Leonard Fortuna arrived in Australia with 50 piatres; money from Egypt. It was recorded on his Property Statement and transferred to his Australian account. Prisoners of war were prohibited from having money in their possession.
A question arises about the value of fifty piastres. One hundred piastres equalled an Egyptian pound in the 1940s. But what could a man buy with fifty piastres?
The answer can be found in a Canteen Price List from Camp 306 in Egypt March 1944.
For fifty piatres one could buy a five pound tin of honey. Fifty piastres could also buy a kilo of olives, a kilo of macaroni, and a hair brush OR a medium chocolate, a tin of pilchards, a bottle of syrup and cigarettes OR five packets of biscuits, eau de cologne and a kilo of macaroni.
Archives du CICR Campo 306
In the photo below, the canteen supervisor shows the International Delegate for the Red Cross dates and eggs on sale at the canteen.
Prisoner of War in Charge of Canteen 4.10.41
The following is from an October 1943 report on Camp 306: The canteen is run by an Egyptian. It is very well supplied with products and articles of all kinds. there are fresh fruits and vegetables, canned food, syrup, toiletries (soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razor blades, shaving soap, etc.) clothing items (underwear, shirts, shorts, socks, stockings, handkerchiefs) stationery (paper, feathers, ink, pencils) tobacco, cigarettes, sweets and sold at local trade prices. The prices are established in Egyptian piastres (there are 100 piastres in an Egyptian pound). (October 1943)
This history is complex and often a small item such as fifty piastres from Egypt when paired with a Canteen Price List can offer new insight.
A very special thank you to Antonella Benvenuti from Venezia. Antonella has shared with me documents relating to Camp 306 Geneifa Egypt. Collaboration is integral to documenting this history.
Representatives from the International Committee for the Red Cross visited prisoner of war camps and wrote reports regarding the conditions of the camps, services and welfare of prisoners of war.
These reports are vital primary source documents providing valuable insights, as are the photographs taken on their visits.
I have combined information from these reports together with photos to present a ‘photo story’ of Geneifa Prisoner of War Camp306.
The reports used: February and July 1942; February and October 1943; March 1944.
The photos used: October 1941 and undated photos.
GENEIFA, EGYPT, 1941. PRISON CAMP AT GINEIFA, NOT FAR FROM SUEZ. TAKEN FROM PASSING TRAIN. (AWM Image P00237.056)
Camp 306 is an immense camp consisting of 24 sections each with several dozen tents and able to house 500 to 800 prisoners. In February 1942, 23 sections were occupied by Italian prisoners of war; 3 of these sections were reserved for the officers.
In total there were 301 officers: three lieutenant-colonels, seven majors, three priests, 34 doctors and 34 assistants to the officers.
There were 700 Italian soldiers in each of the other 19 sections. In each section there are 60 tents. The men sleep on the sand and have two or three covers/blankets at their disposal. They have no complaints about the cold.
The camp is situated in a desert region but has picturesque views of a lake and some mountains. The climate is healthy. (February 1942)
WORK and PAY
Two hundred prisoners per section work in the camp constructing paths around the tents etc. They work approximately 8 hours a day but do not work on Fridays or Sundays. They are paid 2 piastres per day, on top of their allowance of 10 piastres: 10 one week and 5 the alternate week. The pay is paid regularly. (February 1942)
No complaints about payments. Italians, with the exception of officers, the men receive their pay and wages in cash. Italian officers receive 1 Egyptian pound in cash and the remainder is credited to their individual accounts.(February 1943)
Manufacturing of bricks made from sand VP- HIST-00848-24A
Camp Duties: VP-HIST-E-05028
Camp Duties: Washing VP-HISTO-02858-11
In October 1943, there were 407 Italian prisoners of war in Camp 306 (and 9,810 German prisoners of war)
All Italian prisoners of war work either in the Italian section of the central POW post office or in the bakery, or are employed at the camp commandant’s office. A few are also assigned to the maintenance service of their section.
The POWs who take care of the maintenance of the camp do not receive any salary. Those who have other jobs (post office, bakery, office workers) receive a salary of 3 or 6 milliemes per hour. There are 1000 milliemes in an Egyptian pound. The supervisors receive 8 milliemes per hour. (October 1943)
The Bakery VP-HIST-00851-13
The Bakery VP-HIST-00851-14
POW CENTRAL POST
The POW Central Post forms a special section within Camp 306, completely isolated from the rest of the camp.
In the post itself, the German and Italian departments are separate. About forty German prisoners and a hundred Italians work there in long and vast tents specially fitted out for this purpose. Two files are used and constantly kept up to date, one alphabetical with the surnames and first names of prisoners of war, the other numbered with registration numbers.
The Italian section has a file for officers and another for all other ranks.
All correspondence from the Middle East is classified and distributed upon its arrival at the Postal Section among prisoners of war responsible for checking addresses. This operation is carried out using the two files. Then, the letters are reclassified by addresses and sent to their recipients. The figures below, which indicate the number of letters and parcels received for prisoners of war during the last three months, will give a more precise idea of the amount of work provided by the central post of the camp 306.
