An Officers’ Camp

Prisoner of War Camp 5 Myrtleford was a camp established specifically for prisoner of war officers and their batmen*.  The site had two camps built to accommodate 500 men each: Camp A and Camp B. The camps were surrounded by barbed wire fencing and was set in a ‘delightfully wooded and green country at the foot of the mountains.  The climate is excellent and healthy with a cold winter and hot summer.’ (Dr Georges Morel June 1943)

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. Vue du camp. War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp. A view of the camp.

View of Myrtleford Camp July 1942 ICRC V-P-HIST-01883-01T

The men were accommodated in galvanised iron huts raised above the ground. They had glass windows and were lighted by electricity. The dormitories were lined inside.  The officer dormitories were divided into compartments: five compartments for 2 officers each or four compartments for four officers. Officers were provided with an iron bed, mattress, sheets, pillow and five blankets.

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. Les travaux de drainage. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp. The labour drainage.

Drainage Installed between Dormitories Myrtleford ICRC V-P-HIST-01883-05

Batmen dormitories were not divided into compartments and slept 24 men.  Each dormitory had two doors and ten windows. 

Furniture made by the Italian prisoners of war included small tables, benches and wardrobes.

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

Ablutions Hut at Myrtleford ICRC V-P-HIST-01880-15

There were three ablution huts for each camp.  One hut had 15 hot and 18 cold showers. Four hot showers were divided into compartments: two for superior officers and 2 for captains. There were another two huts for ablutions with 24 cold water taps.  The toilets and urinals were sewered.  Partitioned toilet compartments were for the use of superior officers and captains.  The laundry was in the hot shower hut containing eight troughs, four hot water taps and eight cold water taps.

Officers were allowed to go for walks on parole accompanied by two guides.  This happened two times per week for two hours.  N.C.O.s and privates went out under escort on an irregular basis.  Communication between the two camps was not allowed. 

MYRTLEFORD, VIC. C. 1943-11-06. THE ENTRANCE GATE INTO “B” COMPOUND AT THE 51ST AUSTRALIAN GARRISON COMPANY PRISONER OF WAR CAMP FROM THE GUARD TOWER. SOME PRISONERS, WHO HAVE BEEN OUT ON DUTIES AROUND THE CAMP AREA IN THE HORSE AND CART, ARE RETURNING FOR LUNCH. PRISONERS OF WAR AND INTERNEES (PWI) OFFICERS ARE SEEN PLAYING ON THE TENNIS COURTS CONSTRUCTED BY THEM. (AWM Image 059309 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

On 22nd June 1943, there were 440 Italian prisoners of war in Camp A: 308 officers and 132 N.C.O.s and privates.  In Camp B there were 254 Italian prisoners of war: 152 officers and 102 N.C.O.s and privates.

The customary duties of fatigues were carried out by N.C.O.s and privates for which there was no payment.  Opportunities for paid work was limited due to the fatigue duties and batman responsibilities taking up the majority of the men’s time.  On 22nd June 1943, from Camp A five men were employed inside the camp and three men were employed outside the camp.  For Camp B, five men were employed inside the camp and three men were employed outside the camp.  Paid work included gardening, woodcutting, road-making and carpentry and was paid at a rate of 1s 3d for skilled work and 7.5d for unskilled work.

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

February 1945 Myrtleford Camp Italian Prisoners of War with wallabies pictured in front of vegetable gardens ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-31

Officers and prisoners of war from the merchant marines were not obliged to work.

Each month Italian prisoners of war, excluding merchant marines, were given an allowance.  The monthly payment** was:

Fighting Forces: Lt. Colonel £16.14.0, Major £14.10.4 Captain £11.9.2 Lieutenant £8.17.10 2nd Lieutenant £5.8.4 Sergeant 15s 4d Corporals 10s 9d

Protected Personnel (Priests, Doctors, Dentists, nurses, orderlies): Captain £38.19.9 Lieutenant £30.2.00 Sergeant 15s 4d Corporals 10s 9d

Interior of Chapels at Myrtleford ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00313 and ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00314

Each camp had a chapel with a decorated altar made by the prisoners of war.  The service of mass was performed by a prisoner of war priest.

