Category Archives: South Australia Italian POWs

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

What have you done with your beautiful beard?

Guido Motolese was a surgeon serving on the Romolo in 1940. From June 1940 until November 1946, Motolese was interned as a prisoner of war in Australia.

In October 1949, Dr Motolese was now working on the Italian liner Toscana and returned to Australia.

The newspaper article from Age reports the meeting of the former prisoner of war and major from Loveday and Myrtleford POW Camps with the former army captain and paymaster of Loveday Internment Camp.

Mr Gallasch welcomed Dr Motolese with the words, “What have you done with your beautiful beard?”

What have you done with your beautiful beard?

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Gregorio Castigli; Bruno Grazioli; Vittoria (aka Antonio) Vagnini; Crita; Renzo Conti; Vittorio Poggioli. Front row: Lino Gardenghi; Broge; Guido Motolese; Vittorio De Nicola; Alberto Ferrari; Aldo Smeraldi. (AWM Image 030152/03 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Saluto alle amicizie

Ermanno Nicoletti and Agostino Marazzi were brought together by war.

Together they arrived in Australia on the Queen Mary 27th May 1941 and were transported by train to Hay Prisoner of War Camp.

While at Hay, Agostino Marazzi (standing 2nd left) is photographed beside Ermanno Nicoletti (standing 1st left).

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: 45513 Francesco Del Viscio; 46331 Ermanno Nicoletti; 45852 Italo Gramiccia; 46320 Natale Nunziati; 46207 Valerio Mezzani 45498 Giovanni Di Pinto; 45496 Giuseppe Di Pilla; 46199 Agostino Marazzi; 46511 Alfonso Patrizi and 48922 Sergio Galazzi. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

Not long after the photo was taken Ermanno Nicoletti was transferred to Cowra Camp and farm work in the Macksville district of New South Wales and Agostino Marazzi was transferred to Wayville South Australia and to farm work in the Mt Barker district.

But they stayed in contact.

Recently Amedeo obtained a copy of his father’s extra Australian file. Another connection between Agostino and Ermanno is realised. 

On 12th February 1944, Agostino wrote a letter to Ermanno and a section of the letter was kept in his file. Agostino wrote, “Here I have found all that I desired; solitude a beautiful little house surrounded by trees and a splendid garden… the food is very good.”

Decades later in Italy Agostino Marazzi and Ermanno Nicoletti reconnect.

Agostino Marazzi and Ermanno Nicoletti (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Agostino shared with the Nicoletti family the memory of Ermanno Nicoletti’s kindness and concern for other Italian soldiers. Ermanno was a talented artist and he would exchange sketches for food and medicines for other prisoners.

Family celebrations brought the two families together.  On the occasion of Amedeo Marazzi’s confirmation, Ermanno Nicoletti was his sponsor.  

Ermanno and Amedeo (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Alessandra Nicoletti remembers that her nonno, Ermanno and Agostino were close friends. The Marazzi family attended the wedding of Ermanno’s daughter, while Ermanno and his wife Maria attended the wedding of Amedeo Marazzi, Agostino’s son.

Wedding of Maria Luisa and Amedeo Marazzi 8th June 1981.  

Maria Luisa, Amedeo, Maria, Ermanno and Agostino. (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Seventy-five years later, the Marazzi and Nicoletti families continue to be connected to a shared history.

You have a deeper connection with people who you have shared experiences with and shared pain. Negash Ali

Il calzolaio di Grottaferrata

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

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

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

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

Agostino Marazzi at Tobruk (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marazzi, Agostino NAA: A367, C85443

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

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

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

Elide Arturo

Celeste Vinciguerra (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adele and Agostino Marazzi (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

Arrested in Townsville

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

Elena Giovenale: Nurse on the Romolo

(NAA: BP313/1, Giovenale E)

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

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

Captain of the Romolo: Ettore Gavino

(NAA: BP242/1, Q28607)

Captain Ettore Gavino chronicled the events:

Thursday 6th June 1940

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

Friday 7th June 1940

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

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

Saturday 8th June 1940

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

Sunday 9th June 1940

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

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

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

Monday 10th June 1940

Rehearsed closure of water-tight doors.

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

Tuesday 11th June 1940

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

Wednesday 12th June 1940

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At 1825 hours the “Romolo” disappeared…

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

(NAA: MP1103/2 Cereseto, Giuseppe)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrea in Australia

Andrea Favatella arrived in Australia on 26th April 1944 and by 29th August 1944, he was working within the State Conservator of Forest plantations in South Australia.

