Italian POWs in Queensland

The Italian POWs allocated to the prisoner of war centres in Queensland transitioned from their place of capture via Middle East and India to Australia.  Some of the transports included Queen Mary (Libya) Sydney 27.5.41, Queen Elizabeth (Middle East) Sydney 5.10.41, MV Brazil (Bombay) Sydney 4.10.43, Mariposa (Bombay) Sydney 1.11.43, Mooltan (Bombay) Melbourne 29.12.43 and Ruys (Bombay) Melbourne 28.2.44. (National Archives of Australia NAA: MP1103/2, 1939 – 1945)   The General William Mitchell ex India arrived in Melbourne 13 February 1945 transporting alleged Fascist Italian Prisoners of War[i] who had spent up to four years imprisonment before arriving in Australia. Once disembarked at port of entry, these Italians were then entrained to Hay[ii], Cowra[iii] and Murchison[iv]. The other major POW Camp where some Italians were posted was Yanco[v].


Cowra NSW 1944-02-04 Sergeant J.H. Lovell of 22nd Garrison Battalion who is in charge of these Italian Bootmakers at the 12th Australian Prisoner of War Camp

(AWM 1944 ID number 064341)

These Italians were captured or had surrendered in various theatres of war. The men who were allocated to the nine PWCC in Queensland were captured in Egypt, Libya, Abyssinia, Eritrea and Albania. The men who went to Home Hill were, in the majority captured in Libya, specifically Tobruk and Bardia.  Some were captured Egypt: Sidi el Barrani and Buq Buq; Greece and Ethiopia: Gondar. Italians ex India were not to be employed north of latitude 23° south as malarial infection was a concern and therefore were not available for transfer to Q6 Home Hill Hostel.  Generally, the POWs who came to Australia in 1941 had their place of capture recorded as Libya without reference to a specific town or place. Those arriving in 1943 through to 1945 either through prompting or better interpretation and processing services have specific towns recorded.

Administratively, there were three categories of facilities or ‘camps’ to which POWs were allocated in Queensland.  The word ‘camp’ is often used generically but specifically the terms were camps, control hostels and control centres: without guard.  In Queensland the Prisoner of War and Internment Camp at Gaythorne[vi] was the administrative authority for all Italian POWs in the state.  Gaythorne PW & I Camp, located at Gaythorne, Brisbane had a capacity of 1800.  Nationalities held were: PW – Italian, Japanese, Korean, Formosan, sundry and Internees – Italian, sundry.  It operated from 1940-1946.  It had 3 compounds each of 300, 1 compound of 400 and 1 compound of 500.The Queensland Italian POWs were transferred from southern camps to Gaythorne.  From Gaythorne, POWs were sent to a Prisoner of War Control Centre: Without Guard (PWCC) or Prisoner of War Control Hostel (PWC Hostel). Some POWs however remained at Gaythorne, seemingly deemed ‘unfit’ for work.

The POWs sent to work in Queensland transited through Gaythorne in Brisbane and Gaythorne remained the parent camp of the Italian POWs. The Gaythorne Camp was under the command of Camp Commandant JM Hinschen, 2 Aust. P.W. Guard Company and later Camp Commandant Captain J Todd. It was situated at Bliss and Newman Streets, Gaythorne just north of the Enoggera Barracks’ precinct. Periods of detention were served at the parent camp and as well, Gaythorne was a staging or holding camp for prisoners of war in transit. A POW who had spent time at a hospital would at times return to Gaythorne until a future transfer to a PWCC could be arranged.  The first group of POWs destined for Q6 PW Hostel Home Hill were stationed at Gaythorne for an extended period of time because the construction of hostel facilities had been delayed. They were transferred to Gaythorne 18.2.44 but due to construction delays of the hostel, and it was two months before a transfer to Q6 Home Hill could get underway with men arriving in north Queensland on 28.4.44.  For those Italian Prisoners of War who arrived in Australia onboard the General William Mitchell 13.2.45 and were then sent onward to Queensland for allocation to farm work, there was a group who had an extended stay at Gaythorne.  They arrived 13.3.45 but could only be allocated once places became available at a PWCC. For some of this group, it was August before they left Gaythorne for their farm allocation. Italian Prisoners at Gaythorne were employed in a small vegetable garden adjacent to the camp and in clearing a site for additional accommodation.

