About the time Baldo Valeri was transferred from Hay Camp to Yanco Camp, Baldo’s wife Cesira sent her husband a photo of his two daughters.
c. 1942 Daughters of Baldo and Cesira Valeri
(photo courtesy of Geremia Valeri)
Baldo arrived home to Italy in January 1947. During those five years since capture, his daughters had grown up. His wife and children had endured the bombings by the Germans, hunger and misery.
During the war, the Royal Air Force Baltimores were active in the area. They bombed a chemical factory and road networks during February 1944 at the foot of the mountains near Popoli.
Popoli is five kilometres from Vittorito and suffered a tragic and direct hit from the Royal Air Force bombs on 22nd March 1944 at midday. On that day, people gathered in the town centre outside the town hall to collect rations. Women and children were lined up waiting for rations in a long queue when the city hall was bombed. The day is remembered as a day of sorrow when many people were killed or wounded.
How emotionally and mentally difficult it must have been for Baldo to know what was happening in Italy. How helpless he must have felt; unable to protect and comfort his wife and little girls.
Baldo and Cesira Valeri with a grandchild (photo courtesy of Geremia Valeri)
Baldo’s youngest child Geremia [born after his father’s return to Vittorito] explains the situation of his mother and father, “Per loro sono stati anni molto difficili, e senza la presenza di mio padre.Quando mio padre è tornato,si sono rimboccati le maniche,e lavorando duramente si sono creati un avvenire. Dopo la guerra hanno avuto altri due figli….io sono l’ultimo.”
Baldo Valeri was with an infantry division when he was transferred from Italy to Libya. He is seated in the front row, first right with his friends.
His time in battle was short; he was captured on the second day of the Battle of Bardia 4th January 1941.
When he arrived in Australia in May1941 he had been in the army for 40 months.
Libya: Baldo Valeri seated front row right (photo courtesy of Geremia Valeri)
Fortune was his. It is documented that 40,000 Italians were captured at Bardia. Like winning the lottery, Baldo was lucky to be directed to board the Queen Mary on 6th May 1941 for Australia. Only 2,016 Italian prisoners of war were on this voyage: the first group of Italians to be sent directly to Australia.
From Sydney Harbour he boarded a train for a journey to Hay Camp.
Then Yanco Camp became Baldo’s home for two and a half years. Yanco Camp was home to 700-800 Italians growing vegetables, tending to a dairy herd and piggery as well as producing supplies of vegetable seeds for the Commonwealth Government.
Eight hundred men need feeding. The supply of meat per 100 men per week was recorded as: 300 pounds beef, (136kg) 255 pounds mouton, (116kg) and 35 pounds sausages, (16 kg). A quick calculation equates to 1088 kg beef and 928 kg mouton for 800 men per week. The photo below taken at Yanco Camp illustrates that butchers were important to the operation of the camps.
It seems reasonable to assume that Baldo, a butcher, worked in the meat room at Yanco Camp.
Yanco, NSW. 1944-02-01. Two Italian prisoner of war (POWs) butchers cutting up the day’s meat ration in the butchers shop of No. 15 POW Camp. (AWM Image 063945 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)
Yanco, Australia. 23 January 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 15 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 46978 Baldo Valeri; 46655 Guido Rosato; 46688 Pasquale Montepara; 45351 Nicola Catalano; 46891 Ernesto Tamburino; 47902 Raffaele Blasioli; 45248 Donato Cipriani. Front row: 45585 Luigi Di Cioccio; 46271 Andrea Moscatelli; 48096 Emilio Grisanti; 45719 Antonio Fafone; 45043 Pellegrino Acquaviva. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.
The Yanco kitchen was situated within the barracks used as a dining room. The kitchen had a large oven and cookers, four rooms for provisions, a cold room and a bakery where four bakers baked bread daily for the men.
The photo of the kitchen at Yanco below, highlights the industry of the men. It must have been a sense of relief for bakers, cooks, pastry chefs and butchers to work in their field of experience.
Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoner of war (POWs) cooks at No. 15 POW Camp preparing a meal in one of the camp kitchens. (AWM Image 063915 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)
Baldo was also accommodated at Cowra and Liverpool Camps. Upon his return to Naples on the Ormonde 27th January 1947, Baldo had been a prisoner of war for six years.
Baldo’s son Geremia writes about his father’s life after return to Italy, “La sua vita è stata difficile,ma una volta tornato in Italia ,ha dedicato tutte le sue energie sul lavoro, per il benessere di noi figli.
Le uniche cose che lui ha riportato dalla prigionia, sono una ciotola di alluminio,dove mangiava,un piccolo vocabolario inglese-italiano, e un pezzo di stoffa bordoeux, che usavamo come coperta. Mi raccontava sempre un episodio, dove lui cercava di sottrarre qualche patata dal magazzino, perché aveva fame. Il vigilante del campo se ne accorse e locolpi con il calcio del fucile. Lui avrebbe voluto tornare in Australia per lavorare, ma non trovò nessuno che gli facesse l’atto di richiamo.”
Baldo Valeri outside his shop in Vittorito (photo courtesy of Geremia Valeri)
Baldo and Cesira celebrating 50 years of marriage with their son Geremia (photo courtesy of Geremia Valeri)