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)

 

 

 

 

Prisoner of War Uniforms

Sometimes it is the little items which catch my eye.

Prisoner of war uniforms has left me quite perplexed.

For a few years now, I had noticed the black stripe down the side of trousers.  This however only seemed to be for Italian POWs who had time in India.

This was confirmed by Domenico Ferulli’s recollections:

Ad Ismailia, località al centro del canale di Suez, sono cinque giorni chiusi un un recinto nel deserto.  Sono spossati fisicamente e con il morale a terra.  La notte è talmente freddo che molti sono costretti a bruciare la giacca o le scarpe per riscaldarsi. Per cucinare si usa la paglia.  Fatti spogliare e fare una doccia tutto il vestiario è ritirato e bruciato in alcuni forni.  Periscono incenerite anche le migliaia di pidocchi, che da mesi hanno tenuto fastidiosa compagnia! Assegnano a ciascun prigioniero: una giacca leggera color cenere con una toppa di stoffa nero quadrata cucito dietro le spalle, pantaloni lunghi con banda nero, scarpe nuove, sapone per la pulizia e persino dentifricio con spazzolino da denti.

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp 2. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Communion donnée par un délégué apostolique. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 2. Holy communion given by an apolostic delegate.

Italians Taking Communion in a British Camp in India 1943

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-19A)

Suddenly, everywhere I looked, I saw the black diamond sitting squarely between the shoulders of a light colour jacket and shirt, as well as the black stripe down the leg of shorts and trousers.

Many of the clothing items the Italian soldiers brought into the camps in Egypt were infested with lice or fleas.  It makes sense that these uniforms were burnt and new ones issued.

In May 1943 it was reported that Italian casualties (deaths, missing and prisoners of war) were 400,000. 

Logistically, how did the Allied Forces procure 400,000 replacement clothing and find staff to sew on patches.

And what did these patches represent!  Was there a code relating to intended destinations for the prisoners? Or was the allocation of uniforms random?

Prisoners of war in England wore a dark coloured uniform with either a pale coloured circle shaped patch sewn on the right leg or a diamond patch on the right leg.

Emilio Clemente is standing on the right of the photo

Prisoner of War Uniforms with patch on right trouser leg

English Prisoner of War Camp courtesy of Mimosa Clemente

Then I noticed an Italian prisoner of war in November 1941 at Cowra camp wearing a black diamond shaped patch on the backside of light coloured trousers.

The Italians who arrived in Australia during 1941, was transferred directly from Egypt to Australia. Did they receive these pants in Australia or Egypt?
Answer: Egypt, because once in Australia, the Italians were issued with their Australia POW uniform.

The strap is taken from a uniform jacket issued to enemy prisoners of war and civilian internees held in Australian camps during the Second World War.  (AMW Relic 32594)

The official Australian prisoner of war uniform was disposal Australian Army khaki uniforms which had been dyed burgundy as is illustrated in the above photograph. The men were allowed to keep other clothing to be worn only inside camp or for farm work, this included their national uniforms.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle-Galles du sud, camp de Cowra. N°12, Section D. La cantine. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, n°12, section D. The canteen.

Canteen at Cowra Camp November 1941

(ICRC V-P-HIST-01879-32B 1941)

At Campo 306 Geneifa Egypt prisoners of war were photographed wearing the black diamond pants with dark shirts and there are groups of Italians wearing the black stripe pants and black diamond shirts. A pattern seems to emerge: prisoners once processed in Egypt were given clothing: 1. pale coloured pants with a black stripe and pale coloured shirt with a black diamond OR 2. dark coloured shirt and pale coloured pants with a black diamond on the backside of the pants.

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Fourneaux.

The Kitchen at Geneifa Camp 360 Egypt (ICRC VP-HIST-00851-25)

The photo below was taken in 1943, Italian prisoners of war in Melbourne after arriving from India….black stripe on pant!

(1943). Italian Prisoners of War – Italian prisoners of war on their way to a prisoner-of-war camp, following their arrival in Australia.

(National Archives of Australia)

Cowra, NSW. 1944-02-03. Italian prisoners-of-war from No. 12 Prisoner-of-War Camp using a heavy duty pulley block and tackle to pull down a large tree in a paddock near the camp. (AWM Image 064137, Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Was the allocation of clothing random?

Was the use of stripes and diamonds random?

