A farm in the wheat growing district of Popanyinning WA was home to Enrico Riga for two years from March 1944 to March 1946.
Enrico Riga working on a farm in WA (photo courtesy of Maria Riga)
From Lamon Belluno, Enrico was captured on 5th April 1941 in Addis Abeda, Abyssinia before being sent to prisoner of war camps in India.
Enrico arrived in Fremantle Western Australia on the Ruys. This was the only ship to disembark Italian prisoners of war on the west coast of Australia. The ship boarded 2028 Italian prisoners of war in Bombay destined for Fremantle and Melbourne.
The town of Popanyinning was originally given the name: “Popaning”; the local Aboriginal Noongar word for waterhole. It was built alongside the Great Southern Railway line, servicing the wheat and sheep farmers in the district.
The photo of Enrico captures the landscape, the vegetation of this part of Australia as well as the work he did while living with a farming family.
Enrico was repatriated on the Chitral on 30th September 1946.
An army has its medical and surgical unit, so it makes sense that it also has a pharmacy unit. This article honours those chemists who found themselves in the Chemist Reserve Unit in Libya. I would like to know further about these units and their operation as information remains elusive.
These chemists arrived in Australia on the Queen Mary 13th October 1941 and they departed on the Oranje 29th March 1943 as part of a mutual exchange arrangement with Italy.
They weren’t in Australia long enough to have their photos taken at the officers’ camp at Myrtleford and they returned to Italy before the Allies offence Operation Husky into Sicily in July 1943.
NB This list is not necessarily complete
Nicola Ferorelli from Molfetta [Bardia]
Giuseppe Allegri from Cassine (Alessandria) [Tobruk]
Mario Cassone from Alba (Cuneo) [Tobruk]
Mario Andreotti from Sorrento (Napoli) [Bardia]
Luigi Caione from Palena (Chieti) [Sidi el Barrani]
Rocco Giliberti from Avellino [Tobruk]
Romolo Lamberti from Roma [Bardia]
Valentino Mari from Torino [Agedabia]
Luigi Mutini from Mercatello (Pesaro) [Bardia]
Giorgio Polidori from Montemarciano (Ancona) [Halem Nibeua M.E. (9.12.1940)]
Celestino Riccardelli from Caserta (Napoli) [Agedabia]
Giuseppe Buono from Boscotrecase (Napoli) [Tobruk]
Vincenzo Troili from Genova [Bardia]
Raffaele Chiarelli from Torino [Agedabia]
Clerio Garrone from San Giorgio Canavese (Aosta) [Bardia]
Rocco Lo Faro from Favazzina (Reggio Calabria) [Tobruk]
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.
The purpose of this article is to present the facts.
I have purposely avoided this topic because it is complicated.
Money is always a difficult topic because lack of money equates to hardships. Additionally, emotions are attached to discussions on money.
I present the information about the financial situation for Italian prisoners of war to provide the facts.
These facts are from primary source documents:
Dr Georges Morel’s reports for the International Committee for the Red Cross
Pay Sheets for Queensland
Camp Order No. 13
Various documents from the National Archives of Australia and personal records.
Pays for Prisoners of War
There were three levels of income for prisoners of war:
Prisoners of war were paid on behalf of their government at a rate agreed to by relevant countries.
This meant that on a monthly basis, Italian prisoners of war received a stipend [allowance]. This was deposited to the cash accounts of each man.
As of March 1945, the rate set was:
£-/15/5 for combatants (N.C.O.s) (fifteen shillings and five pence)
£-/10/9 for ordinary ranks (ten shillings and nine pence)
£37/14/1 for doctor (thirty seven pounds, fourteen shillings and one pence)
How do we verify this?
Pay records for Italian prisoners of war in Queensland have survived.
The extract from the March 1945 Pay Sheets for Home Hill Hostel displays the rate per levels of prisoners of war.
(NAA: J2255, 12)
2. Prisoners of war would be paid for work duties (other than fatigues while in camp)
In camps, work details were offered inside and outside camps.