There were three forestry areas where Italian prisoners of war worked: Mt Burr, Penola and Mt Gambier. The hostel camp sites were at Rocky Camp-Millicent for Mt Burr, Nangwarry for Penola, Wandilo for Mt Gambier.

Additional information from Peter Dunn at ozatwar.com indicates that Andrea was at Nangwarry [Penola]. Andrea departed the S13 Hostel on 22nd March 1946.

Forestry Work Nangwarry South Australia: Andrea Favatella is the first standing on the left.

 (photo courtesy of Nino Favatella)

There were a number of state and commonwealth government projects throughout Australia which employed Italian prisoners of war.  Forestry work was one project; others were wood cutting for firewood, rice growing, vegetable production for armed forces; railway maintenance on the Trans Australian Railway Line. The relevant government department was the employing authority and responsible for providing appropriate accommodation.  Numbers of Italians in these hostels ranged from 75 to 250.  Andrea’s Australian books indicate that he used his free time in learning a little English and reading about Australia. Nino shares that his father had an elementary education, but he used language books to study a little English. Piccola Guida was issued free to Italian Prisoners of War.  Produced for Italian migrants in Melbourne it contained relevant information about Australia and also information to assist migrants to learn English.  Andrea’s copy was distributed by the Apostolic Delegate in Australia: Giovanni Panico.

The other two language books: Hugo’s Dictionary and Grammatica-Enciclopedia would have been purchased by Andrea.

Andrea Favatella’s Italian-English Language Books

(photo courtesy of Nino Favatella)

Andrea departed Australia 4.35 pm 8th November 1946 on the Strathmore which was moored at Outer Harbour Adelaide. It was reported: “The first large scale embarkation of Italian prisoner of war from South Australia was carried out smoothly…Clad in burgundy POW uniforms which many of them have worn for six years, [they] marched in from a special train from Loveday Internment Camp… Each man is allowed to take two kit bags containing his personal belongings”. Records report that there were 1500 Italian prisoners of war onboard.  The Strathmore arrived in Naples 6th December 1946.

Regulations for Photographs of Prisoners of War

The following information is from the Report on the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees (NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1 History: Report on the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, 1939-1951: Volume 1 [pp1-279] and Volume 2 [pp280-476] [includes matters relating to internees, prisoners of war, war crimes, Prisoners of War Information Bureau in Australia and a report on the Cowra Breakout escape attempt by Japanese Prisoners of War in August 1944])

This document provides the regulations regarding the policy on PHOTOGRAPHS relating to prisoners of war. 

Following the regulations I have included photos and additional information relating to this history.

12. PW Regulations gave authority to Camp Commandants to arrange the photographing of PW for Identification and record purposes, Reg. 11 (2). These photographs were forwarded to the Prisoners of War Information Bureau for inclusion with other basic records.

13. Provision was also made to prohibit PW from having in their possessions any photographic apparatus, vide Camp Order No. 13, para 15 (a). Strict compliance with this order was demanded at all times.

14. The International Red Cross delegate was authorised to take photographs in PW Camps under the same conditions as applicable to internment camps, vide Chapter 20.  Approval was also given for representatives of the Department of Information to visit camps for the purpose of taking photographs for record purposes only and subject in each case to Command approval.  Press reporters and other photographers were not allowed to enter camps as published stories and pictures could quite easily create wrong impressions and cause unfortunate repercussions.

15. Group photographs of German and Italian PW held in camps, labour detachments or Hostels, and photographs of general camp interest in German and Italian camps, could be taken subject to the conditions hereunder, but group photographs of PW allocated through Control Centres for employment in rural industry were NOT permitted:

(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

(c) All such photographs were to be taken by Army Photographers who visited camps for the purpose of taking other photographs for historical and record purposes.

(d) Prints were supplied at a cost of 1/6d. each

(e) Items of general camp interest photographed were to include only sports teams, gardens, chapels and theatres

(f) PW being photographed were to be properly dressed (in their national uniforms if possible) except that sports teams could be photographed in their sporting attire

(g) No camp security fencing or other security arrangements were to appear in photographs

16. As PW employed in rural industry had opportunity to have photographs of themselves taken at will, care was taken to ensure that permission was not granted under para 38 (1C) of Camp Order No. 13 for the despatch by them of photographs showing them in the company of women in Australia.

