Category Archives: Victoria Italian POWs

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.

Home on the ‘Andes’

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 McKInty from the Forestry Commission Retired Personnel Association has provided invaluable information about the prisoner of war hostel site at Kinglake West. For more information, click on the line: https://www.victoriasforestryheritage.org.au/community/alien-workers-pow-camps.html

A painting by D.W.Murray Paine illustrates the type of trees the Italians worked amongst.

Kinglake Forest – a painting by DWM Paine

D.W.Murray Paine 2008 (photo courtesy of https://www.victoriasforestryheritage.org.au/)

A photograph taken by J.D. Gillespie shows the Kinglake site in 1952. Most likely some of the buildings were remnants from the prisoner of war hostel.

Photograph taken in 1952 by JD Gillespie (Source: S Gillespie) : FCV Fire School at the Kinglake West Camp.

1952 Kinglake Forestry Camp (photographer J.D. Gillespie, photo courtesy of https://www.victoriasforestryheritage.org.au/)

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.

A Father’s Love

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.

Bonadonna, Liborio

Liborio Bonadonna

(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.

Liborio 28 ACH

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.

 

Leonardo Da Vinci-07

 

Liborio and Liborio - Copy

Liborio Bonadonna with his family c 1979, grandson Liborio Mauro on his grandfather’s lap

(photograph from the collection of Liborio Mauro)

 

 

 

 

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

Another Fountain – Wakool Hostel

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp Wakool. Vue d’un prisonnier de guerre italien. World War 1939-1945. Wakool camp. Italian prisoner of war view.

Fountain at Wakool Camp 1 May 1945 ICRC V-P-HIST-01881-40

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp Wakool. Prisonier de guerre italien. World War 1939-1945. Wakool camp. Italian prisoner of war.

Wakool Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-44

V3 Wakool on a Service and Casualty Form indicates that your father or grandfather, during 1943-1945 worked on ‘the largest and best equipped rice-growing farm in the Southern Hemisphere’.  This project was to grow rice on a large scale for military requirements.

The newspapers reported that ‘all prisoners of war, nearly 200 are on parole’ and that the place had no locks and the Italians worked under civilian supervisors.

The Italians arrived in September 1943, to prepare the ground for planting and to tend the crops. Another group of Italians were involved in construction work for the second 5000 acres to go under rice.

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp Wakool. Prisonier de guerre italien. World War 1939-1945. Wakool camp. Italian prisoner of war.

Wakool Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-45A

“ The camp is conducted largely on the pattern of a military camp and is entirely self-contained, well-conducted and with a strict but reasonable discipline.  Some seventy men are engaged in various operations.  Much of the general labour of the farm is being done by Italian prisoners of war whom there are about 180 and mostly taken during the North African campaign. The men are on wages and working well.  The normal daily routine was first call at 6.30am, breakfast 7am and at 7.20am some 25 trucks carry the men to various jobs on the farm.  They return to headquarters at 11.45am and returned for the afternoon at 12.40pm  Work for the day ends at 5pm” (Wiluna Miner (WA: 1931-1947) Friday 8 December 1944, page 4 and 5)

Guerre 1939-1945. Wakool. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens.

Wakool Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-0329-18A

This rice farm was operated by the Water Conservation and Irrigation Trust of New South Wales with water for irrigation diverted from the Edwards River. It was the first rice production in the area and was situated on part of Tulla Station at Wakool near Barham.

The farm covered 5000 acres and by January 1945 was reported to have yielded 8000 tons of rice and 125,000 bales of rice straw. Rice straw was sent to paper mills. Bren carriers were borrowed from the Army to move bagged rice to storage.  About 100 acres were harvested each day.

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Wakool. PG Italiens au travail. War 1939-1945. Wakool Camp. Italian PG at work.

Italians at Work Wakool ICRC V-P-HIST-01880-11A

As a government project, finances were available to purchase machinery.  This project was highly mechanised: 47 tractors of the bulldozer and caterpillar types, 24 header harvesters reaping 25 tons per header per day, 14 seed drills and 18 disc seed drills, rice cleaning plant.  It was reported that it took two men working seven days a week to keep the equipment supplied with fuel.

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Wakool. PG Italiens au travail. War 1939-1945. Wakool Camp. Italian PG at work.

Italians at work Wakool ICRC V-P-HIST-01880-09A

Wakool Hostel

ICRC V-P-HIST-03290-16A; V-P-HIST-03290-15A;V-P-HIST-03290-14A; V-P-HIST-01882-02A

La Preghiera Del Legionario

This prayer is a patriotic poem inviting the Lord to save Il Duce’s Italy.