This rate per day was £-/-/7 (seven pence) for unskilled work and
£-/1/3 (one shilling three pence) for skilled work.
For farm work and on government projects
The rate set was:
£-/1/3 per day
How do we verify this?
When a prisoner of war control hostel was approved, documentation was submitted which included the rate of pay. The example used is a document for the establishment of the Hume Hostel in Victoria.
NAA: A373, 6221
3. Income from the camp canteen profits.
This was used to purchase communal items for the use of men inside the camps.
This money was used for special foods for Christmas, books, records, musical instruments and sport equipment.
For the month of: December 1942 canteen proceeds for Camp 7 Hay was £232 and for Camp 8 Hay £188
January 1943 canteen proceeds for Camp 7 Hay was £135 and for Camp 8 Hay £102
Money debited was also debited from individual accounts. This could be for a breach of discipline [a fine] or damages to Commonwealth property (buildings and boots). 1946 saw fines for ‘boots beyond repair’. The authorities perceived this as a deliberate action to obtain a new pair of boots before repatriation as opposed to genuine ‘wear and tear’.
Umberto Liberto escaped, and the Department of Army had drawn up an invoice for money owed for his army issue clothing and kit. Presumably, if he was not ‘found’ or surrendered, then he would be charged for government property.
Accountability while in Australia
Camp Order No. 13 sets the following rules regarding the financial accountability of prisoner of war accounts:
16.– (1) As soon as practicable after the arrival of a prisoner of war at a prisoners of war camp a cash account shall be opened in his name by the Camp Paymaster in accordance with regulation 13.
(2) The Camp Paymaster shall be responsible for seeing that each cash account is kept in accordance with a proper system of accountancy and is kept up to date.
(3) Prisoners of war shall be informed as soon as practicable of the receipt of moneys sent to them and shall be informed from time to time upon request as to the state of their cash accounts.
(4) A prisoner of war shall be permitted to withdraw from his cash account (several provisos were provided regarding permission and limits)
How do we verify this?
Financial accountability was integral to the custodial situation for Italian prisoners of war. The Australian Department of Army held prisoners of war on behalf of the War Office in Britain. Every penny spent or claimed was accounted for. An example is the request for supply of Italian prisoner of war labour to work on army sties. This expense had to be costed and approved.
(NAA: SP196/1, 19 Part 3)
Another document highlights the income earned from the sale of lettuce which had been produced by Italian prisoners of war at Liverpool Camp.
NAA: SP196/1, 19PART 1
Dr Georges Morel makes note that Italian prisoners of war were able to access a statement of their account.
Money held in accounts at time of repatriation
At the time of repatriation, prisoners of war were issued with credit receipts for amounts in cash account. This would have included money relinquished at the time of arrival in Australia as per Property Statement. A copy of the Property Statement for Salvatore Fuino is attached.
(NAA: MP1102/1, PWI48983)
Arrangements were made by the Australian Department of Army to transfer all moneys held on their behalf to the War Office in the United Kingdom. The War Office in the UK then had the responsibility to transfer these funds. Eventually these funds were transferred to Italian authorities. The Italians then presented their credit receipts.
How do we verify this?
Statement of Account documents for Stefano Lucantoni and Umberto Cofrancesco have survived. It was not unusual to balances to be zero. Some Italians purchased items from the canteen which they knew to be in short supply in Italy eg boots, clothing material, soap, toothpaste, tinned food.
Statement of Account for Stefano Lucantoni (photo courtesy of Marco Lucantoni)
Property Statement for Umberto Cofrancesco (Umberto’s War by Pacifico Cofrancesco)
It is assumed that amounts were transferred to Italian prisoners of war when they returned to Italy and/or at some part of their discharge process.
Documentation exists regarding German prisoners of war having not received their money. An investigation was held by United Kingdom authorities. The issue was finally resolved in 1950.
Rate of Exchange from Pounds Sterling to Italian Lire
It appears that this rate was set via negotiations between the UK War Office and the Italian government.