12. Photographs for Identification Purposes

The celluloid negatives for Western Australian Italian prisoners of war are archived in the Sydney branch of the National Archives.  Due to the fragility of and concern for the ongoing preservation for these negatives, a number of photographs have been developed.  They are part of the K1174 series of records.  If you father or grandfather was sent to work in Western Australia, check to see if his identification photograph has survived.

Aurelio CANESE PWI48413 NAA: K1174 Canese, Aurelio

13. PW prohibited to have photographic apparatus

Ermanno Nicoletti was a keen photographer.  His property statement indicates that a roll of film was taken from him upon arrival in Australia. According to the regulations, this roll should have been returned to him upon departure from Australia.

There is a case in India of an Italian prisoner of war constructing an illicit camera: Lido Saltamartini took 2000 photographs with this camera.

Do any families have stories about illicit cameras made in Australia?

Ermanno Nicoletti (NAA: MP1103/2 Nicoletti, Ermanno)

14. The International Red Cross delegate was authorised to take photographs in PW Camps

The archival records from the ICRC are invaluable in helping us ‘see’ this history 75+ years later.  Below is a photo taken at the Morgan Wood Hostel in South Australia.

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Hostel Morgan. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens.

Italian Prisoners of War: Morgan Hostel SA July 1944 ICRC V-P-HIST-01879-22A

15. Group photographs of German and Italian PW held in camps, labour detachments or Hostels, and photographs of general camp interest in German and Italian camps, could be taken subject to the conditions hereunder, but group photographs of PW allocated through Control Centres for employment in rural industry were NOT permitted:

Q4 was the prisoner of war control centre at Gayndah in Queensland. The below photo was taken in the Gayndah district. It captures seven Italian prisoners of war with local ladies and children. There is no record of who took the photo.  Giovanni Cioffi is standing on the left and Marco Liscio is standing second from the right. They both worked on the farm of R.J. Mayfield north of Gayndah Queensland.

Group of Italian prisoners of war and local families Gayndah Queensland c. 1944-45 (photo courtesy of Liscio and Cioffi families)

15 (a) Groups were to comprise not less than 10 PW

Generally speaking, group photos consisted of 10 or more Italian prisoners of war.  There are photos of less than 10 Italians, most likely taken in the camps where officers and their batmen resided.

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D2 Compound, No. 13 POW Group. (AWM Image 030230/01 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

Murchison, Australia. 4 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D1 Compound, No. 13 POW Group. (AWM Image 030237/03 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

15 (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

Massimo Gatti is the gentleman with the big smile on his face seated second from the left.  Massimo is one of many Italians who appeared to have taken advantage of the ‘two copies of photographs in which they appeared’ rule.  Massimo Gatti is in not one but five Cowra photos: Sept 1943 and February 1944. Technically, he could buy 10 photos of himself with different groups of friends.

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49515 A. Rosmini; 46586 C. Robbone; 46064 M. Matteini; 45737 B. Gambutti; 46297 O. Novi; 49535 P. Miglietta. Front row: 46096 A. Matteini; 45739 M. Gatti; 45006 B. Arbasi 45740 L. Guarnieri. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM 030149/16 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

15 (e) Items of general camp interest photographed were to include only sports teams, gardens, chapels and theatres

You will notice the model of the colosseum in the centre of the photo and the plinth with an Italian tank just at the right side of the photo. Anecdotal accounts of vegetable garden beds constructed between the barracks are verified by photographs of Hay Camp.  You will notice the care taken to wire off vegetables from rabbits and construct edging around the garden beds and statues. The first residents of Hay Camp were Italian internees. The internees departed for Murchison in May 1941 and the first group of Italian prisoners of war to arrive in Australia ‘marched in’ late May 1941. By the time this photograph was taken, Hay Camp is well established.

Hay, NSW. 1944-01-16 The craftmanship 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. (AWM Image 063365 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

15 (f) PW being photographed were to be properly dressed (in their national uniforms if possible) except that sports teams could be photographed in their sporting attire

How did the Italians procure sports shirts, shin guards and socks? Possibly they were provided by the YMCA, a group instrumental in providing sporting, music and craft equipment for the Italian prisoners of war.

