Category Archives: Tasmania Italian POWs

Uniform Regulations

Article 12 of the PW Convention, inter-alia, reads:-

“Clothing, underwear and footwear shall be supplied to prisoners of war by the detaining Power. The regular replacement and repair of such articles shall be assured.  Workers shall also receive working kit wherever the nature of the work requires it.”

What the records tell us

All prisoners of war were allowed to wear their badges of rank and insignia on their uniforms.

Clothing items, except for pyjamas, could not be purchased from the Canteen.

Clothing Issue

1 hat (a)1 hair brush
1 overcoat (a)1 shaving brush
2 coats, medical detachment (a)1 toothbrush
2 pairs of trousers, medical detachment (a)2 pairs of short cotton underwear (b)
1 pullover, labour detachment (a)1 comb
1 pair of trousers, labour detachment (a)2 pairs of woollen and cotton underwear (c)
1 pair of shorts (a) (b)1 jersey pullover (c)
1 pair of shoes1 safety razor with blade (d)
1 pair of laces2 flannel shirts
1 pair of braces2 cotton singlets (b)
2 pairs of woollen socks2 wool and cotton singlets (c)
2 towels3 cotton handkerchiefs
  • (a) Dyed burgundy
  • (b) Summer
  • (c) Winter
  • (d)One new blade a week in exchange for old blade

N.C.O.s and other prisoners of war

This group received a free issue of clothing and necessaries.

All articles were replaced free of charge when necessary.  Facilities were provided for repairs to shoes and clothing and prisoners of war employed as bootmakers, tailors, cobblers.

Prisoner of War Officers

Officers and men of equivalent rank must provide their own items and paid for at their expense. The clothing was manufactured in Australia and issued by authorities. Replacement officer uniforms were made after measurements were taken.  Completed uniforms were made in a venetian grey material, and cost approx. £5 each. The exception was for Japanese officers who were supplied with magenta dyed Australian Military Forces uniforms only but were allowed to wear any national uniforms they had in their possession.

Guerre 1939-1945. Myrtleford. Camp 5 B. Prisonniers de guerre italiens.

Camp 5B Myrtleford June 1943 ICRC V-P-HIST-03290-33A

Merchant Seamen Prisoners of War

Both officers and other ranks merchant seamen were provided with clothing and other items free of charge. Merchant Seamen officers and other ranks did not receive a payment as did other prisoner of war. When arrested, they had been in the employment of shipping companies. There was no agreement with the Italian government to provide a stipend (payment) for merchant seamen.

For this group, the seven first articles on the above list were replaced by a peaked cap, an overcoat, a vest and a pair of trousers suitable for merchant marines.  The material used was a dark green cloth.  The two flannel shirts were grey and had two collars each.  A blue tie was also issued.

What do the photos from Myrtleford Camp tell us

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

Non regulation overcoat possibly made from government issue blanket (centre)

Group Number 27 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-27

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. Groupe numéro 23. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp. Group number 23.

Non regulation fleecy winter vests Group Number 23 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-32

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp.

Handmade plaited belt?

February 1945 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-19A

Guerre 1939-1945. Myrtleford. Prisonniers de guerre italiens.

Regardless of being a prisoner of war, the officers wore their uniforms with pride

Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-03290-36A

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

Storia di un contadino italiano in Australia – parte 1: la cattura e l’inizio del viaggio

by Elena Fortini

Nella maggior parte dei libri di storia le migliaia di uomini catturati e fatti prigionieri durante i due conflitti mondiali che hanno segnato il Secolo breve figurano solo come numeri, una perdita inevitabile nell’economia di guerra. Eppure, si tratta di una parte non trascurabile del nostro passato: ogni uomo partito al fronte vi ha portato parte di sé, una storia nella Storia che non possiamo permetterci di dimenticare. Per questa ragione voglio raccontare la prigionia di mio zio Vincenzo, un modesto contadino cremonese che si è trovato a coltivare le immense distese australiane.

Vincenzo Ambrogio: Uncle of Elena Fortini (photo courtesy of Elena Fortini)

Vincenzo Ambrogi nasce il 5 settembre 1917 a Soncino, un piccolo borgo medievale in provincia di Cremona. Primo di 7 figli tra cui mia nonna Rosa, detta Carla, il 2 settembre 1938 viene chiamato alle armi in qualità di caporale nel 45° Reggimento Artiglieria Divisionale “Cirene”. Dopo un breve passaggio a Bari, l’11 settembre a Napoli si imbarca per la Libia; due giorni dopo sarà a Bengasi.