Dio, che accendi ogni fiamma e fermi ogni cuore rinnova ogni giorno la passione mia per l’Italia.

Rendimi sempre più degno dei nostri morti, affinchè loro stessi – i più forti – rispondano ai vivi: “Presente”!

Nutrisci il mio libro della tua saggezza e il mio moschetto della tua volontà.

Fa più aguzzo il mio sguardo e più sicuro il mio piede sui valichi sacri alla Patria:
Sulle strade, sulle coste, nelle foreste e sulla quarta sponda,che già fu di Roma.
Quando il futuro soldato mi marcia accanto nei ranghi, fa ch’io senta battere il suo cuore fedele.

Quando passano i gagliardetti e le bandiere, fa che tutti i volti si riconoscano in quello della Patria:
la Patria che faremo più grande portando ognuno la sua pietra al cantiere.

Signore! Fa della Tua Croce l’insegna che precedeil labaro della mia legione.

E salva l’Italia, l’Italia nel Duce, sempre e nell’ora di nostra bella morte.
Così sia.

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Zubiani; Mantovani; Pellisetti; Gauthier; Pane; Primiano. Front row: Buonaventura; Di Grazia; De Rosa; Tocco; Morra; Misitano. (AWM Image 03152/10 Photographer: Geoffrey McInnes)

Virgilio Zubiani was an Italian army chaplain who arrived in Australia as a prisoner of war in 23rd August 1941. He was sent directly to Murchison Camp. From Murchison Camp he was sent to Myrtleford Camp:- a camp for Italian officers, but also spent time at V29 Puckapunyal Hostel, V12 Broadford Hostel and V3 Wakool.

When he left Myrtleford Camp in October 1944, a number of documents were found in his possession and the authorities were concerned:
“16 typed copies* of the “Legionnaire’s Prayer” and an original copy of same printed by hand in exactly the same style as that used in the extreme fascist camp newspaper “Patria”. The typed copies had obviously been prepared for distribution among ORs. An annotated map of the layout of Murchison camp.” (NAA: A7919 C98944)

Map of Murchison drawn by Virgilio Zubiani (NAA: A7919 C98944)

Per non dimenticarlo

“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” George Elliot

Vito Eliseo has a passion for local history and undertakes research trying to reconstruct the stories of all those from his village who died during WW II. Vito believes that is important to make these stories known to future generations. He is concerned that in Italy there are still children who do not know what happened to their parents.

One of the Italian prisoners of war who died in Australia during WW2 was  Martino D’Aniello, a relative of Vito. 

Vito explains, “Unfortunately no one is left of Martino’s immediate family, there were 2 brothers and a sister… I could not find any grandchildren.” Vito has written, In memoria di Martino D’Aniello which you can read at the end of this article.

Martino, a waiter from Serre (Salerno), was 20 years old when he was captured at Tobruk, Libya on the 22nd January 1941.  He was 24 years old when he died at the Waranga Hospital [28 Camp Hospital], Murchison Camp Victoria on 3rd December 1944.

This is the sadness of war; regardless of where a soldier died: Libya, Egypt, India or Australia; regardless of whether the man died in battle, in a field hospital or in a prisoner of war hospital; the death of a young man is a tragedy.

List of Italians laid to rest at The Ossario (Photo courtesy of Alex Miles)

The government records offered up a little information about Martino’s death.  Martino died 3 days after being sent to hospital for “Acute Nephritis” and then he was buried at the Murchison Cemetery on 5th  December 1944. In 1961, his remains were exhumed and he was re-interred at The Ossario* Murchison on 6th September 1961 and his name is on a bronze plaque at its entrance.

There is some comfort in knowing where Martino now ‘rests in peace’. There is no comfort though knowing that your loved one died on the other side of the world without family and friends.

A series of extraordinary and unconnected circumstances, has brought to light an invaluable insight into the funeral of Martino.  Martino’s funeral was photographed by a representative from the International Committee for the Red Cross.

Guerre 1939-1945. Murchison. Enterrement du PG Daniello Martini. War 1939-1945. Murchison Camp. The funeral of prisoner of war Daniello Martini.

Funeral of Martino D’Aniello 5th December 1944 (ICRC V-P-HIST 01184-10)

On the 5th December 1944, under an Australian summer’s sky; surrounded by Cypress pines and eucalyptus, Martino’s compatriots stand solemnly at his graveside. He was far from home, but Martino was not alone.