The only reference found is from Australian War Diary log for a ‘cable’ received from War Office, London dated 15.7.44. “rates of pay converted to Stg. (pounds sterling) at 400 lire equals £1 Stg.; this rate having been officially accepted by Italian Government for general purposes and expenditure, out of date rate of 72 lire equals £1 cannot be permitted.”
Another reference is:
After the Allied invasion of Italy, an exchange rate was set at US$1 = 120 lire (1 British pound = 480 lire) in June 1943, reduced to 100 lire the following month. In German-occupied areas, the exchange rate was set at 1 Reichsmark = 10 lire. After the war, the value of the lira fluctuated, before Italy set a peg of US$1 = 575 lire within the Bretton Woods System in November 1947.
Money paid upon arrival in Italy
At the Military Housing Centre in Naples, the POWs were registered and given two months leave together with a payment of 10,000 lire. Technically, they were still soldiers of the Italian Armed Services.
How do we verify this?
Paolo Santoro wrote to his war time farmer Jim Fullerton in February 1947: “Italian government gave me 10,000 lire not for all my captivity but for 2 months leave in army.”
Post War, high inflation rates, lack of basic necessities and black racketeering devalued the value of ‘money’ the Italian prisoners of war returned home with.
Some Italians thought ahead. They used the money in their Australian accounts to purchase necessities to take home to Italy. Some farmers also understood the situation. Australians remember their dad sending a suit or shoes to the men once they returned to Italy. One Western Australian farmer wrote to the newspaper explaining the need to send food parcels to their ex-workers
There could never be compensation for loss of personal earnings as a result of war and imprisonment.
A special thank you to Rocco Severino De Micheli who has shared these photos of Dr Panico. The photos are taken from “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.
As with the International Red Cross Delegate, Dr Panico was allowed to visit the prisoner of war camps in Australia. He was entitled to interact and speak freely with the Italians. The Italians could use the ‘Apostolic Message Service’: monthly messages not exceeding 25 words were permitted to be despatched by the prisoners of war via Dr Panico.
Monsignor Giovanni Panico’s work was essential to both Australian and Italian families. As Australasia’s Apostolic Delegate he coordinated requests to find Australian soldiers held in prisoner of war camps in Italy and south east Asia. He also was the intermediary to help to locate Italian soldiers held in Australia’s prisoner of war camps as well as sending messages to families in Italy.
From the Prisoner of War Bureau at North Sydney, Dr Panico, the Delegation secretaries, six women and one man were employed to liaise between families and prisoners of war to locate missing Australian, New Zealand and Italian troops.
From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.
In November 1935, Dr Panico was appointed as the new Apostolic Delegate for Australasia. He came with a wealth of experience from his previous postings to Bavaria, Prague, Czechoslovakia. He was reported to be an authority on canon law and could speak all the modern languages.
With Italy’s declaration of war on France and Britain in June 1940, it was made clear that Dr Panico was a citizen of the Vatican and that he held a Vatican passport. On the 20th June 1940, Dr Panico made wartime radio history with a broadcast directly with the Vatican radio station. In this inaugural broadcast, Dr Panico received from Vatican City Radio the names of 26 member of the A.I.F. (Australian troops) with messages for their families. He asked Australian families looking for information about sons or husbands, missing in action, to advise of the location eg Libya, Greece, Crete. This service was offered to Australians regardless of religion.
Dr Panico worked tirelessly throughout the war years.
Australia’s Attorney General and Foreign Minister HV Evatt wrote to the Holy See on 1st June 1946:
To His Holiness
Great gratitude from myself and Government for patient, untiring and invaluable assistance given throughout the war by Mons. Panico in noble work or relieving the lot of prisoners of war and anxieties of their relatives specially in connection with Australian prisoners of war in Japanese and German hands.
The workload of this service increased dramatically. June 1940 saw the arrests and internment of Australian resident Italians in internment camps with families in Italy looking for information on their Australian relatives. In May 1941, the first Italian prisoners of war from Egypt arrived and the service was extended to assist Italian POWs to send messages home to Italy as well as receiving messages from Italy for the whereabouts of ‘missing’ Italian troops.