Did your father or grandfather mention the POW uniforms?

Has anyone else noticed these uniforms with patches or stripes?

Have a look at photos taken of nonno or papa in the camps of India?

The USA appear to have adopted a completely different approach as is indicated by the P.W. stamped on both shorts and shirts of these German prisoners of war.

German Prisoner of War Uniforms

(from Military Law and Vigilante Justice

in Prisoner of War Camps during World War II

Mark M. Hull, PhD, JD, FRHistS January-February 2020 MILITARY REVIEW)

the man behind the camera

Michael Lewicki

(Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW: 1931-1954), Saturday 27 April 1940, page 1)

I am not sure if you have noticed the names of the army photographers who took the group photos of the Italian prisoners of war: Geoffrey McInnes, Ronald Leslie Stewart and Lewecki.

Why did Steward and McInnes have their first names identified but not Lewecki? A little puzzle…

Once I started to look for more information about these army photographers, I found the answer to another puzzle:

why did the Italian prisoners of war look like criminals in their identification photos?

The answer is simple: these identification photos were standard army photographs.

Australian soldiers and Italian prisoners of war had the same type of photos taken. There was no stigma or negative aspect to these identification photos. This was just a process.

Read the article below to find out further information…

The man behind the camera and named as Lewecki is Michael Nicholas LEWICKI.  When he arrived in Australia in 1928 on the Cephee, he identified his nationality as Polish; his last residence as Germany and his occupation as agriculturalist.  By 1936 he was operating a successful business in partnership with Herman Schϋtze: The Leicagraph Company. They took street photographs, and were “skilled in sport, ballroom, commercial, portrait, outdoor and other branches of this art.”

By April 1940, Michael Lewicki was the official Defence Department photographer and the following article is from the Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW: 1931-1954), Saturday 27 April 1940, page 5:

Pictures 350 A.I.F. Men Daily

Australia’s busiest cameraman is Mr Michael Lewicki, official Defence Department photographer.

He takes on an average of 700 pictures of A.I.F. recruits every day.

“Since war began, I have taken 19,000 pictures of soldiers,” Mr Lewicki said yesterday.

Mr Lewicki is a Pole by birth. He left Warsaw for Australia 12 years ago and is now a naturalised Australian.

He is engaged by the Defence Department under contract to take pictures of soldiers.

Photographed Twice

Every A.I.F. recruit has to be photographed twice – once full face and once profile.

From each negative four prints are taken.  One of these is pasted in the soldiers’ pay-book, and the rest are for Defence Department records.

Mr Lewicki’s studio was recently transferred from Ingleburn camp to the A.I.F. recruiting depot, Moore Park.

Recruits are enlisted and officially photographed on the same day.

At present 350 men ae being photographed daily, but Mr Lewicki’s single camera equipment is capable of photographing 1200 men a day.

It stands to reason that the identification photos of the Italian prisoners of war were also taken by these same photographers.  For those of you lucky enough to have copies of your father’s identification photos, you will notice that they were taken in the same manner as the Australian soldiers: one full face and one profile.

At first, it is easy to think that the Italians were made to look like criminals in the identification photos.  Reality is that it did not matter whether you were an Australian soldier or an Italian prisoner of war, the same photos were taken. This was part of military procedure.

Alfredo Bertini and William Hugh Lewis

(NAA: A7919 C99229 and NAA: A7919 C99409)

Michael Lewicki was taking identification photos of 350 recruits per day.

The first group of Italian prisoners of war to Australia in May 1941, totalled 2006.  I wonder how many days it took to take identification photos of these 2006 Italians at Hay Prisoner of War Camp. I wonder if Michael Lewicki took the identification photos of the Italian prisoners of war.  He had the equipment; and he had the experience.

If your father was photographed by LEWECKI, now you know a little more about the man behind the camera: Michael LEWICKI.

Nonno Peppino’s Cowra Photos

Francesca Maffeitti has a valuable and sentimental collection of items belonging to her nonno Peppino. 

Two photos in her collection are the Cowra group photos taken in 16th September 1943 by Army photographer Michael Lewicki.

At 5’ 8” tall, Ippolito Moscatelli (Peppino) is noticeably taller than other men in the photos.  He is the man standing third on the left in the top photo and he is standing at the end of the right in the second photo.

These are the first ‘original’ photos I have seen. The Australian War Memorial in Canberra holds the Italian prisoners of war collection of photos.