Map of Western Desert Campaign 1941/42 (https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Operation_Compass)

A seguito dell’ingresso dell’Italia nel secondo conflitto mondiale, il 10 giugno 1940 il territorio libico è dichiarato in Stato di guerra. A settembre la Divisione partecipa alla prima offensiva italiana in Egitto, ma la controffensiva britannica non si fa attendere: dopo una serie di attacchi che provocano importanti perdite, a dicembre la Divisione è costretta a ripiegare entro la cinta fortificata di Bardia, vera roccaforte italiana in Libia. L’esercito italiano non resisterà a lungo: il 5 gennaio 1941 Vincenzo è catturato, insieme a migliaia di altri soldati, dall’esercito inglese, in quella che è passata alla storia come la catastrofica sconfitta di Bardia.

6th January 1941 BARDIA. A GROUP OF ITALIAN PRISONERS BEING BROUGHT IN BY THE A.I.F. DURING THE MOPPING UP OPERATIONS IN THE SURROUNDING HOLES. (AWM Image 004904 NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

Da qui, dopo chilometri e chilometri percorsi a piedi nel deserto nordafricano, raggiunge il campo di concentramento 309, in Egitto, e successivamente il campo 308, entrambi nell’area di Alessandria. Da alcune relazioni stilate da inviati della Croce Rossa Internazionale si evince che la situazione dei prigionieri non era delle più terribili: tolto che la maggior parte dormiva per terra, direttamente sulla sabbia, a causa della scarsità di tende a fronte dell’arrivo massiccio di uomini (successivamente verranno costruite delle baracche dai prigionieri stessi), a ciascuno venivano date in dotazione due coperte per proteggersi dal freddo; i prigionieri indossavano la propria divisa e venivano consegnate scarpe nuove a chiunque ne avesse bisogno. Il cibo, preparato dagli italiani stessi, era razionato in quantità sufficienti, e durante le lunghe giornate d’attesa sono documentate persino partite di calcio. Sul campo era presente un cappellano militare per l’assistenza religiosa, mancavano però libri da leggere e i prigionieri lamentavano di non ricevere notizie per posta dai propri famigliari.

La prossima tappa del viaggio di Vincenzo sarà Suez, il vero polo di smistamento: qui i prigionieri saranno divisi e inviati nelle più svariate colonie inglesi; è il vero inizio della traversata che porterà mio zio all’altro capo del mondo. Ogni prigioniero segue sorti diverse: c’è chi viene inviato nel Regno Unito, chi nel Medio Oriente, chi ancora in Sudafrica. Il 30 novembre 1941 Vincenzo si imbarca per l’India. Arriverà a Bombay il 16 dicembre e sarà internato nei campi 9 e 12, entrambi nell’area di Bhopal, nell’India nord-occidentale. In una cartolina compilata per la Croce Rossa Internazionale scrive di essere stato catturato illeso e di stare bene.

Click: Arrival of Italian prisoners in Bombay

Il 20 aprile 1942 scrive la seguente lettera indirizzata alla famiglia e mai giunta a destinazione:

“Carissimi genitori, dopo lunga assenza di vostre notizie, non sapendo il perché di tutto questo mentre invece ho ricevuto notizie da Alberto, il cugino della cascina Fornace, alla cui cara lettera tuttavia non posso rispondere, la quale mi ha molto rallegrato sentendo le sue parole di giovane militare, e il rientro di Giulio, mio fratello, in patria dalla sua prigionia. Miei cari voi, sapete che non posso rispondere a tutti coloro che mi scrivono, perciò lascio a voi i miei più graditi saluti con una stretta di mano di vero cugino affettuoso. Ma appena potrò […] a tutti darò un mio saluto e un invito di arrivederci presto. Miei cari, da che mi trovo nelle Indie ho ricevuto 4 lettere, una del cugino e tre di Gina [la maggiore delle sorelle]. Desidero notizie dai dintorni e dai cugini. Non pensate male che tutto passa e ringraziamo sempre Iddio che tenga sempre la salute e un dì ci rivedremo.
Termino rilasciandovi i miei più sinceri saluti a tutta l’intera famiglia, e un bacio all’ultimo piccolino e Babbo e Mamma. Saluti parenti e riconoscenti da sempre, Vincenzo”