By April 1944, it was reported that over 300,000 messages had been received. The service expanded to a one-hour broadcast six days a week. The transmissions included lists of prisoners of war and messages from them for their families in New Zealand and Australia. For Italian prisoners of war held in Australian camps, Dr Panico would arrange requests from Australia via air or surface mail of telegram.
Visitation to prisoners of war and internees was also an important role played by Dr Panico. He made journeys across Australia to report on the conditions in camps and to offer spiritual solace. He distributed thousands of books, purchased musical instruments and donated money on behalf of the Vatican to the camps.
Distribution of Books at Yanco Camp December 1942.
From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.
Once Italian prisoners of war were placed on farms, Dr Panico visited farms to speak with farmers and the Italians. He was impressed by his experiences: “After such an intimate experience of the conditions of the prisoners and internees in Australia, it is highly commendatory to hear the Apostolic Delegate say that in no country could these men and women be treated better than they have been and are being treated in Australia.” He was concerned about ensuring that Italian prisoners of war had opportunities to attend mass once a week. To this end, Dr Panico disclosed, in secret, to the Vatican, that he was granted by the Australian government, 1600 litres of oil [fuel] per month to allow the transport of prisoners to Mass or for parish priests to visit the prisoners. As part of his ministry, a special mass and celebration in Gympie Queensland for the district’s prisoners of war was organised by Dr Panico.
In May 1944, Dr Panico reported to the Vatican on his visits to farms. The following was conveyed, “Egli rimase veramente commosso dell’accoglienza a lui fatta anche da proprietari non cattolici, e della maniera con cui essi trattavano i prigionieri. Con molta soddisfazione vide che in alcune case coloniche i prigionieri erano considerati come membri della famiglia, dormendo nella stessa casa dei proprietari, prendendo insieme ad essi il cibo e ricreandosi insieme dopo il lavoro. Il Delegato Apostolico intese con non minor soddisfazione, gli elogi che i proprietari delle fattorie facevano dei prigionieri, i quali, salvo pochissime eccezioni, hanno contribuito e contribuiscono non solo a mantenere alta la tradizione dei lavoratori italiani, ma anche a distruggere molti pregiudizi che i protestanti d’Australia avevano verso il cattolicesimo. Inoltre, l’affezione dimostrata dagli stessi prigionieri verso i bambini delle famiglie presso le quali lavorano, ha portato qualche volta a scene tenerissime.” (Collectanea Archivi Vaticani 52)
Spiritual welfare for prisoners of war was a priority for Dr Panico which he administered in many ways. Dr Panico visited Italian prisoners of war in POW camp and Australian military hospitals. He gave the Last Rites to Cesare Sottocorno at the 113 Australian General Hospital Concord Sydney and ensured that a gravestone was erected on his grave. Dr Panico provided the photo at the left and details of Cesare’s death which was then sent to Cesare’s family via the Vatican. The following photo shows his visit to the infirmary at Cowra Prisoner of War Camp.
Grave of Cesare Sottocorno(photo courtesy of Cesare Sottocorno)
L’Amico del Prigionierowas published by Dr Panico in May 1943, another example of his care and concern for the prisoners. In the preface he wrote, “L’intento del libro è già chiaramente delineato nel itiolo con ciuamammo chiarmarlo.” This liturgical work was taken home to Italy by many of the prisoners of war.
From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.
Newspaper articles attest to Dr Panico’s farewell to the Italian prisoners of war. In an unofficial capacity he was at a Sydney wharf to farewell Italian prisoners of war on the repatriation ship Moreton Bay in July 1946. In November 1946, he was at a Fremantle wharf to say goodbye to those men boarding the SS Katoomba. The photograph records his conversation with one SS Katoomba prisoner of war.
A group photo of Dr Panico onboard an unnamed repatriation ship in 1946 reinforces his dedication to the welfare of the Italian prisoners of war.
From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.
Dr Panico’s work did not finish with the end of war or once Italian prisoners of war were repatriated. He set up the Relief Committee, the Relief to Italy from Australia, which arranged for 50 tons of clothing to be sent to Europe.
