All internees and prisoners of war were issued with uniforms coloured burgundy as part of the clothing kit. The same colour uniform was distributed regardless of nationality: Italians, Germans, Formosans, Japanese, Chinese, Austrian.
BALMAIN, NSW. 1946-03-02. THIS JAPANESE INTERNEE IS HAVING A BIT OF TROUBLE WITH HIS LARGE AMOUNT OF LUGGAGE AS HE STEPS DOWN FROM THE TRAIN THAT HAS BROUGHT HIM FROM HAY TO NO. 1 WHARF AT BALMAIN. HE IS ONE OF THE MANY JAPANESE ABOUT TO EMBARK ON THE JAPANESE REPATRIATION SHIP DAIKAI MARU OSAKU. THE POW ARE DRESSED IN AUSTRALIAN UNIFORMS.
The Big Picture
It is sometimes easy to see this history in small unrelated segments: to think that only civilian internees were forced to wear this colour; or that this uniform was to be worn every day; or that this indignation was reserved for only Italian prisoners of war. The ‘big picture’ is important.
The magenta uniform was to be worn when leaving a camp, a hostel or a farm placement; anytime the internees or prisoners of war were outside of their facility.
Photographs document that there was an Australian army salvage unit at Fishermen’s Bend in Victoria and another salvage unit at Loveday Internment Camp South Australia.
Loveday, Australia. 11 March 1943. Clothes which have been dyed a burgundy shade by internees at No. 9 Camp, Loveday Internment Group, hanging out to dry. The clothes are discarded Australian uniforms which have been cleaned, repaired and now dyed for issue to internees.
Confusion in Lismore
An interesting situation arose in the Lismore district of New South Wales in 1944. Lismore had a resident population of 700 – 800 Italians. Another 200 Italian prisoners of war were employed in the district to work on farms.
The newspapers reported farmers who breached rules of their employment contract for Italian prisoners of war. Some of the complaints and offences: alleged that Italian prisoners of war had been seen at the pictures, drinking in the pub, walking hand in hand with an Aussie girl, seen at the horse trotting races, talking excitedly in their own tongue with 12 civilian Italians and that two were left to run the farm while the boss lived 20 miles away in town.
As to how many of these allegations proved to be true is unknown.
What is known, is that Lieutenant Chester Snow, the Australian officer in charge of the Italian prisoners of war in the district, had been notified 12 times during August 1944, that prisoners of war were ‘at large’ in the town.
When Lieut. Snow or his control centre staff ‘hurried’ to various parts of town to make arrests, they found that the ‘alleged’ prisoners were [Italian] civilians.
While the prisoner of war uniform was a burgundy colour, it was reported that red clothes, including trousers and slacks were a popular form of dress amongst the Lismore civilians. In fact, many retail stores displayed red clothes in their windows.
I am sure that the Italian prisoners of war who read such newspaper reports could see a little humour in this situation.
A little more about the colour red:
In 2013, an Italian prisoner of war blanket was returned to Cowra: https://www.cowraguardian.com.au/story/1273202/a-warm-return-for-pow-artefact/
In 2014, the Cowra Breakout Association reported Sir Tony Robinson being shown a Cowra Camp relic: a Japanese prisoner of war uniform worn at the time of the Cowra breakout in August 1944.
Sir Tony Robinson is shown a uniform worn by a Japanese prisoner of war at Cowra Camp.