On the 8th /9th January 1947 about 500 Italian prisoners of war left from No. 7 Woolloomooloo Wharf in Sydney Harbour on the Otranto. The Italians had arrived by train from Cowra with a military guard of four officers and 50 other ranks.
Pietro Gargano was disheartened to leave Australia. Pietro had married a Cowra girl, Joyce Slocombe after escaping from the camp. His wife persuaded him to give himself up and representations were made to allow Pietro to remain in Australia. Pietro returned to Australia in 1949.
Alessio Matonti [Matoni] told reporters that he had spent three years working on orchards in Orange. He left Australia with these words: “Best wishes to everybody in Australia.”
Another Italian prisoner was photographed by a journalist in Sydney.
Ladened with his personal possessions, many Italians also took home items not available in Italy such as canned food, material and boots.
A Heavily Bearded Italian Prisoner of War Boards the Otranto
[The Sydney Morning Herald January 8th 1947]
Civilian passengers who boarded the Otranto in Sydney were told by the officers that passengers would be put off the ship if they fraternised with Italian officers during the voyage. Italian officers were quartered in passenger cabins and Italian troops were isolated from passengers in troop decks. One female passenger from Sydney stated that she found the order to not fraternise was ‘most rude’. Her logic was that should an Italian officer bump into her accidently and apologise to her, she could hardly refuse to reply. Some of the 200 civilian passengers were war brides travelling to Britain.
The OC British Lieut. Col. At T McCullogh was in charge of the Italians and stated, “I fought Italians and know them. Women can find them very attractive. I will not hesitate to stop fraternisation.”
Italian officers were not allowed to attend dances on the voyage, though an eight-piece POW orchestra were engaged to play at the dances.
10th January 1947 arrived at Station Pier Melbourne from Sydney to embark a further 3000 Italian prisoners of war. About 150 friends and relatives of the POWs waited at the Station Pier gates which were locked. Australian farmers and their wives had made the journey from country Victoria to say goodbye to prisoners who had worked well on their farms for two years. It was reported that some women managed to get through to hand the prisoners parcels and take letters to mail from them.
Raffaele Caprioli had boarded the Otranto in Sydney. Suffering from appendicitis, he was carried ashore at Station Pier and transferred to 115 Heidelberg Military Hospital. He was repatriated on the Orontes on the 21st January 1947.
A group of Italian prisoners of war were photographed by a representative of the International Committee for the Red Cross, waiting to board a repatriation ship. One man’s kit bag shows his name: LALLA. There were only two Italian prisoners with the surname LALLA: Ettore Lalla, 26 years old from San Buono Chieti and Attilio Lalla, 46 years old from Liscia Chieti. Both boarded the Otranto in Melbourne.
Repatriation of Italian Prisoners of War ICRC VP-HIST-03235-24
15th January departed Fremantle F Shed
While in Fremantle Harbour it was reported that there were 3708 Italians on the Otranto, which included 21 officers. When the ship berthed, the wharf was barricaded, and the Italians POWs were kept below. Some talked through portholes to 30 Italians who came to farewell them. Otranto sailed at 1pm.
2nd February 1947 arrived at Suez
5th February 1947 arrived in Naples
Weather conditions forced the Otranto to stand off Naples Harbour until the winds abated. Gale force winds tore other ships in Naples Harbour from their moorings.
Fine War Service for Otranto
From September 1939 to August 1945, the Otranto was in ‘war service’. During that time, the ship carried 132,1919 troops, 10,076 prisoners of war and 3,181 civilians. Her first engagement carried the first Australian contingent to the United Kingdom.
On her voyage from Sydney to Italy to England in January/February 1947 she transported 523 passengers, 3708 Italian prisoners of war and an Australian guard of 46.