The 10 Italian PW Centres in Queensland were established to provide labour for primary industry production in the areas of: dairy, general agriculture, vegetables, pineapples, fruit and vegetables, pastoral. The Italian POW workforce was not take jobs away from Australian workers, nor should Australian workers be displaced in lieu of Italian POWs, rather they were to replenish a workforce depleted by enlistments and internments. As well, they were not to be utilized as a workforce for the grazing industry.

All the Queensland PW Centres with the exception of Q6 Home Hill, operated as a PWCC (Prisoner of War Control Centre: Without Guard). They were centres established in townships to administer, allocate and oversee the Italian Prisoners of War working in the district. Army personnel consisted of Captain, interpreter, drivers, administrative clerks and guards.   The POWs were billeted with farmers: two or three POWs per farmer.  POWs selected for PWCC generally were to have a farming or agricultural background or skills that would be of service in farming.


Hay NSW 1944-01-17 Italian Prisoners of War Milking Cows at the Dairy Farm of the 16th Garrison Battalion Prisoner of War Detention Camp.

(McInnes, Geoffrey 1944  ID Number 063412 AWM)

A PWC Hostel[vii] was an established hostel which housed POWs working on a specific project. For the Q6 Home Hill Hostel, the mix of occupations were formulated according to the requirements of the scheme and to select men with occupations that would be of benefit to a ‘closed’ and self-contained community. Specifically, requests were made for protected personnel, workers, cooks, fatigues, tractor drivers, mechanics, supervisors and a cook, a tailor, a barber, a clerk and a general duties made up the five allocated General Duties ORs.  The majority were farmers, farm workers or labourers with the other prisoners coming from a variety of backgrounds[viii] eg trades and services.


Yanco, NSW 1944-01-29. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) from No 15 POW Camp grading and packing tomatoes at the packing shed before sending them to the Leeton Co-operative Cannery for processing

( McInnes, Geoffrey 1944 ID Number 063793 AWM)


[i] Fascist or ‘alleged Fascist types’ Italian Prisoners of War from the General William Mitchell working in Queensland worked at Gaythorne, Q9 Monto, Q3 Gympie,Q7 Kenilworth,Q8 Kingaroy, Q10 Boonah and Q4 Gayndah. They were allocated a number prefaced by the letters: PWIX – Prisoner of War Italian Fascist. Many (but not all) of these POWs were in the Black Shirts Unit. Just as soldiers in the Black Shirts Unit were not necessarily Fascists. The first transport of Fascists arrived in Melbourne on board Melon 29.12.44.  Allocated numbers were PWIX65152 to PWIX66142. The second transport arrived in Melbourne on board General William Mitchell 13.2.45. Italians on board were allocated numbers PWIX66143 to PWIX68218.

[ii] Hay Prisoner of War Camp (NSW) consisted of three compounds of 1000.

[iii] Cowra Prisoner of War Camp (NSW) consisted of four compounds with Compounds A and C housing Italian Prisoners of War.

[iv] Murchison Prisoner of War Camp (Victoria) housed 4000 prisoners of war mainly Germans and Italians.

[v] Yanco Prisoner of War Camp (NSW) was a compound housing 700 prisoners of war who worked producing vegetables (tomatoes) for supply to the allied forces.

[vi] In a May 1944 inspection report it was reported that there was limited hutted accommodation at Gaythorne with the majority living under canvas. The site was 792’ x 189’ and consisted of six compounds.  Residents included Japanese PWs, Javanese PWs, German Internees, an Italian Internee, and Italian PWs.  There was no sports ground and the Italians exercised under guard on the rifle range adjacent to the camp.

[vii] PWC Hostel – Prisoner of War Control Hostel, all other Prisoner of War Camps in Queensland were PWCC – Prisoner of War Control Centres which were centres which co-ordinated the POWs allocated to farmers. Gaythorne in Brisbane was the PWC Camp – the parent camp for all POWs working in Queensland.

[viii] Q6 PW Hostel Home Hill : Prisoners of War were in the main farmers but because of the ‘closed’ nature of the hostel, prisoners were selected with a range of occupations: trades: painter, carrier, blacksmith, mason, miller, electrician, cart driver, mule driver, builder, tinsmith, upholster, mechanic, fitter and mechanic, tiler, electrician, brick layer and carpenter; services: butcher, medical,  baker, bookmaker, barber, tailor, miller, cook, storeman, hairdresser, police, hospital attendant and others: student, sculptor, brewer, waiter, police, linotypist, soldier, civil servant, clerk, sailor, bookseller, merchant, cyclist, shop assistant, fruiterer, gardener, chaffeur.