Tag Archives: Alcantara POW Repatriation Ship

Captured at 20

Antonio Ciancio, a chauffeur from San Giovanni a Teduccio Napoli was one of many thousands of Italian prisoners of war to reside in Hay Prisoner of War Camp.

Having arrived in May 1941, a nominal roll places him in Camp 7 Hay [11th November 1942].  There were three camps at Hay: Camp 6, Camp 7 and Camp 8. Each camp was built to house 1000.

The camps were designed in an octagonal layout and were separate from each other. The history of Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp began in July 1940, when the Australian War Cabinet agreed to build two camps at Hay to accommodate 1000 persons per camp. Camps 7 and 8 were filled with internees sent to Australia from Great Britain. On 2nd November 1940, Camp 6 opened with Italian civilian internees.

Italian prisoners of war from Egypt arrive in Hay 28th May 1941. Antonio Ciancio was in this group.  They were accommodated in Camp 7 and Camp 8. The next major development was the commencement of the River Farm in April 1942. I have used a 1962 aerial photo to highlight the positions of the camps and River Farm. If you look at Hay NSW on google maps and choose satellite view you will see an octagonal outline for Camp 6 and the extent of the River Farm.

Rough Location of Camps and River Farm Hay New South Wales

In August 1942, the newspapers reported that Hay Prisoner of War and Interments Camps had become a “model of what such a camp should be like in all countries.” In particular the produce from the farm/s were praised for its ‘experimental area of cotton which yields over 900 lb to the acre, the prison has 308 acres of vegetable, 20 acres of poultry, 16 for pigs, and 740 for mixed stock and crop farming.’

Dr Georges Morel reported in March 1943 that the Italian prisoners of war worked inside and outside the camp. Work outside the camps in addition to agriculture, consisted of building roads, erecting water pumping plants and fences, construction irrigation channels and sewerage works.

Prisoners of war were encouraged to be engaged in work parties.  Dr Morel recorded that for Camp 7, 94 men worked inside the camp and 320 men worked outside the camp and for Camp 8 87 worked inside the camp and 470 worked outside the camp.  The total number in residence for Camp 7 was 651 and for Camp 8 646.

1942 ‘War Prisoners Grow Cabbages’, Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), 3 November, p. 6. , viewed 02 Jun 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article132815787

It was reported that the Italians at Hay Camps in three months had grown 193,500 lbs of vegetables on 1000 acres of virgin soil. The men had also gained a stone in weight since arriving in Australia [during 1941]. 

Antonio was transferred to Cowra Camp on 13th August 1943.  The placement of Italian prisoners of war on farms was gaining momentum in New South Wales and Queensland. The movement of Italians from Hay to Cowra was based on geography and the need to have men available for easy transfer into districts north of Cowra.

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49305 E. Alunni; 46486 F. Palladino; 48249 G. Olivares; 46433 G. Polise; 49690 A. Rea; 45169 C. Catuogno. Front row: 49310 A. Argento; 49566 A. Di Pala; 49670 G. Joime [Ioime]; 45256 A. Ciancio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030148/10 Photographer Michael Lewicki)

Antonio was sent to a farm in the Coonabarabran district of New South Wales on 31.10.43. A newspaper report positively describes the Italian workforce. They were performing remarkable work, conduct was excellent, manners were most impressive, most were learning English very quickly and with guidance they were operating agricultural machinery.

By the time Antonio boarded the Alcantara to return to Italy on 23rd December 1946, he had spent 5 years and seven months in Australia.

His home city of Naples had been heavily bombed during 1944.

Naples Harbour 1944 (Imperial War Memorial)

Antonio would have been able to see San Giovanni a Teduccio on the journey into Naples harbour: a bittersweet moment.

Repatriation: Alcantara

Today’s article is with thanks to Rocco Martino in New York.  Twelve weeks ago, he offered to pay for a copy of the Alcantara Nominal Rolls of Italian Prisoners of War.