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. La chapelle et le Padre. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp. The chapel.

Chapel at Myrtleford ICRC V-P-HIST-01879-36

Each camp had three tennis courts and a bowling green. There was a football ground near the camps.  Officers played golf two times a week outside the camp where a golf course would be reserved for them.

MYRTLEFORD, VIC. 1943-11-05 TO 1943-11-07. OFFICER PRISONERS OF THE 51ST AUSTRALIAN GARRISON COMPANY PRISONER OF WAR CAMP PLAYING TENNIS ON COURTS WHICH THEY BUILT THEMSELVES.

Regular football, tennis, bridge and golf tournaments were organised between the two camps.  Each camp had provision for a wireless service, the wireless set was to be purchased by the prisoners of war. In June 1943, there was no wireless service.  There were regular movie shows held by a travelling company with Camp A paying 15 per session and Camp B paying 9 per session.

There were separate dining rooms for officers and ordinary ranks in each camp.  Trestle tables with bench seats furnished the dining rooms.  They could be heated in winter, as these huts were not lined. Officers were entitled to buy wine and beer.  When Dr. Morel, representative of the International Red Cross visited in June 1943, a delivery of 50 gallons of wine and 63 gallons of beer had been delivered to Camp A. [1 gallon = 4.5 litres]

Regular football, tennis, bridge and golf tournaments were organised between the two camps.  Each camp had provision for a wireless service, the wireless set was to be purchased by the prisoners of war. In June 1943, there was no wireless service.  There were regular movie shows held by a travelling company with Camp A paying 15 per session and Camp B paying 9 per session.

There were separate dining rooms for officers and ordinary ranks in each camp.  Trestle tables with bench seats furnished the dining rooms.  They could be heated in winter, as these huts were not lined. Officers were entitled to buy wine and beer.  When Dr. Morel, representative of the International Red Cross visited in June 1943, a delivery of 50 gallons of wine and 63 gallons of beer had been delivered to Camp A. [1 gallon = 4.5 litres]

MYRTLEFORD, VIC. 1943-11-05 TO 1943-11-07. INTERIOR OF PRISONER OF WAR OFFICERS’ MESS IN “A” COMPOUND 51ST AUSTRALIAN GARRISON COMPANY PRISONER OF WAR CAMP WITH THE ORDERLIES AT THE TABLES.

*A batman or an orderly is a soldier or airman assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant.

** Australian currency £= pound s=shilling d=pence.  There were 12 pence = 1 shilling and 20 shillings = £1

Saluto alle amicizie

Ermanno Nicoletti and Agostino Marazzi were brought together by war.

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

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

Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 45513 Francesco Del Viscio; 46331 Ermanno Nicoletti; 45852 Italo Gramiccia; 46320 Natale Nunziati; 46207 Valerio Mezzani 45498 Giovanni Di Pinto; 45496 Giuseppe Di Pilla; 46199 Agostino Marazzi; 46511 Alfonso Patrizi and 48922 Sergio Galazzi. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

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

But they stayed in contact.

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

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

Decades later in Italy Agostino Marazzi and Ermanno Nicoletti reconnect.

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

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

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

Ermanno and Amedeo (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

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

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

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

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

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

Dedication to All

Monsignor Giovanni Panico’s work was essential to both Australian and Italian families.  As Australasia’s Apostolic Delegate he coordinated requests to find Australian soldiers held in prisoner of war camps in Italy and south east Asia. He also was the intermediary to help to locate Italian soldiers held in Australia’s prisoner of war camps as well as sending messages to families in Italy.