Camp 9 India: General View of Camp, Italians packed up ready to move to another camp, models of planes made by the Italians (ICRC VP-HIST-03470-07, VP-HIST- 03470-12, VP-HIST- 03470-30A)

Sappiamo però che il periodo in India è stato probabilmente il più difficile dell’intera prigionia: il clima duro, la scarsità di cibo e le disastrose condizioni igieniche dei campi indiani, unitamente al pericolo causato dagli insetti portatori di malaria, facevano sì che molti prigionieri si ammalassero, anche gravemente. In particolare, i campi dell’area lagunare di Bhopal, dove si trovava mio zio, erano noti per l’aria estremamente malsana. Lo stesso Vincenzo trascorse più di due mesi nell’ospedale del campo, e subì un’operazione. La situazione precaria e la persistente incertezza sul futuro spingevano molti a tentare il gesto estremo.

Ma la storia di Vincenzo è diversa. Nel gennaio 1944 lascia infatti il subcontinente indiano e viene imbarcato sulla nave Mariposa: direzione Melbourne, Australia.

Continua…

1944-03-28. AERIAL PORT BOW VIEW OF THE AMERICAN TRANSPORT SS MARIPOSA WHICH MADE FIVE TROOP CARRYING VOYAGES TO AUSTRALIA BETWEEN 1942 AND 1944. (NAVAL HISTORICAL COLLECTION) (AWM Image 303592)

Tasmanian ‘Italian Farming Soldiers’*

There were seven prisoner of war centres in Tasmania including Brighton Prisoner of War Camp. Some of the boundaries for a centre changed as additional centres were established during 1944 to accommodate the increasing numbers of Italian POWs in Tasmania. I have put together a summary of this information.

Brighton Prisoner of War Camp

It was the PARENT Camp for all Italian prisoners of war in Tasmania. One of the Camp Commandants was Major C.R. Hawker. For serious breaches in discipline, a POW would be awarded 28 days detention. He would be transferred from his farm placement and sent to Brighton Camp for detention. Brighton Camp also had a hospital unit.

T1 Prisoner of War Control Centre Burnie

The centre’s office was in Jones Street Burnie and Captain G.D. Pollington was the commanding officer. Burnie farm placements included: Table Cape, Penguin, Leven, Circular Head, Burnie, Kentish, Devenport, Latrobe. An April 1944 report documents that there were 248 Italian POWs placed with 143 farmers. A May 1944 report documents that there were 161 Italian POWs placed with 106 farmers.

T2 Prisoner of War Control Centre Launceston (April 1944 Report)

The T2 Launceston district included: Beaconsfield, Westbury, Deloraine, Longford, Campbell Town, Ross, Evandale, St Leonards, Fingal. An April 1944 report documents that there were 145 Italian POWs placed with 92 farmers.

T2 Prisoner of War Control Centre Scottsdale (June 1944 Report)

The centre’s office was in the Drill Hall Scottsdale and Lieut. G.H. Napier was the commanding officer. Scottsdale farm placements included: Scottsdale, George Town, Lilydale, Ringarooma. A May 1944 report documents 86 Italian POWs placed with 55 farmers.

T3 Prisoner of War Control Centre Hobart (May 1944 Report)

Hobart farm placements included: Esperance, Huon, Cygnet, Kingborough, Glenorchy, New Norfold, Brighton, Clarence, Sorell, Tasman, Spring Bay, Richmond, Green Ponds, Bothwell, Hobart. A May 1944 report documents that there were 146 Italian POWs placed with 84 farmers.

T3 Prisoner of War Control Centre Glenorchy (June 1944 Report)

The centre’s office was in the Drill Hall Glenorchy and Lieut. A. Coulthard was the commanding officer. Glenorchy farm placements included: Hobart, Glenorchy, Richmond, New Norfolk, Kingborough, Sorell, Huon, Brighton, Esperance, Clarence, Tasman, Cygnet, Spring Bay, Green Ponds.