Guerre 1939-1945. Murchison. Enterrement du PG Daniello Martini. War 1939-1945. Murchison Camp. The funeral of prisoner of war Daniello Martini.

Funeral of Martino D’Aniello 5th December 1944 (ICRC V-P-HIST 01184-11)

Australian soldiers from the Murchison Camp together with Italian prisoners of war respectfully farewelled Martino.  Vito reflects, “it is a consolation for his family to know that Martino did not die alone, he had the comfort of his companions and the generous people near him who considered him a guest and not a prisoner.”

Guerre 1939-1945. Murchison. Enterrement du PG Daniello Martini. War 1939-1945. Murchison Camp. The funeral of prisoner of war Daniello Martini.

Funeral of Martino D’Aniello 5th December 1944 (ICRC V-P-HIST 01184-13)

Guerre 1939-1945. Murchison. Enterrement du PG Daniello Martini. War 1939-1945. Murchison Camp. The funeral of prisoner of war Daniello Martini.

Grave of Martino D’Aniello 5th December 1944 with temporary marker front right (ICRC V-P-HIST 01184-12)

As men, we are all equal in the presence of death.

Publilius Syrus (Roman Writer c. 100 BC)

In memoria di Martino D’Aniello by Vito Eliseo

Martino D’Aniello nasce a Serre il 13 ottobre 1920 da Valentino e Michelina Mennella, un ragazzo come tanti altri, frequenta la scuola fino alla V elementare, e come tutti i suoi coetanei viene chiamato alla visita di leva il 6 giugno 1939, ed essendo di sana e robusta costituzione, per di più patentato, viene arruolato per poi essere chiamato alle armi il 1 febbraio 1940.

Viene assegnato al 1° Reggimento Fanteria G.a.F. (Guardia alla Frontiera) del XX° C.A. in Napoli, dopo la vestizione ed il necessario addestramento il giorno 8 marzo si imbarca per arrivare a Tripoli il giorno 11 marzo 1940.

Assegnato al XXXV° Settore di copertura, già dal successivo 11 giugno, viene a trovarsi in “territorio in stato di guerra”, la successiva assegnazione al 6° Autogruppo di Manovra lo condurrà a Tobruk, ed è su tale città che si stà concentrando l’attenzione degli inglesi per l’importanza strategica del suo porto.

La città cinta d’assedio dovette capitolare e fu occupata il 21 gennaio 1941, con la conseguente cattura di tutti i militari italiani che vi si trovavano, ed è in tale data che inizia l’odissea di Martino, con la sua tragica conclusione.

Gli inglesi a seguito delle positive vicende belliche in nord-Africa si ritrovarono a gestire alcune centinaia di migliaia di prigionieri che dovettero inevitabilmente smistare lontano dalle zone di guerra, e Martino, in questa moltitudine, si ritrovò prima a Ceylon e poi a Bombay in India, da qui ancora un altro trasferimento, a bordo del piroscafo Mount Vernon, che lo vede sbarcare il 26 aprile 1944 nel porto di Melbourne in  Australia.

In Australia viene internato nel campo prigionieri di guerra di Murchison nel distretto di Vittoria, dove ai prigionieri è permesso anche di andare a lavorare fuori presso terzi, cosa che, dal 27 giugno 1944, inizia a fare anche Martino andando a lavorare presso mr. Kyneton, un allevatore di ovini,  questo lavoro durerà poco, fino al 2 settembre, perché si ammala di una grave forma di nefrite, e rientra al campo.

Per l’aggravarsi delle condizioni il 30 novembre viene ricoverato nell’ospedale di Waranga, però il male è incurabile e muore il giorno 3 dicembre 1944 ed il giorno 5 dicembre viene sepolto nel cimitero della città di Murchison, poco dopo i compagni di prigionia provvidero a costruire una tomba più dignitosa che non il mucchio di terra che si vede nella foto.

Purtroppo le sue traversie ancora non erano finite, infatti il settore del cimitero dove era sepolto negli anni 50 subisce un allagamento, e questo episodio fece si che un italiano, che viveva nelle vicinanze, desse inizio ad una colletta tra i tanti italiani emigrati e con i fondi raccolti fu costruito un MEMORIALE, ove nel 1961 furono trasferiti i resti mortali di tutti i prigionieri italiani deceduti durante la prigionia.

Ogni anno il tale MEMORIALE, la domenica prossima all’ 11 novembre vi viene tenuta una cerimonia di commemorazione.

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)