From the Prisoner of War Bureau at North Sydney, Dr Panico, the Delegation secretaries, six women and one man were employed to liaise between families and prisoners of war to locate missing Australian, New Zealand and Italian troops.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

In November 1935, Dr Panico was appointed as the new Apostolic Delegate for Australasia.  He came with a wealth of experience from his previous postings to Bavaria, Prague, Czechoslovakia. He was reported to be an authority on canon law and could speak all the modern languages.

With Italy’s declaration of war on France and Britain in June 1940, it was made clear that Dr Panico was a citizen of the Vatican and that he held a Vatican passport. On the 20th June 1940, Dr Panico made wartime radio history with a broadcast directly with the Vatican radio station.  In this inaugural broadcast, Dr Panico received from Vatican City Radio the names of 26 member of the A.I.F. (Australian troops) with messages for their families.  He asked Australian families looking for information about sons or husbands, missing in action, to advise of the location eg Libya, Greece, Crete. This service was offered to Australians regardless of religion.

Dr Panico worked tirelessly throughout the war years.

Australia’s Attorney General and Foreign Minister HV Evatt wrote to the Holy See on 1st June 1946:

To His Holiness

Great gratitude from myself and Government for patient, untiring and invaluable assistance given throughout the war by Mons. Panico in noble work or relieving the lot of prisoners of war and anxieties of their relatives specially in connection with Australian prisoners of war in Japanese and German hands.

The workload of this service increased dramatically.  June 1940 saw the arrests and internment of Australian resident Italians in internment camps with families in Italy looking for information on their Australian relatives.  In May 1941, the first Italian prisoners of war from Egypt arrived and the service was extended to assist Italian POWs to send messages home to Italy as well as receiving messages from Italy for the whereabouts of ‘missing’ Italian troops.

By April 1944, it was reported that over 300,000 messages had been received.  The service expanded to a one-hour broadcast six days a week.  The transmissions included lists of prisoners of war and messages from them for their families in New Zealand and Australia.  For Italian prisoners of war held in Australian camps, Dr Panico would arrange requests from Australia via air or surface mail of telegram.

Visitation to prisoners of war and internees was also an important role played by Dr Panico.  He made journeys across Australia to report on the conditions in camps and to offer spiritual solace.  He distributed thousands of books, purchased musical instruments and donated money on behalf of the Vatican to the camps.

Distribution of Books at Yanco Camp December 1942.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

Once Italian prisoners of war were placed on farms, Dr Panico visited farms to speak with farmers and the Italians. He was impressed by his experiences: “After such an intimate experience of the conditions of the prisoners and internees in Australia, it is highly commendatory to hear the Apostolic Delegate say that in no country could these men and women be treated better than they have been and are being treated in Australia.” He was concerned about ensuring that Italian prisoners of war had opportunities to attend mass once a week.  To this end, Dr Panico disclosed, in secret, to the Vatican, that he was granted by the Australian government, 1600 litres of oil [fuel] per month to allow the transport of prisoners to Mass or for parish priests to visit the prisoners. As part of his ministry, a special mass and celebration in Gympie Queensland for the district’s prisoners of war was organised by Dr Panico.

In May 1944, Dr Panico reported to the Vatican on his visits to farms. The following was conveyed, “Egli rimase veramente commosso dell’accoglienza a lui fatta anche da proprietari non cattolici, e della maniera con cui essi trattavano i prigionieri. Con molta soddisfazione vide che in alcune case coloniche i prigionieri erano considerati come membri della famiglia, dormendo nella stessa casa dei proprietari, prendendo insieme ad essi il cibo e ricreandosi insieme dopo il lavoro. Il Delegato Apostolico intese con non minor soddisfazione, gli elogi che i proprietari delle fattorie facevano dei prigionieri, i quali, salvo pochissime eccezioni, hanno contribuito e contribuiscono non solo a mantenere alta la tradizione dei lavoratori italiani, ma anche a distruggere molti pregiudizi che i protestanti d’Australia avevano verso il cattolicesimo. Inoltre, l’affezione dimostrata dagli stessi prigionieri verso i bambini delle famiglie presso le quali lavorano, ha portato qualche volta a scene tenerissime.” (Collectanea Archivi Vaticani 52)