Cowra 16th September 1943

(photo courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)

The regulations [regarding photographs] state that:

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

(b) PW were permitted to purchase two copies of photographs in which they appeared and two copies of photographs of general camp interest, for despatch to relatives…

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

But these are the first photos that I am aware of that made it home to Italy. There is an interesting stamp on the reverse of the photos: MILITARY HISTORY SECTION.  Nonno Peppino’s name and number is written in the bottom right corner; indicating these photos had been ordered and paid for; waiting collection.  

For perspective: Italian prisoners of war were paid 1 shilling threepence (1/3d) per day while working on farms. Each photos was 1 shilling sixpence. (1/6d)

Cowra 16th September 1943: Reverse of Photos

(photo courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)

Regulations for Photographs of Prisoners of War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(b) PW were permitted to purchase two copies of photographs in which they appeared and two copies of photographs of general camp interest, for despatch to relatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Photographs for Identification Purposes

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

Aurelio CANESE PWI48413 NAA: K1174 Canese, Aurelio

13. PW prohibited to have photographic apparatus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 (b) PW were permitted to purchase two copies of photographs in which they appeared and two copies of photographs of general camp interest, for despatch to relatives

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

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

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

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

Hay, NSW. 1944-01-16 The craftmanship of the Italian Prisoners of War is illustrated by this garden at the 16th Garrison Battalion Prisoner of War Detention Camp. Note the model of the Coliseum in the foreground. (AWM Image 063365 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The patient and the anaesthetist

Capitano Luigi Socci’s watercolours offer a unique perspective of Yol Prisoner of War Camp.

The paintings were a gift from Luigi Socci to George Purves: the Italian prisoner of war to the British anaesthetist. While they met in the hospital at Yol, theirs was a friendship which continued decades after the war.

Mr and Mrs Purves with Luigi Sossi (photo courtesy of James Purves)

A special thank you to James Purves, son of George, for his contribution of these watercolours to this history.

Yol Prisoner of War Camp Kangra Valley 1943 (photos courtesy of James Purves)

Capitano Luigi Sossi was admitted to Yol Prisoner of War Camp hospital with a serious infection. It was however an order that penicillin was reserved for Allied soldiers only.

Penicillin was a new treatment for infection but it was a precious commodity; WW 2’s miracle drug. In the lead up to the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944, a total of 21 U.S. companies joined together, producing 2.3 million doses of penicillin.

Operating Theatre: Yol Prisoner of War Camp Hospital Kangra Valley 1943

(photos courtesy of James Purves)

James Purves recounts that his father realised the quick deterioration of Sossi’s condition and without treatment, Sossi would die. “Father took pity on Sossi and somehow acquired the drug for him, either by deed or theft, though I doubt theft. Either way, Sossi recovered and when he found out what had happened, he asked Father how he could repay him. Father replied, “Teach me Italian.” It was the beginning of a life long friendship.

My parents would drive over to Italy virtually every year on vacation and sometimes stay with Sossi. Letters were written, but have since disappeared or been thrown out. When I was about eight years old, my family went on vacation to Viareggio. My parents left us with our uncle in the hotel for a week, while my parents went to stay at the Socci villa, a few hours drive away.

After his return to Italy from India, Luigi Socci worked in the Fiat Factory in Torino [Turin].

Yol Prisoner of War Camp Kangra Valley 1943 (photos courtesy of James Purves)

Click here for: further information for Yol

Yol – Kangra Valley India

George Purves at Yol (photo courtesy of James Purves)

George Fraser PURVES served as an anaesthetist with the British Army at Yol Prisoner of War Camp in India. His son James from Georgia USA has contributed a number of photos taken by his father and three drawings painted by Capitano Luigi Socci.

The photos offer up a glimpse of the British Army Camp: its buildings and its staff; the landscape and geography of the Kangra Valley.

Yol Hospital Staff: George Purves top row centre (photo courtesy of James Purves)

It is invaluable to have this history viewed from different perspectives: the anaesthetist and the prisoner of war.

Thank you James for allowing these memories and items to be shared in our ‘virtual’ museum.

George Fraser PURVES studied medicine at Trinity Hall Cambridge. His photos date him at Yol in 1943. He left Yol in July 1944 and served on a hospital ship HMHS Karapara, then Kuala Lumpur Malaya, Bandoeng Java and IBGH Bareilly India.