T4 Prisoner of War Control Centre Smithton (June 1944 Report)

The centre’s office was at 2 King Street Smithton with Lieut. E.W.D. Lacy as the commanding officer. Farm placements were at Smithton and Circular Head. A May 1944 report documents that there were 152 Italian POWs placed with 70 farmers.

T5 Prisoner of War Control Centre Deloraine

The centre’s office was at the Drill Hall Deloraine with Lieut. R.K. Lane as commanding officer. In June 1944, the area included Deloraine, Devonport, Kentish, Westbury, St. Leonards, Longford, Latrobe, Evandale, Fingal, Ross, Campbell Town, Beaconsfield. A May 1944 report documents there were 165 Italian POWs placed with 109 farmers.

By Sept 1944, some of these areas became part of T6 Conara.

T6 Prisoner of War Control Centre Conara

The centre is documented as “Conara Camp” and Captain A.A. Thompson was the commanding officer. The areas of St Leonards, Longford, Evandale, Fingal, Ross, Campbell Town became part of T6 with an addition of Oatlands, Bothwell, Green Ponds.

*Alan Fitzgerald coined the phrase “The Italian Farming Soldiers” as a title for his 1981 book about this history. It was the first work undertaken to document the history of Italian prisoners of war in Australia.

Arrested in Townsville

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

Elena Giovenale: Nurse on the Romolo

(NAA: BP313/1, Giovenale E)

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

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

Captain of the Romolo: Ettore Gavino

(NAA: BP242/1, Q28607)

Captain Ettore Gavino chronicled the events:

Thursday 6th June 1940

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

Friday 7th June 1940

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

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

Saturday 8th June 1940

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

Sunday 9th June 1940

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

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

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

Monday 10th June 1940

Rehearsed closure of water-tight doors.

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

Tuesday 11th June 1940

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

Wednesday 12th June 1940

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At 1825 hours the “Romolo” disappeared…

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

(NAA: MP1103/2 Cereseto, Giuseppe)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

War Prize

The Italian motorship Remo was in Fremantle harbour on 10th June 1940, the day of Mussolini’s declaration of war.

The ship was seized on 11th June 1940 under international rules. The 229 passengers were a diverse mix of nationalities: Italians, Hungarians, Poles, Greeks, Bulgarians Jugoslavs, Estonians and Finns. Italian women and children together with those of other nationalities were transferred to Melbourne.  The Italian men were interned together with merchant seaman onboard.

Remo was loaded with cargo for several Australia ports including new machinery for a factory in Newcastle and technical equipment for Postmaster’s General Department. The ship was awarded to the Crown as Allied prize after the matter was heard in the Prize Court. By early July 1940, the Australian flag was flown from the Remo.

1940 ‘Australian Defence: Parachute Patrol: Britain’s Food Supply:’, Chronicle (Adelaide, SA: 1895 – 1954), 4 July, p. 25., viewed 04 Jun 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92396089

The crew of the Remo presented an interesting situation for Australian authorities. Were they prisoners of war or internees? In the first instant they were processed on 11.6.40 as ‘internees’. Officers were transferred to Fremantle Prison while the crew were transferred to an internment camp on Rottnest Island.  On 24 and 25th September 1940, officers and crew were transferred to Harvey Internment Camp.

The internment camp in Harvey where up to 1,000 Italians were detained during WWII. (Source: Harvey Historical Society)

In transit to Victoria, officers and crew were then sent from Harvey Camp 2nd April 1942 to Parkeston Transit Internment Camp.  This camp was situated 2 km north-east of Kalgoorlie on the Trans Australian railway line. It is recorded that the camp had accommodation for 20 internees in small cells.

The next stage of the journey was from Parkeston WA to Murchison Camp Victoria. One document records that these ‘internees’ were reassigned as ‘prisoners of war’ on 15th April 1942 as they departed for Murchison Camp. Other documents give the date 22nd June 1942 as the date of reassignment to POW.

The men arrived in Murchison on 18th April 1942.  The officers and their batmen from the Remo were sent to an officers’ camp at Myrtleford and the crew joined Italian soldiers at Murchison and other work placements in Victoria and Tasmania.