Spiritual welfare for prisoners of war was a priority for Dr Panico which he administered in many ways. Dr Panico visited Italian prisoners of war in POW camp and Australian military hospitals. He gave the Last Rites to Cesare Sottocorno at the 113 Australian General Hospital Concord Sydney and ensured that a gravestone was erected on his grave. Dr Panico provided the photo at the left and details of Cesare’s death which was then sent to Cesare’s family via the Vatican.  The following photo shows his visit to the infirmary at Cowra Prisoner of War Camp.

Grave of Cesare Sottocorno (photo courtesy of Cesare Sottocorno)

L’Amico del Prigioniero was published by Dr Panico in May 1943, another example of his care and concern for the prisoners. In the preface he wrote, “L’intento del libro è già chiaramente delineato nel itiolo con ciuamammo chiarmarlo.” This liturgical work was taken home to Italy by many of the prisoners of war.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

Newspaper articles attest to Dr Panico’s farewell to the Italian prisoners of war.  In an unofficial capacity he was at a Sydney wharf to farewell Italian prisoners of war on the repatriation ship Moreton Bay in July 1946.  In November 1946, he was at a Fremantle wharf to say goodbye to those men boarding the SS Katoomba. The photograph records his conversation with one SS Katoomba prisoner of war.

A group photo of Dr Panico onboard an unnamed repatriation ship in 1946 reinforces his dedication to the welfare of the Italian prisoners of war.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

Dr Panico’s work did not finish with the end of war or once Italian prisoners of war were repatriated. He set up the Relief Committee, the Relief to Italy from Australia, which arranged for 50 tons of clothing to be sent to Europe.

In October 1948, after 13 years’ service in Australia, Dr Panico was appointed papal nuncio to Peru.

A special thank you to Rocco Severino De Micheli who has shared the photos of Dr Panico included in this article. Rocco relates that one of Dr Panico’s important and lasting legacies is the Ospedale Cardinale Giovanni Panico de Tricase (Lecce).

Statue of Giovanni Panico in Tricase (Lecce) (photo courtesy of Rocco Severino de Micheli)

Two Strangers

Lamberto Yonna, a civilian internee was medically evacuated to the 113 Australian General Hospital (AGH) Concord Sydney in September 1941. Lamberto Yonna was a prominent Sydney businessman when he was arrested on 11th June 1940, a day after Mussolini’s declaration of war.

During his time in internment camps from June 1940 to January 1944 he recorded life behind barbed wire through art.  He is well known for his cartoons both humourous and poignant.

Yonna acting as interpreter, sat with a young Italian prisoner of war Cesare Sottocorno in the 113 AGH. Sottocorno died on 22nd January 1942 while Yonna held his hand. In 1942 he painted Pax in terra hominibus bonae voluntatis.

Pax in terra hominibus bonae voluntatis

[Peace on earth, goodwill towards men]

A landscape featuring a tidy path lined by cypress trees on both sides leads towards a solitary cross in the distance, which is silhouetted against a vivid sunset. Painted by Lamberto Yonna, 1942 South Australia (AWM ART27808)

In November 1947, Yonna wrote to Cesare’s family. He had experienced difficulty in obtaining an address for the family and apologised for the delay in writing. He wrote about Cesare’s illness, operation, medical care and death.

Yonna reflected, “Questa morte ful il capitolo piu triste della mia tristissima vita di queglie anni…” His words were full of sadness but echos his philosophy: peace on earth, goodwill towards men.

Cesare Sottocorno was buried in the Rockwood Cemetery in Sydney.