George was married before he left England and was initially posted to Scotland to await his journey to India. While in his accommodation awaiting his orders, American war ships which had escorted a convoy across the Atlantic arrived into harbour. The American officers were billeted at the same accommodation as George. James recounts this war time story: “they [Americans] went inside and asked why there was no heat, as the place was so cold. On being told that all coal went toward the war effort, they said that they would fix the problem and left. They returned with a large truck half filled with coal from their ship as well as two boiler stokers. The front room windows were opened, the truck was backed up and the coal was shovelled onto the living room floor. Both alcohol and ‘real’ food was produced. Father said they all slept on the floor of that warm room, the flames from the open fireplace lighting and dancing around the ceiling and walls.”

Soon enough George was on a ship and on his way to India. James recounts, “Sometimes during the voyage the Captain called him [George] to the bridge. There was a telegram for him. In short, a question was put to him, “Is Dr Purves able and willing to join a parachute division as a Doctor?” The Captain apparently told father that there was no rush to make a decision, but father told him he would answer immediately. The wireless officer took down the reply… “Dr Purves is able but not willing.” It was a brilliant answer as father was frightened of heights.”

And so it was that Dr Purves did not spend the war jumping out of aeroplanes, but instead resided at Yol as an anaesthetist operating on Italian prisoners of war and British staff.

Swimming and Fishing: George Purves and friends Yol (photo courtesy of James Purves)

As with all prisoner of war camps, the British Command Staff lived separately from the prisoner of war camp. George’s contact with Italian prisoners of war was from hospitalisation for operations and post operative care.

British Camp Staff, Yol (photo courtesy of James Purves)

While in India and south-east Asia, George suffered heat stroke and malaria. He returned to England fatigued and gaunt. George’s wife walked past him on the railway platform, she barely recognised her husband.

George Purves (standing left) at Yol (photo courtesy of James Purves)

An amateur photographer, George Purves took many walks into the countryside of the Kangra Valley, taking photos of the mountains, the rivers and the valley. A glimpse into the past is the photo below of George in his room.

My Room Yol 1943 (photo courtesy of James Purves)

Campo 306 Geneifa Egitto

A very special thank you to Antonella Benvenuti from Venezia.  Antonella has shared with me documents relating to Camp 306 Geneifa Egypt. Collaboration is integral to documenting this history.

Representatives from the International Committee for the Red Cross visited prisoner of war camps and wrote reports regarding the conditions of the camps, services and welfare of prisoners of war.  

These reports are vital primary source documents providing valuable insights, as are the photographs taken on their visits.

I have combined information from these reports together with photos to present a ‘photo story’ of Geneifa Prisoner of War Camp 306.

The reports used: February and July 1942; February and October 1943; March 1944.

The photos used: October 1941 and undated photos.

GENEIFA, EGYPT, 1941. PRISON CAMP AT GINEIFA, NOT FAR FROM SUEZ. TAKEN FROM PASSING TRAIN. (AWM Image P00237.056)

THE CAMP

Camp 306 is an immense camp consisting of 24 sections each with several dozen tents and able to house 500 to 800 prisoners. In February 1942, 23 sections were occupied by Italian prisoners of war; 3 of these sections were reserved for the officers.

In total there were 301 officers: three lieutenant-colonels, seven majors, three priests, 34 doctors and 34 assistants to the officers.

There were 700 Italian soldiers in each of the other 19 sections. In each section there are 60 tents.  The men sleep on the sand and have two or three covers/blankets at their disposal.  They have no complaints about the cold.

The camp is situated in a desert region but has picturesque views of a lake and some mountains.  The climate is healthy. (February 1942)

WORK and PAY

Two hundred prisoners per section work in the camp constructing paths around the tents etc.  They work approximately 8 hours a day but do not work on Fridays or Sundays.  They are paid 2 piastres per day, on top of their allowance of 10 piastres: 10 one week and 5 the alternate week.  The pay is paid regularly. (February 1942)

No complaints about payments. Italians, with the exception of officers, the men receive their pay and wages in cash. Italian officers receive 1 Egyptian pound in cash and the remainder is credited to their individual accounts.(February 1943)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Confection de briques crues avec du sable.

Manufacturing of bricks made from sand VP- HIST-00848-24A

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Travail en détention. Geneiffa, camp n°306. Work in detention.