Cosmo Valente was an oiler on the Danish tanker Anglo Maersk when it docked in Fremantle Harbour. He was 60 years old when he was ‘arrested’ on 25.6.40 and sent to Rottnest Island Internment Camp.  As a lone Italian on the Anglo Maersk, he travelled with the group from the Remo.

The Remo was renamed the Reynella. It was used to transport foodstuffs and war materials from Australia to Great Britain. Some of the items on a 1940 run were jams, canned fruits, flour, wheat, tallow, hides and lead. In February 1949, the Reynella was no longer suitable for Australian services and the Federal Government offered the ship for sale to the Italian government for £1,875,000.

(1949).  Passenger-cargo ship Reynella anchored in Newcastle Harbour, New South Wales, 12 November 1949

By November 1949, newspapers report the ship had been sold to an Italian company and had returned to its original name Remo.

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

Searching for Vito

Noel Frankham from Dulcot has drawn together memories and photos to document the history of two Tasmanian Italian POWs.

Tony, George Hanslow, Vito (Photo courtesy of Hanslow family Tasmania)

Noel’s cousin sent him two photos of great uncle George Hanslow with the Italians. He took the photos to show his mother Molly Frankham (née Hanslow) and his aunt Mavis Fitzgerald (née Hanslow) and recorded their memories:

Both remember the two Italians in the pictures. The taller was Tony, assigned to the Blackburn’s ‘Lauderdale’ farm and the other was Vito, assigned to ‘Milnathort’, the Murdoch farm, also at Dulcot. Mum clearly recalls a sing-a-long session at the Hanslow family home (former Dulcot Schoolhouse, and now my home).

Apparently, Tony had a lovely voice and mum accompanied him to ‘O Sole Mio.’ She retold the story noting that she – then 15 – had the audacity to suggest that Tony should up the tempo a bit. She is still embarrassed more than 75 years later that she, as an accompanist, should suggest the singer might change the tempo – and more particularly embarrassed that she was suggesting how a national Italian song might be better sung.

Mum and my aunt remember the two men fondly – mentioning that they had hot chocolate with Vito at his house at Milnathort. Apparently, their cousin, Aileen, corresponded with the sister of either Tony or his successor at Lauderdale for some years.

This history is a bit of a giant jigsaw puzzle. While Tony (Antonio) is a common Italian name, Vito however is not so common, so begins a search to find Vito. There were 5 Vito’s assigned to T3.

T3PWCC (Prisoner of War Control Centre) was referenced on the cards of the Italian POWs as T3 Hobart.  Other documents reference the district as T3 Glenorchy.  The Drill Hall at Glenorchy was the administrative office for the Australian Military Forces staff who was in charge of the prisoners of war in the district. It was from this office that farmers applied for workers, Italians were assigned to farmers, Italians were detained in a lock up room on the premises, mail for the Italians was distributed and collected, the canteen truck took provisions to the Italians on the farms.

Lieut. A Coulthard was the commanding officer of the centre which placed Italian POW workers on farms in the following areas: Hobart, Glenorchy, Richmond, New Norfolk, Kingborough, Sorell, Huon, Brighton, Esperance, Clarence, Tasman, Cygnet, Spring Bay and Green Ponds.

Vito Di Tello only had 1 week in the T3 district. Vito Buragina spent from June 45 to Oct 45 on a T3 farm; he was 43 years old with a dark complexion. Vito Lombardo a bootmaker from Trapani worked on a T3 farm/s from May 44 to March 46; he was 30 years old with a ‘sallow’ complexion. Vito Rescinito worked on a T3 farm from Sept 45 to March 46; was 40 years old and had a ‘fresh’ complexion.

And then there is a young 24 year old Vito Monteleone a farmer with a dark complexion who spent February 44 to March 45 on T3 farm/s before spending some time in detention and being sent to T4 Smithton farm/s.

Unfortunately, few questions are answered. Maybe Vito Monteleone is the Vito in the Hanslow photo. A Vito Monteleone returned to Australia in 1949 and registered his address with immigration as Hobart.  This Vito can later be found working as a waterside worker and living in 12 Falconer Street Fitzroy North, Melbourne.

If only it was possible to give a a background and name to Tony the singer!

Vito Monteleone (NAA: P1184, Monteleone V)

Remarkable…

In November 1945 Giuseppe Quarta from Arnesano Lecce Italy lived with Mr and Mrs Dixon on their farm in Golden Valley Tasmania.