Grave of Cesare Sottocorno (photo courtesy of Cesare Sottocorno)

In September 1961, Cesare Sottocorno was laid to rest for a second time inside the Ossario at Murchison.

Crypt inside the Ossario Murchison Victoria

(photo from www.greatershepparton.com.au)

In February1942 Professor Lamberto Yonna was transferred from NSW to South Australia. It was another two years before he was released from internment at Loveday Camp South Australia in February 1944.

Before the war, Yonna taught languages at Yonnas School of Languages Sydney as well as being secretary for the Italian Chamber of Commerce Sydney. During internment in Loveday Camp he held art classes.  After the war, he operated an import-export business Yonnas Agencies George Street Sydney.

1952 ‘Advertising’, The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 – 1954), 17 March, p. 10. , viewed 03 Jun 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248749965

In 1952 Yonna was mentioned by the newspapers as: ‘a professor of languages, is an artist of distinction and had exhibited in Sydney and overseas’. 

Ironically, while he had been arrested as a security threat in 1940, in 1952 he became a Commissioner of the Peace for the state of New South Wales.

1941 Liverpool Lamberto Yonna: Camp Cartoon self-portrait of the artist who is in turn sitting for his portrait to be painted by two younger, serious artists. In the background, the three figures are depicted again, with the two younger men shown as being centaurs (half men, half horses) shooting arrows at their sitter, shown as a fleeing faun. (AWM ART27788)

Il calzolaio di Grottaferrata

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

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

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

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

Agostino Marazzi at Tobruk (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marazzi, Agostino NAA: A367, C85443

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

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

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

Elide Arturo

Celeste Vinciguerra (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adele and Agostino Marazzi (photo courtesy of Amedeo Marazzi)

What does 50 piastres buy?

Leonard Fortuna arrived in Australia with 50 piatres; money from Egypt. It was recorded on his Property Statement and transferred to his Australian account.  Prisoners of war were prohibited from having money in their possession.

A question arises about the value of fifty piastres.  One hundred piastres equalled an Egyptian pound in the 1940s.  But what could a man buy with fifty piastres?

The answer can be found in a Canteen Price List from Camp 306 in Egypt March 1944.

For fifty piatres one could buy a five pound tin of honey.  Fifty piastres could also buy a kilo of olives, a kilo of macaroni, and a hair brush OR a medium chocolate, a tin of pilchards, a bottle of syrup and cigarettes OR five packets of biscuits, eau de cologne and a kilo of macaroni.

Archives du CICR Campo 306

In the photo below, the canteen supervisor shows the International Delegate for the Red Cross dates and eggs on sale at the canteen.

Geneiffa, camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens N° 306 “Middle East”. Le prisonnier de guerre en charge de la cantine vendant des oeufs et des dattes à un délégué du CICR.

Prisoner of War in Charge of Canteen 4.10.41

 ICRC V-P-HIST-03408-14A

The following is from an October 1943 report on Camp 306: The canteen is run by an Egyptian. It is very well supplied with products and articles of all kinds. there are fresh fruits and vegetables, canned food, syrup, toiletries (soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razor blades, shaving soap, etc.) clothing items (underwear, shirts, shorts, socks, stockings, handkerchiefs) stationery (paper, feathers, ink, pencils) tobacco, cigarettes, sweets and sold at local trade prices. The prices are established in Egyptian piastres (there are 100 piastres in an Egyptian pound).  (October 1943)

This history is complex and often a small item such as fifty piastres from Egypt when paired with a Canteen Price List can offer new insight.

Arrested in Townsville

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

Elena Giovenale: Nurse on the Romolo

(NAA: BP313/1, Giovenale E)

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

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

Captain of the Romolo: Ettore Gavino

(NAA: BP242/1, Q28607)

Captain Ettore Gavino chronicled the events:

Thursday 6th June 1940

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

Friday 7th June 1940

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

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

Saturday 8th June 1940

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

Sunday 9th June 1940

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

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

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

Monday 10th June 1940

Rehearsed closure of water-tight doors.