Camp Duties: VP-HIST-E-05028

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Corvée de lessive.

Camp Duties: Washing VP-HISTO-02858-11

In October 1943, there were 407 Italian prisoners of war in Camp 306 (and 9,810 German prisoners of war)

All Italian prisoners of war work either in the Italian section of the central POW post office or in the bakery, or are employed at the camp commandant’s office. A few are also assigned to the maintenance service of their section.

The POWs who take care of the maintenance of the camp do not receive any salary. Those who have other jobs (post office, bakery, office workers) receive a salary of 3 or 6 milliemes per hour. There are 1000 milliemes in an Egyptian pound. The supervisors receive 8 milliemes per hour. (October 1943)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Boulangerie.

The Bakery VP-HIST-00851-13

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Boulangerie.

The Bakery VP-HIST-00851-14

POW CENTRAL POST

The POW Central Post forms a special section within Camp 306, completely isolated from the rest of the camp.

In the post itself, the German and Italian departments are separate. About forty German prisoners and a hundred Italians work there in long and vast tents specially fitted out for this purpose. Two files are used and constantly kept up to date, one alphabetical with the surnames and first names of prisoners of war, the other numbered with registration numbers.

The Italian section has a file for officers and another for all other ranks.

All correspondence from the Middle East is classified and distributed upon its arrival at the Postal Section among prisoners of war responsible for checking addresses. This operation is carried out using the two files. Then, the letters are reclassified by addresses and sent to their recipients. The figures below, which indicate the number of letters and parcels received for prisoners of war during the last three months, will give a more precise idea of ​​the amount of work provided by the central post of the camp 306.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/MIDDLE-EAST-FORCES-POW-Camp-306-in-Egypt-to-USA-1943-CENSOR-MEF-/114662407922

ITALIAN MAIL

July 1943: 9,424 private packages, 205,846 letters

August 1943: 3,448 private packages, 219,861 letters

September 1943: 2,025 private packages, 7,978 Red Cross packages, 340,138 letters

It is necessary to note that there is more than 20,000 letters per day to sort and they are re-sent within 24 hours.

The department of Censorship in Cairo censors 50,000 letters per day. (October 1943)

NB 100 piastres = 1 Egyptian pound; 1000 milliemes = 1 Egyptian pound; 10 milliemes = 1 piastre.

FOOD

The quality of food is according to the requirements expected by the Red Cross.  The prisoners of war are responsible for the preparation of their food and development of daily menu according to the provisions.

Geneiffa, camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens N° 306 “Middle East”. Délégué du CICR tenant le menu du jour.

ICRC Delegate with the Menu of the Day 8th October 1943 VP-HIST-03408-17A

Provisions are as follows: legumes, bread, eggs, fruit, flour, jam, meat, macaroni, fresh milk, cottonseed oil, onions, potatoes, pepper, rice, salt, sugar, fresh legumes, dried fruit. (February 1942)

After meals, the kitchens can be used by the POWs to prepare extra meals with food purchased in the canteen or received in Red Cross packages. (October 43)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Fourneaux.

The Kitchen VP-HIST-00851-25

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Cuisiniers.

The Cooks VP-HIST-03400-14

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Douches.

The Showers VP-HIST-00851-12

HYGIENE

It is very satisfactory. There is no vermin at the camp.* However, a single faucet in the kitchen should suffice for the needs of the entire section, and it often happens that the water is turned off for part of the day. Prisoners have one hot shower per month. The latrines are clean.

The general health condition is very satisfactory. (February 1942)

*Fleas had been a problem with Italian and Australian soldiers on the battlefields.

All the prisoners have a shower and they bathe in the sea once a week. (July 1942)No complaints about this. Each prisoner of war has a toilet bowl available. Prisoners of war can take a cold shower every 10 days at the shower facility located in a special section of the camp. Showers have been built in some sections by the POWs themselves and can be used without great restriction. A group of 400 POWs went to bathe in the sea every day. This favor had to be abolished since the repatriation of the seriously wounded and protected personnel was planned. The camp commander does not think he will be able to re-establish these sea baths after the departure of the returnees, because the season is now almost over. Each POW receives a bar of soap per month. There are toilets available at a ratio of 2 toilets per 100 prisoners of war and they are clean and without odour. (October 1943)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Vue générale d’une section du camp.

