, photos and reports record the temporary chapel and arrangements for church services:

Each section has a large tent serving as a chapel, containing a pretty altar built for prisoners. The sacred candles, bread and wine are provided once a week by the local priest of Cowra.  Religious duties are carried out by three prisoner of war priests. Recently, Cowra had a visit from the Archbishop of Sydney, representing the Apostolic Delegate in Australia.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra No 12, section D. Autel en construction. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp 12, section D. Altar under construction

Cowra Camp No 12 Section D Altar under Construction 12.11.41 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00216)

Giuseppe Raimondi from Amaroni (Catanzaro) served as priest at Cowra Special Camp 12 D before being sent to Victoria: V28 Attwoods, Myrtleford Camp, Puckapunyal and V22 Rowville. Raimondi was called as a witness to an inquiry into Captain JM Waterson and the fatal shooting of Rodolfo Bartoli at V22 Rowville.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra No 12, section D. La chapelle. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp 12, section D. Chapel

Cowra Camp No 12 Section D The Chapel 12.11.41 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00215)

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra, camp A, série A. Autel dans un réfectoire. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp A, serie A. Altar in a dining hall.

Cowra Camp A Altar in the Dining room 3.9.42 (ICRC V_P-HIST-E-00218)

Faustino Lenti from Milano had been a Missionary Father in India and served at Cowra Camps.  Lenti was a charismatic and colourful character and by April 1944, it was reported: It is alleged that he controls a ‘basher gang’ composed of PoW… and that he employs a personal bodyguard for his protection. The latest information about him is that he fears an attempt will be made on his life. (NAA: SP196/2 443/1/5280)

Reports were conflicting.

Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Information Board (photo courtesy of David Ackers)

The Apostolic Delegate for Australia, Monseigneur Giovanni Panicio published ‘L’Amico del Prigioniero’ in1943.  It is a prayer book written in Latin and Italian containing the service of the mass, important prayers, Catholic Calendar of Holy Days from 1943 to 1951 and hymns.

Having the book written in Italian and Latin is significant.  Mass was said in Latin until the Second Vatican 1965. This book ensured that the Italian prisoners of war had a prayer book in Italian. This gesture was a significant show of concern for the spiritual welfare of the Italian prisoners of war in Australia.

Ermanno Nicoletti carved a piece of wood and turned it into a profile of his mother, while praying. Granddaughter Alessandra contemplates, “News of prisoners of war were scarce and at some point my grandmother almost lost faith that her son was still alive.” On the other side of the world in Australia, Ermanno ‘knew’ that his mother was praying for him and carved his thoughts in wood.

Wood Carving by Ermanno Nicoletti (photo courtesy of Alessandra Nicoletti)

Australia: Life on the farm

By the middle of 1943, the first Italian prisoners of war were sent to farm placements in the Hamilton district of Victoria and Coonabarabran district of New South Wales.  This trial was successful and was implemented throughout Australia: Prisoner of War Control Centres: Without Guards [PWCC].  In the Notice to Employers of Prisoners-of-War given to the farmers as part of the employment contract there is this statement:

5. You will be required to see that the following rules are obeyed:-

          (a) P.W. must not leave your property except-

(i) to attend religious services, for which special arrangements will be made by the Military Authorities; (NAA: D2380)

There are many memories of the Italians attending local churches. All manner of transport was used to get the men to church; bikes, horse and sulky, truck, car, on foot.  It was remembered the Italians would go to church with the Catholic family on the neighbouring farm, as the host family were not Catholic. Children of the time remember the Italians walking to church in their ‘red pyjamas’ a reference to the burgundy coloured uniform the men wore. Some Australians remember with shame that the Italian POWs had to stand at the back or sides of the church and had to leave the mass before its conclusion. Others recall the beautiful singing voices of the Italians during mass.

Italians in the Boonah district of Queensland attended a Mission Church because they learned that the pastor, Dr Dwyer spoke Italian. The Italians would enjoy conversations with Dr Dwyer after service.  Members of the congregation knew this was against the ‘rules’ and wondered if they would get arrested for their compassion. Father Steele from Beaudesert Queensland, assisted and nominated Paul Raffa with his application process to return to Australia.  It was Father Steele who welcomed Raffa when he disembarked from the ‘Napoli’ at Brisbane in May 1949.  