In October 1948, after 13 years’ service in Australia, Dr Panico was appointed papal nuncio to Peru.
Cosimo Papadia had served with a Tank Corps for 29 months when he was captured at Sidi Barrani 11th December 1940. He had sustained a major injury and was hospitalized from the 12th December 1940 in a Cairo hospital until 22nd December 1941. From Cairo he was then sent to Campo di Ismailia. On 22nd January 1941 he was sent to the concentration camp 4 (Egypt).
14th December 1940 SIDI BARRANI – THE ITALIANS WERE WELL EQUIPPED AND HAD TANKS AND OTHER MOBILE EQUIPMENT EVERYWHERE…EVEN ON THE BEACH AT SIDI BARRANI. THIS ONE IS IN FAIR WORKING ORDER & WILL SOON BE FOLLOWING ITS ORIGINAL OWNERS – BUT WITH A DIFFERENT FLAG FLYING. (AWM Image 00416, Photographer Frank Hurley)
Cosimo arrived in Sydney 27th May 1941 on the Queen Mary with the first group of Italian prisoners of war to arrive in Australia. He departed on the Andes, an early repatriation ship on3rd August 1945.
He had three Australian homes: Hay Camp NSW, Murchison Camp Victoria and Kinglake Hostel Victoria. Known as V18 Kinglake, this hostel accommodated 151 Italian prisoners of war from September 1944 to July 1945. Employed by the State Forests Commission, the Italians were involved in wood cutting and forestry work.
Cosimo’s son Francesco Vincenzo was quick to recognise his father in the photo below at Hay Camp. He is standing second from the left with the hat.
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: 46963 Giuseppe Veronesi; 45802 Vincenzo Gaudiero; 46161 Alfredo Masacchia; 46362 Cosimo Papadia; 45203 Alberto Ciattaglia; 36759 Michelangelo Spina; 45971 Emilio Larini, and 46864 Francesco Tuppy. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030142/06, Photographer Michael Lewicki)
Mal McKlinty has also been able to identify the exact location of the Kinglake West camp: Latitude: -37.458115 Longitude: 145.227849 The Google Earth photo shows the modern buildings on the site, which have been used for many years for youth group camps.
Site of V18 Kinglake Hostel (Google Earth)
Cosimo was at V18 Kinglake from 10th December 1944 until 21st July 1945. Within two weeks of leaving Kinglake, Cosimo had embarked the Andes in Sydney for his voyage home.
There were several reasons for being on the Andes: ten were requested by the Italian Government, 389 were medically unfit, 156 were recommended by the Mixed Medical Commission, eight men were over 60 years of age, 22 were sent home early on compassionate grounds and 133 were aged between 50 and 60.
Francesco Vincenzo provides the details for his father’s early repatriation, “He [my father] was repatriated early because he was disabled due to being hit by a DUM DUM bullet with consequent damage to the muscle of the left arm, forearm and hand, so much so that on his return to Italy he was assigned an annuity amount provided to him until his death.”
The voyage home to Italy was unpleasant. Food was scarce and of poor quality; water was scare and men were ill with dysentery. The prisoners spent much of the time locked in their cabins. Francesco Vincenzo adds, “Le paure maggiori, durante le traversate erano comunque legate alle possibili incursioni aeree ma, per fortuna, tale evento non si verificò mai.” Naval mines were also a major concern for shipping post WW2.
Once landed in Naples, Australian guards delivered the Italians to the Army Headquarters.
After almost 5 years, Cosimo was free.
Francesco Vincenzo reflects, “ Mio padre ricordava sempre il suo soggiorno in Australia e, ad un certo punto aveva preso in considerazione l’idea di tornarvi per cercare una vita migliore rispetto a quella del dopoguerra in Italia.”
Salvatore Targiani’s journey as a prisoner of war is unusual.
He arrived in Sydney Australia on the Queen Elizabeth 15th October 1941 and departed from Sydney 29th March 1943.
When Salvatore was captured at Bardia, he had been serving with the 17th Hygiene Unit for 18 months.