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

Tuesday 11th June 1940

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

Wednesday 12th June 1940

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At 1825 hours the “Romolo” disappeared…

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

(NAA: MP1103/2 Cereseto, Giuseppe)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrea in Australia

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

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

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

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

 (photo courtesy of Nino Favatella)

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

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

Andrea Favatella’s Italian-English Language Books

(photo courtesy of Nino Favatella)

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

Andrea in India

Andrea Favatella had c. 3 years in India.  As many families have found, information on these ‘India’ years is difficult to locate.

For some Italians sent to Australia, depending upon the version of A.A. Form A111, that is used, the From whom received section will provide the details of the previous camp the Italian prisoner of war was at: Andrea’s last India Camp is No. 5 (Bangalore).

Favatella Andrea (NAA: MP1103/2)

The ICRC audio-visual resources offers a glimpse of Bangalore Camp 5 as seen below:

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp no 5 de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Vue entre les baraques d’une aile du camp. Word War II. Bangalore. Italian prisoners of war camp 5. General view between barracks in one of the wing of the camp.

1943 View between the barracks of a wing in Camp 5 Bangalore (ICRC V-P-HIST-03469-36)

Amongst Andrea’s collection of books he returned to Italy with, is a copy of Breve Raccolta di Preghiere per I Prigionieri di guerra italiani in India.  A special thank you to Nino Favatella for sharing a photograph of his father’s prayer book. 

Religion was important to the Italian prisoners as is highlighted by the art work produced with religious images, the prayer cards the Italians kept, and the prayer and mass books prepared specifically for Italian prisoners of war in Egypt and Palestine, India and Australia.

Andrea Favatella’s Prayer Book from India

(photo courtesy of Nino Favatella)

Religious devotion is also illustrated with the chapels constructed within the prisoner of war camps.  The chapel below was built at Camp 5 Bangalore.

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore, camp de prisonniers de guerre N° 5. Extérieur d’une chapelle.

Exterior of the Chapel at Bangalore Camp 5 1943 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-0420-7)

Connecting Italian families to this history is difficult after the passing of 75 years. 

William Shakespeare wrote: “There is a history in all men’s lives.”

Equally important: there is a history in every item your grandfathers and fathers brought home to Italy.

Internment Cost a Wife

The cargo ship Felce was seized by Britain in Haifa Palestine on 11th June 1940.  The 19 crew onboard the Felce were interned in Palestine and arrived in Sydney Australia on the Queen Elizabeth 23.8.41. Italian and their families who were resident in Palestine and subsequently interned were also on the Queen Elizabeth.

The ship was renamed Empire Defender, her original name, and used by the British Ministry of War Transport. She was put in service across the Atlantic. On 14th November 1941 she was torpedoed and sunk by aircraft off Galite Island north of Tunisia.

On 22nd June 1942, the crew of the Felce were reassigned as prisoners of war.

With the exception of Costantino Bergonzo, all crew were repatriated to Italy. Costantino was ‘released to Melbourne’ and in 1947 married Antonina Maggiore. In 1961, Certificates of Naturalisation were issued to Costantino and Antonina. They settled in Melbourne.

Salvatore D’Esposito was originally ‘released to Melbourne’ but within eleven months he was repatriated to Italy on the General Heintzelman which also repatriated Italian internees to Palestine.

Another crew member of the Felce, Federico Calosso visited Brisbane in October 1950 onboard the Iris. His comment, “internment cost a wife” would resonate with many Italians who were interned during WW2. He continued working as a wireless operator and in two and a half years had only had ten days in Italy.

1950 ‘INTERNMENT “COST” A WIFE’, Brisbane Telegraph (Qld. : 1948 – 1954), 1 November, p. 23. (LAST RACE), viewed 05 Jun 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article217273094