The repatriation process was protracted and complex. Primarily prisoners of war were not to be repatriated until peace treaties were formalized between the Allies and belligerent governments. Additionally, there were a number of logistical difficulties in shipping 18,000 men to Italy which included arranging transport ships, transport from camps to the main cities and security of prisoners of war in transit in Australia and on the ships.
The Alcantara departed Sydney 23 December 1946 with 3000 Italian POWs on board, the Ormonde departed 31 December 1946 with 2000 POWs and the Otranto departed 10 January 1947 with 3710 POWs. The SS Napoli (pictured below) brought out post war Italian migrants to Australia but also repatriated a number of recaptured POWs on a least five return voyages. Among the repatriated POWs on board these ships were POWs who had worked at the Queensland Prisoner of War Centres.
Sydney, NSW. 1948-12.08. Starboard Side View of the Italian Passenger Cargo Vessel Napoli
(Naval Historical Collection ID number 303677 AWM)
Repatriation also was an important part of the process for Italian prisoners of war who wanted to return to Australia. Some Italians saw beyond their imprisonment and saw the Australian way of life and its opportunities. If one worked hard there were opportunities to not only bring out their families but also to become a land owner. It is not surprising that an estimated 10 – 20% of Italian prisoners of war who had been held in captivity here in Australia, in time returned to Australia. Italians who worked hard during their rural placements earned the respect of their employers and offers of sponsorship.
In summing up imprisonment in Australia, one Italian POW from Western Australia replied to a statement “I bet you are happier in Australia than in India”. To which he said, “Oh yes, but even though we are on farms and we’re fairly free, if you have a bird in a cage and you open the door he’ll fly out. We’re just the same. Even though we are happy, we still want to go home.”(Bunbury, 1995) Repatriation was a means of opening the door of the prison and returning the Italian prisoners of war to their homes and families.
(Sunday Times (Perth, WA: 1902-1954), Sunday 6 October 1946)
Their arrival in Naples is captured on film and illustrates the devastated country the Italians returned home to.