Once captured, Italian prisoners of war were impounded in temporary caged compounds in the deserts of North Africa. They were then taken to Egypt and processed. Each prisoner of war was given a M/E number (Middle East) and a card was sent to the families notifying them that their son or husband or father was a prisoner of war. From Egypt they were sent around the world: South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada and USA.
Costanzo Melino’s journey took him to India and then to Australia. He worked on a farm in the Gympie district before being repatriated to Italy. He returned to Australia post-war, sponsored by his Gympie employer, his family joined him and eventually they settled in northern NSW.
Costanzo Melino was captured at Bardia on 4th January 1941.
Costanzo Melino remembers:
Forty-seven thousand Italians were taken prisoner of war by the 8th Battalion of English under General Wavell. Our General at that time was Annibale Bergonzoli. My captain was Alberto Agostinelli. We were taken to internment camps by foot. We were given little to eat or drink.
Italian prisoners Mersa Matruh getting their water tank filled. They were allowed half a gallon per man per day.” Image from a large album of 86 pages containing 1858 photographs associated with the service of Lieutenant Robert Otto Boese
(Australian War Memorial, Image P05182.012)
In February 1941, we were sent to Port Said in the Suez Canal and the following month to Bombay where the heat was unbearable and many Italians died of heat exhaustion.
These camps were well run by the English. We were given baths and we had Indian cooks. There were toilets and we were fed well although we all got sick as we were not used to the English diet. After this the English asked us to cook our own meals which we did gladly, making our own tagliatelle and gnocchi from the flour. There were at least three thousand prisoners divided ingroups of one hundred. We were counted twice a day. We were fenced in and surrounded by armed guards so that we could not escape.
Original tent camp 1941 Bangalore Italian Prisoners of War
(Maddy’s Ramblings maddy06.blogspot.com.au )
Having nothing else to do, a lot of prisoners devoted their time to study. I studied Italian and English. We didn’t stay in the one place for long in India. We were constantly moved and constantly guarded by Indian soldiers. The German prisoners were kept separate to us. When the Italians surrendered to General Dwight David Eisenhower we were sent to Australia to work on farms. It appeared that the two million U.S. servicemen in Australia needed food. The U.S. headquarters was in Brisbane commanded by General Douglas MacArthur. It was the U.S. who commanded us in Australian as they had civil and military control.
The English in India said to us: “Now you’ve surrendered we are allies so now you’ll have to go to work to feed yourselves. You’ll be free in Australia and they’ll even pay you for your work”. Of course we were all happy, leaving the camps singing. However, as soon as we boarded the train we found the Indian soldiers hidden in the train and at the next stop we got off in our usual manner as prisoners of war. We were really only free when we got to Naples in 1947.