In June 1944, a special event was reported in the Gympie news:  His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate, Most Rev. John Panico, has recently been visiting prisoners of war employed in various centres on the North Coast of Queensland.  At Gympie he met a large number of them at St. Patrick’s Church, where he celebrated Mass.  At 10 o’clock his Excellency addressed the people, speaking in Italian to the prisoners of war and tendering them excellent advice.  The services of these men are greatly valued by their employers because of their good habits and their knowledge of rural industries. (1944 ‘Of General Interest’, Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 7 June, p. 4. , viewed 12 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172213489)

However this event drew the ire of Smith’s Weekly whose headline was:  Fascist “Guard of Honor” and made mention of ‘dago prisoners of war’.

Also criticized was a decision by Commonwealth Authorities to give a petrol allowance [petrol was rationed in Australia during WW 2] to farmers to take Italian prisoners to church. The question was asked as to ‘why such benevolent treatment was accorded “these dagoes”.’

A kindly gentleman, Cyril Blacket of Pinery South Australia met an Italian prisoner of war at his local church.  With good intentions, Cyril tried to communicate with the Italian farm worker, via the Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War booklet the Italian had, but with little success.  Blacket applied to the Department of Army for a copy of the booklet, only to be warned: PW are not allowed to fraternise with members of the public, PW Camp Order No. 13 Sec 68 (c). (NAA: D2380)

1946 Cowra Camp

In 1946, the Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farm placements and brought into the camps to await repatriation. It was during this time that two altar panels for the chapel were painted by Cowra Italian POWs.

Cowra Chapel 1946 (courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)

Back to Italy

Ippolito Moscatelli from Ospitaletto di Cormano (Milano) returned to Italy with photos of the Cowra Chapel.  It is with special thanks to his granddaughter Francesca Maffietti that there is a record of the Cowra Chapel in 1946.

The altar panels survived. However they deserve a more detailed article.

How many other copies of this photo returned to Italy?

Have you seen this photo in your nonno’s collection?

Maybe you thought this photo was of a church in Italy?

Life as a soldier and as a prisoner of war was difficult.  Some Italians were absent from their families for ten years. Those years saw the men always on the move.  Life was a continual cycle of change.

One aspect of the men’s lives that did no change was their religious faith.

… prayer books, churches, chapels, paintings, frescoes, statues, embroideries, priests, photos, prayer cards, memories…

Welcome… Benvenuto

Welcome to Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War a comprehensive archive of documents, artefacts, testaments, photographs and research relating to this compelling chapter in Australian history. This is a community history involving Australian and Italian families from fourteen countries who have shared their stories so that this history is not forgotten.

Sneath Murray Bridge

Over 18000 Italian Prisoners of War came to Australia from 1941 – 1945. Captured in theatres of war in North Africa, East Africa and Europe, they were transported to Australia  via staging camps in Egypt, Palestine and India.

There is much written about internment in Cowra, Murchison and Hay the main Prisoner of War and Internment Camps in New South Wales and Victoria, but only snippets of information are recorded about  Italian prisoners of war in other states.

This research features Italian prisoners of war and their farming families in Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales. Articles cut across a range of topics: the battles in Libya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Greece; the movement of prisoners from the place of capture to prisoner of war camps in Egypt and Palestine; interment in the camps of India; transport to Australia; repatriation from Australia and arrival in Naples.  

The stories and memories of Italian and Australian farming families gives this history a voice.  The diversity of photos and relics shared personalises what would otherwise be a very black and white official report.

The articles featured on the project’s website brings colour and personality to this almost forgotten chapter in Australia’s history.

The Italian prisoners of war were more than just a POW.  They were fathers, brothers, sons and husbands from across Italy and from diverse backgrounds and occupations.

Follow their journey…. Walking in their Boots

Nonno Ermano Nicoletti’s Journey

(Photos and documents from: AWM, Red Cross, NAA, Trove, Alessandra Nicoletti, Nambucca Guardian: Ute Schulenberg, David Akers)