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 first ‘Queensland’ Italian prisoners of war to be repatriated left Sydney on board Andes 3 August 1945 with a transport of 800 men. Gaetano Ciociano who worked at Murgon (Q8 Kingaroy) was one such POW and in all likelihood the men were repatriated for special consideration or medical reasons. Ciociano marched in ex hospital to board the ship after he had had many return hospital visits. On board the Andes was also Libero De Maria. He was 56 years old and his age gave him special consideration to be among the first Italians to be repatriated. The Chitral also repatriated medical cases from Sydney 24 September 1946 as did Empire Clyde, another hospital ship leaving Sydney 12 December 1946. As well, SS Katoomba sailed from Sydney for Genoa on 6 October 1946 with medical cases on board. 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. Vincenzo Bonaduce, Angelo Valiante, Rosario Morello and Antonio De Marco returned to Stanthorpe and were “sponsored by those same families that had hosted them during the war.”(Arcidiacono, 2009) Records indicate that Diego Matassa who spent time at Q2 Nambour and Q7 Kenilworth emigrated in 1950 and Costanzo Melino was sponsored by his Q3 Gympie employer CB Carey of Scrubby Creek. Mr Doug Findlay of Kumbia tells of Frank who “had worked on other farms and had become very confident in handling machinery. He was also a farmer in his own land and a very efficient worker all round… eventually my Dad nominated him to return as a migrant. On his return he worked here for a further period of time and eventually moved to an Italian community up north.” (Grimmett, 2001)
There were also those Italians who tried to circumvent the repatriation process and escaped from imprisonment and blended into the landscape of post-war Australia. Umberto Liberto was 24 years old when he escaped in New South Wales in August 1946. He surrendered himself 5 February 1947 and was repatriated 24 November 1947 on board “General Heinzelman”. Pasquali Landolfi had worked at Q6 PW Hostel Home Hill but returned south to Murchison after two escape attempts. He made his final escape on 16 October 1946 while employed with a Road Party from Murchison. He was one of 150 escaped POWs still at large in January 1947 when some of the last remaining POWs in Australia were repatriated to Europe and one of 40 Italian POWs at large 4th May 1949.(Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld.: 1906 – 1954), 1949)
In an effort to locate and repatriate these long term escaped POWs “in 1946 the Department of Immigration issued a poster containing photographs and descriptions of all prisoners of war still at large, offering a reward of £25…They were displayed at Police Stations and Post Officers throughout Australia”(National Archives of Australia NAA:A7711,Volume 1, 1939-1951) and the poster page below is from one of these bulletins outlining the details of six of the long standing escapees. Landolfi was recaptured 24 May 1949 in the Dandenongs and was repatriated under guard with two other ‘escapee’ prisoners of war, on SS Surriento on 28 June 1949.
Ottavio Brancatella escaped from Q1 Stanthorpe on 30 January 1946 during the disbandment process. He remained at large for over six years but was eventually apprehended in Melbourne 21 March 1952. Brancatella was one of seven apprehended prisoner of war escapees who were granted conditional release from their prisoner of war status in March 1953 and granted with an Alien Registration Certificate. Pietro Daidone (Diadone) also remained at large until 8 September 1952 when he surrendered and had been working in his trade as a joiner at the Superior Cabinet Co Leichardt. In an effort to remain in Australia, he had made his escape from Middle Head on 24th November 1946 after three months there awaiting the last leg of repatriation. These last prisoners of war had avoided repatriation by outlasting the military bureaucracy and its ‘time’ scope of power. They became the responsibility of the Department of Immigration and upon proof that they were of good character and no threat to Australia, allowed to fulfil their desire to make Australia their home.
Poster advertising the details of Pietro Daidone and five other escaped Italian POWs
(National Archives of Australia NAA:A373, 11638D, 1946-1952)
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)