In November 2020 Jan Dixon, daughter of Reg and Elsie shared 75 year old photos with Giuseppe’s children Antonio and Anna.

This is remarkable.

Giuseppe Quarta celebrated his 24th birthday, thirteen days before arriving in Melbourne from Bombay India. He was processed and photographed at Murchison PW Camp Victoria before travelling to Tasmania. 

Giuseppe Quarta Murchison Victoria NAA: A376 T321

Giuseppe’s son Antonio had obtained a copy of his father’s extra file in the National Archives of Australia which contained the PWI58832 photos. This file also provided the name of Giuseppe’s farming family: RR Dixon Golden Valley. But the research stalled.  A google map could provide Antonio with a geographic location for Golden Valley. But Antonio had a deep yearning to know something more about his father’s 17 months with the Dixon family.

On 30th November 2020, Antonio’s dreams came true.  Jan Dixon had seen a Facebook post on Tasmanian History and knew immediately that this man: Giuseppe Quarta was the man from her family stories and in her family photos.

Giuseppe was known as JOSH and while Jan was born after Josh had left her family’s farm, her parents often talked about Josh and referred to a few photos with Josh and the Dixon family.

Jan recalls her mother Elsie telling her, “Josh always called me Elsa.”  Just as the Dixons had given Giuseppe an Aussie name, Giuseppe gave Elsie an Italian name. There is no doubt that Giuseppe was well looked after by the Dixon family as the photos show a healthy young man as a result of the good hospitality of the Dixons.  Antonio agrees, “…senza ombra di dubbio , mio padre in quei due anni che ha trascorso presso la famiglia Dixon , si e’ trovato benissimo lo si puo’ vedere anche dalle foto che gode di ottima salute. belle foto.”


Giuseppe Quarta with Grandpa Dixon Golden Vally Tasmania 1945-1946

(photo courtesy of Jan Dixon)

Jan Dixon remembers that the farm had dairy cows and small crops hinting that fresh milk and butter were on the table; there was an abundance of bread made by her mother; and fresh vegetables came straight from the farm.  The photos also hint at the acceptance and inclusion of Giuseppe into the Dixon extended family.

Giuseppe Quarta with the Dixon Extended Family 1945-1946

(photo courtesy of Jan Dixon)

For Antonio and Anna Quarta from Lombardy Italy, these photos are a special early Christmas gift. Speaking from the heart, Antonio writes, “e’  un bellissimo regalo di Natale , proveniente dalla lontana Australia dalla cara Joanne ,e’ stata anche una grandissima sorpresa che mi ha fatto tanto piacere , aprendo lentamente il messaggio ho capito subito che si tratta di notizie importantissime… mi ha invaso la commozione e la felicita’ con gli occhi di lacrime.”

There is a remarkable series of events which has brought together the Dixon and Quarta family. Most importantly, this research project, Footprints of Italian prisoners of war in Australia, is a community project. From Antonio Quarta who entrusted me with his father’s story, to John Towers in Tasmania who pointed me in the right direction and gave me links to the Facebook group Tasmania History, to the administrator of the Facebook group who approved my post, to Jan Dixon for recognising Josh and sharing her family photos: this is a remarkable story.

Anna Quarta  adds, “Voglio Ringraziare tanto la signora Joanne Tapiolas , la Famiglia Dixon in modo particolare Jan di aver messo a disposizione le sue foto di famiglia e tutte le altre persone che hanno collaborato alla ricercar.”

Acknowledgements

There are many people who have been part of this project and  I would like to publicly acknowledge those who have:

  • shared with me their story and entrusted me with their memories, photos, letters and mementos,
  • assisted me in  promoting my research,
  • done a bit of  local ‘digging’ on my behalf by searching local publications, sending out letters and emails, making telephone calls to ‘find’ locals who have a memory, making suggestions as to where to look next, providing me with my next lead,
  • answered my ‘cold call’ letters that I have sent to municipal councils, local historical societies and most importantly relatives of Italian POWs who returned to Australia.

Without your assistance, this project would have been a ‘black and white’ history of Italian POWs in Queensland as army and government records are by nature, factual.