This information is key to Salvatore’s arrival and repatriation.
When the Queen Elizabeth arrived in Sydney, a newspaper reported:
“Some of the prisoners were ill and they were carried in stretchers to military ambulances and taken to hospital”.
Salvatore’s experience as an orderly/health worker in Libya no doubt continued to be utilised in the camp hospitals in Egypt, on the Queen Elizabeth to Australia and on the repatriation ship.
Although Salvatore did not talk about his war years and he did not work in the health industry after the war, his grandson Salvatore Di Noia agrees with these thoughts about his nonno. Medical orderlies were classed as ‘protected personnel’.****
(photo courtesy of Salvatore Di Noia)
The Oranje left Sydney on 29th March 1943. Salvatore was on this ship, which arrived in Suez Egypt 18th April 1943.
Oranje had first arrived in Sydney March 1941. It was converted to a hospital ship and during the war made 41 voyages from Australia and New Zealand to the Middle East transporting Australian and New Zealand wounded. She was the largest hospital ship operating from Australia.
She was painted white with a green band around her hull. Three red crosses were painted on each side of the ship as well, red crosses were painted on her funnels.
21 August 1941 The Dutch hospital ship Oranje off the Western Australian coast in 1941, shortly after the completion of its conversion as a hospital ship. The red crosses and green stripes on the white hull were meant to be a conspicuous reminder to enemy vessels of its non-combatant role. The ship evacuated wounded Australian soldiers from the Middle East. (AWM 302809)
In 1943, the Italian prisoners on Oranje were part of a Mutual Repatriation Scheme.
This was a mutual exchange arrangement between Great Britain and Italy. At Suez, this group of wounded, sick and protected personnel was handed over to a British Escort. The group were then taken by train to Alexandria then ship to Smyrna Turkey.
Archived documents provide the following informing regarding the number of Italian prisoners of war on this transport:
Protected Personnel: 92 officers and 455 other ranks = 547
Medical Cases: 38 officers and 37 other ranks = 75
Total number repatriated: 622
The following items were noted regarding the voyage:
Concerned Italian prisoners of war were concentrated at Cowra before embarkation.
Funds are provided from Ship’s Imprest Account to enable Italians to make canteen purchases.
NSW Division of Australian Red Cross Society provided Red Cross stores for use on the journey.
Arrangements were made for free issue of cigarettes and/or tobacco to Italian prisoners of war other ranks at the same scale as camp issue.
One Chaplin (RC) was included with the escort to administer to the prisoners of war.
The Apostolic Delegate was permitted to inspect the prisoners of war after embarkation.
(NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1)
In June 1941, the Netherlands government officially handed over to the Australian and New Zealand governments, the ocean liner Oranje, for the duration of the war. It was fully equipped as a hospital ship and shown here is the interior of one of the wards showing rows of neatly made beds. (AWM 008035)
The following photos are from the 8th May 1943 exchange at Izmir [Smyrna].
Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03230-14A)
Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03230-15A)
Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03229-34A)
Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03230-05A)
Exchange of Prisoners of War Izmir 8.5.43 (ICRC VP-HIST-03230 10A)
Exchange of Prisoners of War Izmir 8.5.43 (ICRC VP-HIST-03230 13A)
(NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1)
There were three Mutual Repatriation exchanges from Smyrna in 1943: 14-19th April 1943; c. 5-8th May 1943 and 2-3 June 1943. The April exchange is part of a facebook post for the ICRC: https://www.facebook.com/ICRCArchives/One Day in History 19th April 1943.
Liborio Bonadonna was a private in the Italian Army, serving with the 231 Legion Militia when he was captured at Buq Buq on 11th December 1940. The Battle of Sidi Barrani was the opening battle of Operation Compass and 38,300 Italians were captured at Sidi Barrani and Buq Buq from 10 – 11 December 1940.
(NAA: A7919 C101539 Buonadonna, Librio)
A young farmer from Gela Caltanissetta, Liborio was living in Tripoli along with his wife and his parents when he joined Mussolini’s war. His father, desperate for his son’s safety, fell prey to unscrupulous agents who, for a sum of money, promised the repatriation of their family members who were prisoners of war.