General View of the Camp VP-HIST-03400-27

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Intérieur de tente.

Interior of Tent VP-HIST—03402-24

LODGINGS

It was possible to house up to 12 men in a tent. In time the Italian prisoners of war were issued with mattresses made of straw. The photos reveal accommodation consisted of a semi in-ground bunker with a tent roof. The bunkers were made of sand bricks which were then rendered, as were the outside seating and retaining walls. The retaining walls also acted as a barrier to shifting sands. The Italians constructed vegetable gardens between the tents.

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Préparation de l’emplacement d’une tente.

Preparation and Construction of Base for Tent VP-HIST-00848-23

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Vue générale d’une section.

General View of Camp VP-HIST-00849-02

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.

The Prisoner of War in Charge of the Canteen VP-HIST-03400-14 8.10.41

CANTEEN

Items sold at the canteen are useful and sold at a fair price. The price is controlled periodically by the Commandant  and is rectified if necessary. (July 1942)

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).

The only essential item that is lacking is matches. This did not surprise us since it is very difficult to find matches in Egypt today. The share of profits on sales of the canteen which goes to the POWs is 2 1/2% of the sales figure. These benefits can be used by the prisoners according to their desire. In general, they are used for the purchase of desired foods which are distributed fairly among all sections. Currently, these profits will be used to pay for the Christmas dinner. (October 1943)

CLOTHING

Clothing is of good quality and all prisoners have shoes (Feb 42)

At the time of capture, if the prisoners did not have certain items (as below), they were given the items:

Summer: 1 pair trousers, 2 pairs shorts, 1 colonial helmet, 1 leather belt, 1 pair of shoes with studded soles, 1 pair of sandals with rubber soles, 2 pairs of socks, 2 towels, 1 tooth brush, 1 fork, 1 knife, 1 metal plate, 1 metal bowl, 3 bed covers/blankets. 

Winter: 1 military hood, 2 undergarments, 2 underpants (October 1943)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Salades dans un jardinet devant une tente.

Salad items growing in the gardens in front of a tent VP-HIST-03400-09

DAILY ROUTINE (October 1943)

Each morning rise at 5.30h except Sunday – 6h.

Roll Call is half hour later. Evening roll call is at 15.30h

Lights out 22h

MAIL

Prisoners write regularly twice a week and those who have been there for more than four months have all received news from their families. (February 1942)

Letters and packages reach their destination on average in 30 to 60 days. Many packages received from the Red Cross arrive in poor condition and in some cases, the food is not suitable for consumption. (July 1942)

Letters sent from Sicily since the occupation have arrived at the camp in seven days. (October 1943)

INTELLECTUAL NEEDS, SPORT AND MORALE

There are many books available for use by the prisoners and they have many games.  A sport’s field is located in the centre of each section. (February 1942)

Two hundred books is insufficient for the number of prisoners.  An orchestra of 50 men has been formed.  The orchestra plays a major role in boosting the morale of the men. (July 1942)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Hôpital, terrain de tennis pour les médecins.

Hospital and Tennis Court for Hospital Staff VP-HIST-00849-30

Le Caire. Visite du camp de la mer Rouge. Cairo. Visiting the camp of the Red Sea.

Construction of Bocce Court VP-HIST-03408-10A 8th October 1941

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Prisonniers de guerre italiens jouant de la musique.

Musicians VP-HIST-03402-26

Prisoner of War Camp Geneifa January 1941

A slip of paper in the Australian archives.

The stamp for Prisoner of War Camp Geneifa.

A little more history is documented.

Antonio Greco had arrived at Campo Geneifa 13 days after his capture at Bardia Libya. He details are recorded; he is assigned a M.E. Number: 70596. In small print are these words: The date of receipt of prisoner should be recorded by office stamp on reverse.

18.1.41 Geneifa ; 12.6.43 No. 1 Wing 28 POW Camp [28 POW Camp Yol]; 15.6.43 Yol Kangra Valley

Alessandra Garizzo shares this information about her father: Giuseppe Garizzo was captured at Bardia 4th January 1941. He wrote in his libretto: 28.01.1941 transferred to Camp 15° in Geneifa [306]; 29.1.41 lucky to be assigned to the food supplies storage, we had food enough; 30.1.41 Met Venetian friend Santolini; 4.2.41 First antitetanic injection; 10.2.41 Received letters from family for the first time since I left home.

