So many Italian prisoners of war, so many individual stories.
I found Giuseppe Spinelli by accident.
A solicitor from Rome, Giuseppe was with an artillery unit when he was captured in Bardia 4th January 1941.
Upon arrival in Australia on 13th October 1941, his rank was recorded as “Lieutenant”.
It was 13 months before the authorities realised that the rank of Giuseppe Spinelli was sergeant.
I thought, did Giuseppe believe he could impersonate an officer?
Did the officers in the camps of Egypt and on the voyage to Australia not realise his deceit?
I offer the suggestion that Giuseppe Spinelli was suffering from a serious injury or medical condition.
Groups of Italian prisoners of war were being sent to Australia and my suggestion is that an Italian medical officer claimed him to be a lieutenant to accelerate his chances of getting out of Egypt and to better medical care!
Giuseppe arrived in Sydney on the Queen Mary on 13th October 1941. On this transport, there were 110 Italian officers. Giuseppe did not travel by train to Cowra with the other Italians. Instead on the 14th October 1941, Giuseppe was taken to 113 AGH (Australian General Hospital) in Concord Sydney.
CONCORD MILITARY HOSPITAL. PHOTOGRAPH PUBLISHED IN AUSTRALIA IN THE WAR OF 1939-45, MEDICAL, VOL 2, MIDDLE EAST AND FAR EAST, PAGE 431. (AWM Image 043228)
The newspapers reported that two ambulances ‘took away two stretcher cases and a few other men who were sick’.
Giuseppe Pierro a clerk from Rionero in Vulture (Potenza) died on 4th July 1945 at the 115 Heidelberg Military Hospital Victoria. As per requirements*, he was honourably buried at the Springvale War Cemetery.
He was the first Italian prisoner of war buried at this Commonwealth War Graves cemetery. His burial on 6th July 1945 was photographed by Henric Wingfiled Brammall.
Roman Catholic Chaplain JC English of the 115 Heidelberg Hospital lead the funeral cortege along the road to the cemetery and conducted the funeral service graveside. The funeral cortege consisted of a gun carriage carrying Giuseppe’s coffin. The coffin was covered by the Italian flag. The pall bearers were Italian prisoners of war.
A solemn procession which acknowledged the life and death of Giuseppe Pierro was dignified and honourable.
Giuseppe Pierro is now laid to rest in peace at the Ossario Murchison Cemetery Victoria.
The Ossario Murchison (photo courtesy of Alex Miles)
*The Geneva Convention requirements relating to the deaths of prisoners of war state: PART V
DEATHS OF PRISONERS OF WAR
Art. 76. • The wills of prisoners of war shall be received and drawn up under the same conditions as for soldiers of the national armed forces. • The same rules shall be followed as regards the documents relative to the certification of the death. • The belligerents shall ensure that prisoners of war who have died in captivity are honourably buried, and that the graves bear the necessary indications and are treated with respect and suitably maintained. (ICRC Archives)
An army has its medical and surgical unit, so it makes sense that it also has a pharmacy unit. This article honours those chemists who found themselves in the Chemist Reserve Unit in Libya. I would like to know further about these units and their operation as information remains elusive.
These chemists arrived in Australia on the Queen Mary 13th October 1941 and they departed on the Oranje 29th March 1943 as part of a mutual exchange arrangement with Italy.
They weren’t in Australia long enough to have their photos taken at the officers’ camp at Myrtleford and they returned to Italy before the Allies offence Operation Husky into Sicily in July 1943.
NB This list is not necessarily complete
Nicola Ferorelli from Molfetta [Bardia]
Giuseppe Allegri from Cassine (Alessandria) [Tobruk]
Mario Cassone from Alba (Cuneo) [Tobruk]
Mario Andreotti from Sorrento (Napoli) [Bardia]
Luigi Caione from Palena (Chieti) [Sidi el Barrani]
Rocco Giliberti from Avellino [Tobruk]
Romolo Lamberti from Roma [Bardia]
Valentino Mari from Torino [Agedabia]
Luigi Mutini from Mercatello (Pesaro) [Bardia]
Giorgio Polidori from Montemarciano (Ancona) [Halem Nibeua M.E. (9.12.1940)]
Celestino Riccardelli from Caserta (Napoli) [Agedabia]
Giuseppe Buono from Boscotrecase (Napoli) [Tobruk]
Vincenzo Troili from Genova [Bardia]
Raffaele Chiarelli from Torino [Agedabia]
Clerio Garrone from San Giorgio Canavese (Aosta) [Bardia]
Rocco Lo Faro from Favazzina (Reggio Calabria) [Tobruk]
Adolfo Allaria was on the Italian ship Romolo which was on a return voyage from Australia to Italy when Mussolini declared war on 10th June 1940. Rescued in the Coral Sea, he was transferred to Townsville Gaol and Gaythorne Camp Queensland, Hay Camp New South Wales, Loveday Camp South Australia and Murchison Camp Victoria.
In October 1943 he was transferred to a farm placement with the Kurrle family in the Leongatha district.
Adolfo Allaria on the right with Lynette and Frank Kurrle and an unnamed Italian prisoner of war (AWM Image P95423.002)
The Kurrle family donated three items to the Australian War Memorial (AWM) Collection: the photo above, a model house and Adolfo’s letter to the children.