There were over 20 ships which transported Italian prisoners of war from Australia to Italy but not all lists have been digitalized by the National Archives of Australia.  The four main transport ships were Alcantara, Ormonde, Otranto and Orontes, sailing the end of 1946/ beginning of 1947.

After I published the article about the Ormonde  titled: Sailing Home,  Rocco made his generous offer.  Thank you most sincerely Rocco on behalf of the 3321 Italian families whose fathers and grandfathers were on this ship.

The Alcantara departed Sydney on 23rd December 1946.  Official military documentation records that there were 3321 Italian prisoners onboard: 77 officers and 3244 ORs.

The group of Italians were transported in six train from Cowra to Sydney where they embarked the Alcantara from Pyrmont Wharf.  The event was reported in the newspapers and no doubt the Italians would have seen the humour and irony in the situation where the Italians ‘munched hard-boiled eggs, tarts and sandwiches’ while the ‘guards went without food‘. Upon arrival in Sydney, the Italians were given a mug of tea and fruit.

1946 Dec 23 The Telegraph

The Telegraph, Prisoners Eat: Guards Starve, 23 December 1946.

The Italians were allowed up to 90 lbs of  personal possessions and the photo below show all manner of baggage.  Some Italians had used their cash funds to buy up essential items like soap, toothpaste, clothing for their family, boots and canned food, as they already knew these items were in short supply in Italy.  “Most of the Italians wore camp made felt slippers and carried one or two pairs of new boots.  One in every twenty had a musical instrument, a violin, mandolin, guitar or accordion.”  

1946 Dec Daily Advertiser

Daily Advertiser, Back to Italy, 25 December 1946

The departure of the ship was held up waiting for the crew (Australian guards who no doubt went in search of food).  Scheduled for a 4 pm departure, the Alcantara sailed at 6.30pm. In the article below, you can see one of the Italians enjoying his sandwich and cup of tea.

Nicola Auciello is pictured on the bottom right.  He had reason to smile as he was engaged to an Australian girl. Nicola’s fiancee Muriel travelled to Italy at the end of 1947 and married Nicola in Bari in April 1948.  They returned to Australia in December 1948 taking up residence on a sheep property at Wee Waa.

Each of the 3321 Italians would have their own special story.  One Italian, showed the newspaper reporter a picture of his 11 year old son, who had never seen. Other Italians commented that they wanted to return to Australia and they were not looking forward to seeing ‘how bad’ the situation was in Italy.

Alcantara Four Italians

The Sun, Italian POW’s Leave for Home, 23 December 1946

The Alcantara according to Domenico Masciulli’s testimony, arrived into Naples on 22nd January 1947.

Take the time to read through the lists of Italians.  You will find men from your village or town; and men who were born in USA, Brazil, Argentina, France, Libya, Switzerland and Scotland.

This is an invaluable document and while looking through the names in the lists, it is difficult not to feel a definite sense of certainty: these men: brothers, fathers, grandfathers and sons were finally going home.

Many a name on the list is familiar to me; I have had contact with their families or spoken with their Australian farming families. I have seen their life through photos: after they returned home, on their wedding day, with their children. And you have been introduced to them through the articles on this website:  Domenico Petruzzi, Domenico Masciulli, Francesco (Ciccio) Cipolla, Stefano Lucantoni, Angelo Amante, Angelo Valiante, Adriano Zagonara, Salvatore Morello, Vincenzo Pace, Fortunato Gobbi, Luigi Iacopini, Paolo Reginato, Ferdinando Pancisi, Giuseppe Mangini, Costanzo Melino, Antonio Lumia, Domenico Tiberi.

Alcantara Troop ship 1942

Alcantara

(Martin Harrison, Medals Research Site, http://martinharisonsmedalresearch.weebly.com/gray-leslie-frank)

You can view the lists of Italian Prisoners of War two ways.

1. 1946 Alcantara Rolls

2.  Go to http://www.naa.gov.au  and search [Nominal rolls of Italian Prisoners of War at Cowra POW camp, for transfer from Australia to Naples, Italy per ALCANTARA] [Box 9]

NAA: SP196/1, 10 PART 15