The quality of food is according to the requirements expected by the Red Cross. The prisoners of war are responsible for the preparation of their food and development of daily menu according to the provisions.
ICRC Delegate with the Menu of the Day 8th October 1943 VP-HIST-03408-17A
After meals, the kitchens can be used by the POWs to prepare extra meals with food purchased in the canteen or received in Red Cross packages. (October 43)
The Kitchen VP-HIST-00851-25
The Cooks VP-HIST-03400-14
The Showers VP-HIST-00851-12
It is very satisfactory. There is no vermin at the camp.* However, a single faucet in the kitchen should suffice for the needs of the entire section, and it often happens that the water is turned off for part of the day. Prisoners have one hot shower per month. The latrines are clean.
The general health condition is very satisfactory. (February 1942)
*Fleas had been a problem with Italian and Australian soldiers on the battlefields.
All the prisoners have a shower and they bathe in the sea once a week. (July 1942)No complaints about this. Each prisoner of war has a toilet bowl available. Prisoners of war can take a cold shower every 10 days at the shower facility located in a special section of the camp. Showers have been built in some sections by the POWs themselves and can be used without great restriction. A group of 400 POWs went to bathe in the sea every day. This favor had to be abolished since the repatriation of the seriously wounded and protected personnel was planned. The camp commander does not think he will be able to re-establish these sea baths after the departure of the returnees, because the season is now almost over. Each POW receives a bar of soap per month. There are toilets available at a ratio of 2 toilets per 100 prisoners of war and they are clean and without odour. (October 1943)
General View of the Camp VP-HIST-03400-27
Interior of Tent VP-HIST—03402-24
It was possible to house up to 12 men in a tent. In time the Italian prisoners of war were issued with mattresses made of straw. The photos reveal accommodation consisted of a semi in-ground bunker with a tent roof. The bunkers were made of sand bricks which were then rendered, as were the outside seating and retaining walls. The retaining walls also acted as a barrier to shifting sands. The Italians constructed vegetable gardens between the tents.
Preparation and Construction of Base for Tent VP-HIST-00848-23
General View of Camp VP-HIST-00849-02
The Prisoner of War in Charge of the Canteen VP-HIST-03400-14 8.10.41
Items sold at the canteen are useful and sold at a fair price. The price is controlled periodically by the Commandant and is rectified if necessary. (July 1942)
The canteen is run by an Egyptian. It is very well supplied with products and articles of all kinds. there are fresh fruits and vegetables, canned food, syrup, toiletries (soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razor blades, shaving soap, etc.) clothing items (underwear, shirts, shorts, socks , stockings, handkerchiefs) stationery (paper, feathers, ink, pencils) tobacco, cigarettes, sweets and sold at local trade prices. The prices are established in Egyptian piastres (there are 100 piastres in an Egyptian pound).
The only essential item that is lacking is matches. This did not surprise us since it is very difficult to find matches in Egypt today. The share of profits on sales of the canteen which goes to the POWs is 2 1/2% of the sales figure. These benefits can be used by the prisoners according to their desire. In general, they are used for the purchase of desired foods which are distributed fairly among all sections. Currently, these profits will be used to pay for the Christmas dinner. (October 1943)
Clothing is of good quality and all prisoners have shoes (Feb 42)
At the time of capture, if the prisoners did not have certain items (as below), they were given the items:
Summer: 1 pair trousers, 2 pairs shorts, 1 colonial helmet, 1 leather belt, 1 pair of shoes with studded soles, 1 pair of sandals with rubber soles, 2 pairs of socks, 2 towels, 1 tooth brush, 1 fork, 1 knife, 1 metal plate, 1 metal bowl, 3 bed covers/blankets.
Winter: 1 military hood, 2 undergarments, 2 underpants (October 1943)
Salad items growing in the gardens in front of a tent VP-HIST-03400-09
DAILY ROUTINE (October 1943)
Each morning rise at 5.30h except Sunday – 6h.
Roll Call is half hour later. Evening roll call is at 15.30h
Lights out 22h
Prisoners write regularly twice a week and those who have been there for more than four months have all received news from their families. (February 1942)
Letters and packages reach their destination on average in 30 to 60 days. Many packages received from the Red Cross arrive in poor condition and in some cases, the food is not suitable for consumption. (July 1942)
Letters sent from Sicily since the occupation have arrived at the camp in seven days. (October 1943)
INTELLECTUAL NEEDS, SPORT AND MORALE
There are many books available for use by the prisoners and they have many games. A sport’s field is located in the centre of each section. (February 1942)
Two hundred books is insufficient for the number of prisoners. An orchestra of 50 men has been formed. The orchestra plays a major role in boosting the morale of the men. (July 1942)
Hospital and Tennis Court for Hospital Staff VP-HIST-00849-30
Construction of Bocce Court VP-HIST-03408-10A 8th October 1941