In a letter sent to Liborio, his father Carmelo Bonadonna wrote on 21st December 1943:
Dear son, here it was said that prisoners who are sons of farmers, were to be repatriated on the payment of six thousand lire, and I, for the great affection I bear you, was one of the first to pay; in fact they asked us for one of your letters in order to have your address. Up to the present, we have seen nothing. Imagine, dear son, how happy we all in the family were for just then I did not know what I could do for the love of you.
Liborio had spent almost three years in camps in India and would not arrive in Italy for another three years. The actions of his father however highlight how anxious the family were to ensure a safe and early return of Liborio.
From Cowra, Liborio was assigned to work on farms at N8 PWCC Orange and N24 PWCC Lismore. Suffering on-going health issues, he was sent to local and military hospitals and was eventually transferred to Murchison for consideration for early repatriation on the basis of medical grounds.
Such was his health, he was on the list to embark on the Andes which left Australia on 3rd August 1945. Unfortunately, on 16th July 1945 he was sent to 28 Australian Camp Hospital at Tatura which was part of the Murchison POW complex. He missed early repatriation and was to stay in hospital for two and a half months.
28th Australian Camp Hospital Tatura
(AWM Image 052452)
The irony of his situation was that while he was approved for early medical repatriation he was too unwell to travel. His medical condition had deemed him ‘medically’ unfit to work and gave him priority for repatriation on medical grounds. During 1946, several transports for special circumstance cases, left Australia for Naples but Liborio was overlooked.
While he considered himself to be well enough to travel, he was identified as having need for specialist medical attention during the voyage to Italy. He could only be repatriated once as specially fitted out ship became available.
On 10th September 1946, in a letter to the Camp C.O. he presented his case:
Just at the time when the repatriation of the sick was to take place I was in the Waranga military hospital whence I was discharged early in September…
The present repatriation lists from which I have been exclude because repatriation is to be effect by ordinary means (i.e. in ships not especially adapted for transport of the sick) include nearly all the sick who, like me, were then considered as needing attention during the voyage.
Today I will to inform you that, notwithstanding a year’s stay in camp without any special treatment, my condition is such as to enable me to stand the possible discomforts of the trip home; I therefore request to be reinscribed on the above mentioned list, taking upon myself the full and complete responsibility in the event of any possible deterioration of my health.
My family live in Tripolitania and it is my urgent wish to rejoin it in the shortest possible time. To the above I can only add the prayer that you will kindly consider my request.
The Empire Clyde* returned Liborio to Italy. It was a Royal Navy Hospital Ship which departed Sydney for Naples on 12th December 1946. There were 226 Italian prisoners of war on board who had embarked at Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle.
But Liborio’s return to his family in Tripoli was further delayed. Once he arrived in Naples, he required an operation. Fighting bureaucracy, he tried to gain permission several times to reach Libya and his wife and parents.
Liborio’s grandson, Liborio Mauro says that “He told her [my grandmother] if I’m not able to join you, I would like to go back in Australia. After 3 times, he finally joined my grandmother in Libya where my father Carmelo was born in Tripoli in 1949.”
Tracing Liborio’s journey as a prisoner of war has not been an easy on. His grandson explains that his records have his name spelt incorrectly: BUONADONNA instead of BONADONNA, LIBRIO instead of LIBORIO.
But passion and determination on the part of grandson Liborio has ensured that Liborio Bonadonna’s story is told and his records and photographs of his time as a prisoner of war in Australia are with the family.
Liborio Mauro says, “All my family are happy and my father is crying for happiness. My grandfather was the most important person in my family. He was a true gentleman, well-educated and everyone fell in love with him. He was a strong and simple man.”
*The Empire Clyde was a British Navy war prize from the Abyssinian campaign. It was formerly an Italian passenger liner Leonardo da Vinci.
Liborio Bonadonna with his family c 1979, grandson Liborio Mauro on his grandfather’s lap
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.
NB New donations coming soon: Geneifa Eggito and Yol India