The AWM records the following:
Informal portrait of two Italian prisoners of war (POW) on the Kurrle farm at Korumburra with Lynette and Frank Kurrle and a model house which was gifted to the children. The man holding Frank Kurrle is Adolfo Allaria (PWIM7134) a ship’s pastrycook in civilian life, who made this model house and presented it on 8 February 1944 to Lynette and Frank as a keepsake of his time with the family. The children are dressed in their Sunday best and have just returned from church; Sunday was also the day on which prisoners were allowed to visit other prisoners.
Model House gifted by Adolfo Allaria to the Kurrle children (AWM REL35288.001)
This unique item is a reminder of the special friendships formed between an Italian sailor and Australian farming children. Details of the house describe it as, “Two storey model Italianate style house with elaborate decoration, a small garden, open windows and doors, and interior furnishing details, made from a composition material – possibly plaster and sawdust. Mounted on a wooden base. A small plaque on the front of the roof reads ‘7134 P of W’ and an illegible placename.
Model house made by Italian prisoner of war (POW) 7134 Aldolfo Allaria for Lynette (born 1940) and Frank (born 1939) Kurrle, the son and daughter of Edith and Jack Kurrle of Korumburra, Victoria. Jack Kurrle owned and ran a 300 acre dairy and pig farm situated approximately three kilometres from Korumburra.”
Rarely do we see such a poignant collection of related items.
Adolfo’s gesture was clear, as indicated in his letter: a keepsake so that Frank and Lynette would have something to remember him by.
Letter written by Adolfo Allaria to Lynette and Frank Kurrle (AWM REL35288.002)
The AWM notes that, “After the war he [Adolfo] returned to working aboard ships as a patsrycook, including between Italy and New York aboard the ship ‘Saturnia’ in the mid 1950s.”
I have seen a letter dated XXII, a plaque for a Cowra fountain dated XXI but for the first time I have seen a date for the fascist calendar used on a REPORT ON PRISONER OF WAR: XIX.
Rocco Cariglia was with Maritime Command Tobruk when he was captured in Libya on 5th January 1941. On 22nd October 1941, nine days after arriving in Australia, he signed and dated his Report on Prisoner of War.
Is this unusual?
I doubt that the Australian army clerk processing the form or Lieutenant McCarthy who signed the form noticed these few strokes of the pencil/pen.
And if they did, did they realise the statement Rocco was making.
Rocco Cariglia from Gargamico [Foggia]
From Cowra Camp Rocco was transferred to Murchison Camp in Victoria before being transferred to Western Australia. He departed Australia on the Chitral in September 1946.
This discovery is a reminder that the prisoner of war forms are filled with little bits of information which helps create ‘the bigger picture’.
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.
1 hat (a)
1 hair brush
1 overcoat (a)
1 shaving brush
2 coats, medical detachment (a)
2 pairs of trousers, medical detachment (a)
2 pairs of short cotton underwear (b)
1 pullover, labour detachment (a)
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 shoes
1 safety razor with blade (d)
1 pair of laces
2 flannel shirts
1 pair of braces
2 cotton singlets (b)
2 pairs of woollen socks
2 wool and cotton singlets (c)
3 cotton handkerchiefs
(a) Dyed burgundy
(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.
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
Non regulation overcoat possibly made from government issue blanket (centre)
Group Number 27 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-27
Non regulation fleecy winter vestsGroup Number 23 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-32
Handmade plaited belt?
February 1945 Myrtleford CampICRC V-P-HIST-01882-19A
Regardless of being a prisoner of war, the officers wore their uniforms with pride
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.
Today I introduce you to Pasquale Landolfi from Frattaminore Napoli. Pasquale was 20 years old when he was captured at Tobruk 21.1.1941.
From 13.10.41 and his arrival on the Queen Mary into Sydney NSW until his departure on 28.6.1949 from Sydney NSW on the SS Surriento Pasquale travels through five states of Australia.
Tracing his journey Pasquale went from NEW SOUTH WALES: Sydney to Cowra Camp to VICTORIA: Murchison Camp. He transited through SOUTH AUSTRALIA on his way to WESTERN AUSTRALIA: No 8 Labour Detachment Karrakatta and Marrinup Camp.
Pasquale then crossed Australia again and returned to VICTORIA: Murchison Camp and then NEW SOUTH WALES: Hay Camp.
The next stage of his journey took him to QUEENSLAND: Gaythorne Camp and Home Hill* Hostel. After escaping from the Home Hill Hostel, he briefly ‘visited’ Bowen until his arrest and return the Home Hill Hostel.
He returned to Gaythorne Camp before a return to VICTORIA: Murchison Camp and the Dandenong after he escaped from a Murchison working party. Upon capture he was sent to NEW SOUTH WALES: Holdsworthy Military Barracks for detention.
Three Italian prisoners of war boarded the SS Surriento in Sydney on 28.6.49: Pasquale Landolfi, Giacomo Tagliaferri and Isidoro Cammaroto. The ship sailed from Sydney to Brisbane QLD before departing for Italy.
The newspaper article below records this unusual situation of a passenger liner carrying three prisoners of war and two political deportees.
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)