Your stories and memories and mementos have added ‘colour’ to this history as you have told stories of the every day life of the Italian POWs but told these stories as emotional and personal memories.

Q1 Stanthorpe: Mary Puglisi, Tony Hassall, Paula Boatfield, Alec Harslett, Morwenna and Franco Arcidiancomo, Janette and Rod Ratcliffe, Angelo Valiante, Lina Scalora, Claudio Marino, Esme and Millie Townsend, Rodney Smith, Shirley Stanton, Dorothy Barraclough (Jones), Lisa Saggiomo (Antonio De Marco), Marco Abbona (Angelo Abbona), Colleen and Roger Willis, Loreen Long (Stanthorpe Museum and Historical Society), Tommaso Mobilia (Carmine Mobilia)

Q2 Nambour: Martin Schulz, Nev Townsend,  Lorna Akers (Ivin), Rosemary Watts (Bury), Barbara Want (Nambour Museum), Audienne Blyth, Di Brown (Sunshine Coast Heritage Library Officer), Franceschina Tigani, Gordon Plowman (Flaxton) Maria Rosa Allan (Tigani), Nambour: Remember When! Facebook Site, Sunshine Coast Daily, Paul Cass, Yvonne Derrington (Fullerton), Maxina Williams, Les Farmer, Nonno Armando Evangelista, Katia and Martina Evangelista, Laurelle Murphy (Beamish family), Paolo Santoro (Paolo Santoro)

Q3 Gympie: Allan Blackman (Gympie District Historical Society), Ian McConachie, John Huth, Ian Bevege, Ernie Rider, Beth Wilson ( Gympie: Local History Officer), Mike Butler, Patrick Rodney, Gloria Rodney, Damiano Lumia, Rosa Melino, Dianne Woodstock, Mal Dodt, Dr Elaine Brown, Kathy Worth(Knowles), Peter Van Breemen, Gympie Times, Doug and Lynne Wilson, John Miguel, Alex Miles, Keith Buchanan, Leita Boswell (Beattie), Val Doyle (Cullen), Barry Mason, Jim Buchanan, Marco Vaccarini, Anna Eusebi, Raffaele Iacopini, Faye Kennedy (Stey), Daniel Reginato (Paolo Reginato),

Q4 Gayndah: Avis Hildreth (Robinson Family)  Thea Beswick (Robinson),  Adrian Azzari-Colley, Joe Devietti,  Central and North Burnett Times, Colleen Lindley (Robinson Family) Colin Wenck (Sauer Family), Eva Lutvey, Samuele Micali, Mario Liscio, Katia Cioffi.

Q5 Texas: Zita Hutton (Rodighiero), Darryl Hutton, Frank Yeo, Barbara Ellis (Texas Historical Society). Heidi Dawson (MacIntyre Gazette)

Q6 Home Hill: Nino Cipolla, Christine Morriss, Doug Kelly, Tom Durkin, Rhonda Mann, Glenis Cislowski, Julie Chapman (Tapiolas), Isabel Stubbs (Fowler) Kelsie Iorio (The Burdekin Advocate), Jack Cipolla, Kent Fowler, Ross Di Mauro, Pina Vettovalli, Charlie Scuderi, Jo Gallagher (Tiberi),

Temporary PWCC Atherton: David Anthony (The Tablelander), Jack Duffy, Dick Daley

Q7 Kenilworth: John Ower, Lenore Meldrum (Kenilworth Historical Museum), Margaret and Tony White, Heather O’Connor (Moreland), Sharon Pearson (Brown), Anthony Brown, Rose Moir-Bussy (Mangini),

Q8 Kingaroy: Joyce Dickenson and Robyn Bowman, Althea  Kleidon (Rackemann), Dudley Long and Lorraine Giollo, Tom McErlean,  Shannon Newley (South Burnett Times)

Q9 Monto: Janice Joyce (Pownall), Peter Pownall, Assunta Austin ( D’Addario Family), Doug Groundwater, Judith Minto, Lurline Graving (Harsant), Brett Dowling, Mackenzie Colahan, Rita Pace,