(Photo courtesy of Alessandra Garizzo)

Vaccinations: On Antonio Greco’s form there is a notation: 2.6.42 Cholera [cholera vaccination] On another Italian’s form there is the notation: Geneifa -TAB. VACC 6th July 1941. 

Other Italians received the TAB VACC in India. On some forms the reference for TAB vaccination is Enteric Vaccination. Cholera inoculations were also given in India.

TAB. VACC = combined vaccine used to produce immunity against the diseases typhoid, paratyphoid A, and paratyphoid B

“IL VIAGGIO AUSTRALE” – The Aussie Journey

Evandro Dell’Amico’s passion for this history is obvious. He has published two books relating to his father: Bruno Dell’Amico’s time as a soldier and prisoner of war.

Scheda descrittiva “IL VIAGGIO AUSTRALE” – The Aussie Journey

Ne “IL VIAGGIO AUSTRALE – The Aussie Journey”, prima edizione 2017 e seconda edizione nel 2018, con il logo del Consiglio  Regionale della Toscana ed altri Enti Pubblici ed Associazioni private, l’autore, Evandro Dell’Amico, nato a Carrara il 21/5/1952, descrive

(photo courtesy of Evando Dell’Amico)

il lungo epistolario di guerra e di prigionia del padre Bruno.

Carrista dell’Esercito Italiano, nella seconda campagna d’Africa, il 7 febbraio 1941, viene ferito nella battaglia di Beda Fomm nei pressi di Agedabia in Cirenaica (LIBIA).

Fatto prigioniero degli Inglesi, resta in Egitto sino al dicembre 1941 e da qui viene trasferito in  Australia, ove, come PIW n.49833, resterà, prevalentemente nel Cowra Camp nel New South Wales sino all’imbarco il 23 dicembre 1946 a Sydney, sulla nave della Regia Marina Inglese “Alcantara”.

Avendo scoperto, alla morte del padre Bruno, una “valigia dei ricordi” ove erano state raccolte foto e lettere del periodo bellico e della prigionia nel secondo conflitto mondiale, dopo la pubblicazione del primo libro “L’uomo tornato da lontano” e dopo contatti con la Presidente dell’Associzione di Amicizia Cowra-Italia, Maria Baron Bell ed il Vice Presidente della Cowra Breakout Association, Harvey Nicholson, Evandro Dell’Amico decide di tornare sulle orme del padre, 70 anni dopo la prigionia subita in Australia.

Nel frattempo avviene, prima, la pubblicazione, da parte di un giornalista australiano, John Madden, di una foto di una famiglia australiana con cui Bruno aveva fatto amicizia, durante i lavori agricoli prestati in una fattoria e poi, il successivo ritrovamento dell’unico superstite della famiglia, Eris Hackett.

In pochi mesi viene organizzata un viaggio in direzione Cowra ed una missione di memoria, pace ed amicizia tra i popoli,  con il sostegno della Regione Toscana, la Provincia di Massa Carrara, il Comune di Carrara, di Massa e varie associazioni private.

Un’esperienza intensissima, con partenza da Milano il 2 agosto 2016, soggiorno a Cowra per partecipare a commemorazioni e manifestazioni, con scambio di doni e ritorno a Milano il 10/8. Successivamente, nello stesso mese, vengono recati i doni del Sindaco di Cowra Bill West e delle Associazioni di amicizia sopra ricordate, a Firenze, al Presidente della Toscana Enrico Rossi ed al Sindaco di Carrara, Angelo Zubbani ed al Sindaco di Massa, Alessandro Volpi.

Il libro “Il Viaggio Australe” è stato presentato pubblicamente a Carrara l’11/5/2018, dall’autore e dal prof. Giancarlo Tassinari, medico, docente dell’Università di Verona che era stato protagonista della “missione australe” nel 2016. La presentazione si è potuta avvalere di uno short fotografico realizzato dai due compagni di viaggio.

Il libro è stato oggetto di premi speciali / segnalazioni da parte di prestigiose giurie in Premi Letterari Europei, il “San Domenichino”  e “Massa Città Fiabesca di Mare e di Marmo“, a Massa e “Thesaurus- Città della Rosa” ad  Aulla.

Massa, 22 febbraio 2021                                                   Evandro Dell’Amico