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in C Compound, No. 13 POW Group. Shown here are: 65915 F. Pieri; 65987 C. Rossi; 65209 G. Baffa; 65710 V. La Rocca; 65370 F. Carone; 65230 E. Baruzzi; 65197 A. Armeni; 65237 F. Battisti; 65300 L. Bruno; 65602 G. Furioli; 65398 S. Cavillin; 65864 A. Pacini. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030231/14 Photographer Stewart, Ronald Leslie)

15 (g) No camp security fencing or other security arrangements were to appear in photographs

Obviously the photographer of this photo was not aware of this regulation! Or possibly, because the photo was taken in November 1945, concerns over the photographing of security installations had been relaxed.

Liverpool, NSW 1945-11-23. Prisoner of War and Internment Camp. NX167806 Private L. Patchett on Guard in a searchlight equipped sentry tower. (AWM Image 123756 Photographer L. Cpl. E. McQuillan)

16. As PW employed in rural industry had opportunity to have photographs of themselves taken at will, care was taken to ensure that permission was not granted under para 38 (1C) of Camp Order No. 13 for the despatch by them of photographs showing them in the company of women in Australia.

The regulation was clear, ‘no fraternization with women’.  Farming families however did take photographs of the Italian prisoners of war with family members.  The Italians were photographed with family groups for Christmas, Boxing Day picnic at the beach, with grandma, grandpa and children of all ages.  Many farming families had the attitude: ‘no harm done’.

Ruby Robinson standing and Olive Munro (nee Robinson) seated with three men from the province of Lecce:  Antonio Colomba, Antonio Alfarano (Alfarno) and Giuseppe Vergine Robinson Family Orchard via Gayndah (photo courtesy of Avis Hildreth)

Dr Georges Morel

Georges Morel was a Swiss Doctor of Economics who was appointed to Australia as the officially accredited representative of the International Committee for the Red Cross, Geneva in February 1941.

Dr Georges Morel [1941 ‘HAS KEY TO CAMPS OF INTERNEES’, The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), 1 March, p. 2. (LAST RACE ALL DETAILS), viewed 07 Feb 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231204582]

He was responsible for visiting internees and prisoners of war held in camps in Australia and to ensure that the conditions of the Geneva Convention regarding prisoners of war were upheld.

With an understanding of ten languages, Dr Morel was free to enter any camp at will, reside in a camp if so desired and leave without permission. Internees and prisoners of war were at liberty to speak freely with Dr Morel and communicate any complaints.

His comprehensive reports were shared with the Australian Government via the Minister of State for External Affairs. All reports were written in French, the language of the ICRC.

Copies of Dr Morel’s reports are archived in the National Archives of Australia and three files covering the period 1942-1944 are available for viewing: search terms to use – Red Cross Dr Morel.

In May 1944 on a visit to Western Australia, he was reported as saying, “My main task is to visit the camps whether the POWs are Germans or Italians…in addition I must keep in permanent touch with Australian Government departments, the Army and various branches of the Red Cross. However the first task is to see that the convention is being strictly applied and from my observations elsewhere [in Australia]I can say quite frankly that the conditions in Australian camps are very good. The treatment, food and clothing are in fact, excellent. Australian officers and guards have tried to help in many minor matters as well as in more important subjects, and I have received 100 per cent co-operation at Army Headquarters, Melbourne and from the Government.

Naturally there are complaints at every camp and these are quite minor matters. The complains have been rectified. Australia actually applies the International convention very generously in regard to POWs and internees, and in all my reports to the International Red Cross Committee I have stressed that conditions in Australia are good.” [1944 ‘VISIT TO P.O.W. CAMPS’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 19 May, p. 6. , viewed 07 Feb 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44809894%5D

Hand in hand with the written reports are the photographic records of Dr Morel’s visits. These photos can be found at : Archives of the ICRC . You will need to register as a user but this process is easy.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle-Galles du sud, camp de Cowra. Camp A, Série B. Groupe 24 avec le délégué CICR. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp A, serie B. Group 24 with the ICRC delegate.

Cowra Camp A September 1942 Dr Morel seated centre with officials of the camp including Padre Lenti (ICRC V-P-HIST-01881-02)

Dr Morel died in October 1945 and his wife Eugenia continued his work temporarily until the arrival of Dr Pierre Descoeudres in May 1946.

It is with thanks to the Red Cross and the work of their delegates like Dr Morel that there is a comprehensive and neutral record of the internee and prisoner of war camps in Australia.

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

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)