Q10 Boonah: Christine Titmarsh (Historical Society and Templin Museum),  Michael Joyce, Pam Phillips (Niebling), Eric Behrendorff, Ian Harsant, Laurie Dwyer, Carmel Peck (Dwyer), Murray Maudsley, Graham Neilsen, Carmelo Ierna, Joe Indomenico, Penny Wright, Antonio Ragusa, Judith Lane (Rackley), Billy Jack Harsant, John Gilbert, Tim Dwyer, Ferdinando Pancisi, Judith Lane (Rackley), Antonio Ragusa, Luigi Tommasi, Helen Mullen (Rackely),  Dino De Propertis (Paolo De Propertis) Roberto D’Angelis (Paolo De Propertis), Carolyn Bazley and Edmund Behrendorff (Francesco De Luca, Antonio Di Renna and Vincenzo)

Other Australian States and Overseas: Miriam Stucchi, Peter Dunn @ http://www.ozatwar.com,  Rebecca Donohoe (Queensland Farmers’ Federation), Seniors News,  Paul Stumkat (re: Wallangarra German POWs), Gray Bolte (West Wylong), Fraser Coast Chronicle, The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), Australian War Memorial Facebook Site, Queensland History Network Facebook Site, Alex Chambers @ 630 AM  ABC North Queensland, Sara Bavato at Il Globo and La Fiamma, Annie Gaffney @  90.3 Fm ABC Sunshine Coast, Carlo Pintarelli, Reinhard Krieger, Torsten Weller,  Liborio Mauro Bonadonna, Vitoronzo Pastore,  Enrico Dalla Mora, Ann Megalla, Trudy Brown (Herbert River Express), Susan Mulligan (Oral History Queensland), Davide Dander, Jocelyn Maddock, Merle Heiner, Enoggera & District History Association Inc., Cris Dall ‘Osto, Sharon Rigano from Quick on the Click (Book Cover Design), Anne Scheu (State Library of Queensland), Bruno Van der Heide Burdekin Printers, Alex Mannea Burdekin Printers, Andy Toulson ABC Radio 630 North Queensland, Trudie Legio ABC Radio Wide Bay, Mikayla Mayoh Burdekin Advocate, Matteo Tettamanti, Veniero Granatelli, Paola Zagonara, Luigi Pinna, Home Hill Newsagency, Marco Lucantoni, Cristina Capitummino, Alessandra Nicoletti, Leo Piciacchia, Catherine Murdoch (Cardillo), Marie, John and Joan McInnes, Ute Schulenberg (Nambucca Guardian), Kay Ball (Murchison Historical Society),  Australian War Memorial-Acquisitions Department, Jennifer Ellis (Another Del Bo), Paolo Zulli (Sebastiano Di Campli), Giuli Musini, Francesco Fracasso, Robert Perna,  Vanda Hodder, Colleen Hammat, Craig Douglas (Regio Esercito History Group), Darren Arnott (Rodolfo Bartoli), Petrus De Savoie (Giovanni Trunfio), , Rossana Ferulli (Domenico Ferulli), Fabrizio Patriarca( Blasioli Fioravante), Francesca Elliot (Luigi Moltedo) Chris Senti (Yanco), Maria Schattiger (Nicola Romano), Silvio Masullo (Giuseppe Polito), Giuseppe Mestre (Bruno Mestre), Anna Paola Fico (Mario Paesano), Joanne Ciaglia (Alfredo Romeno), Alberta Nunziati (Mario Nunziati), Rossella Petta (Costantino D’Agostino), Antonio Quarta (Giuseppe Quarta), Ginetta Fino (Giosino Fino), Sonia Brutti (Tullio Brutti), Claudia Lucchitti (Rinaldo Rossini), Hugh Cullimore (Australian War Memorial), Rob Willis (National Library of Australia), Dominic Goduto (Alfredo Goduto), John Towers (Tasmania), Alessandra Garizzo (Giuseppe Garizzo), Miriam Stucchi (Alcide Stucchi), Fabrizio Turchi (Cemetery India), Nat Talarico (Martino D’Anniello), Francesco Rosignoli (Armando Rosignoli), Rocco Martino (Alcantara Rolls), Silvio Gernini (Mario Rossi), Afra Salami (Jormen Salami), Maria Pepe (Michele Pepe), Heather Jackson (Michele Pepe), Daniela Anselmi (Pasquale Roffo, Antonio Cedroni, Armando Di Bona, Luigi Cellucci),